Grozny, Chechnya

I endure recurring visions of war phantoms
looking my way with their jellied, all-knowing smiles.
I know I am going to rip open my heart
and force you to read every line aloud
so that we may both know our salvation together.
I want to scare you with all I have seen
and hold you after you’ve collapsed from too much fear.
And if I have learned anything at all,
I’ve learned to be what I am not.
I have died so many times before death will ever greet me.
There, I stepped into a pitch black world.
Instinctively, my hand rose to pull a light and I caught it.
No one was beside me; I was expecting an advancing silhouette.
I flinched and yet again I considered the strength it must take
to soldier in this unforgiving land; exposing it to the light without fear.
I find myself on a path that defines obscurity
a long stretch of through deep Chechen woods,
ending at a coal mine that had been abandoned many years ago.
Mozart does not play here.
Instead I see a boy discovering new rainbows on oil-slicked asphalt.
I see a nine-year old amputee
Kalashnikov weighted around her tiny shoulders –
Pressure on her back, throwing her dead brother down a well.
I see bloodstained knives dripping in the hands of young children;
Clutching, wicked, hands. For further creation is not allowed here.
They did not live.
And I did not learn why I felt so ill or so senile and full of disability.
But there I was, smelling of rot
and this is the scent I carried as I crawled away,
never to return.

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