I started this poem a week or two into Israel's war on Gaza. Given our country's renewed march to war in Iraq and Syria, and all the children who will, inevitably, die in the coming weeks and months and years from our weapons, it remains all the more relevant.
What I Tell Them
I sit on the balcony of my apartment
The sun slips through the leaves of an old oak tree,
falling in bright droplets.
The air is warm and softly gusting.
I read about missiles being fired on Gaza.
My daughter, nearly two years old,
runs squares around me.
From here, where I scroll down the page on my laptop,
She races through the open sliding glass door.
Takes a sharp right into the hallway,
Another into the living room,
And one more turn leads her back to me.
She explodes into the dappled light,
Eyes expectant, giggling and slightly out of breath.
Do it again, I say.
Bargaining for more time
To absorb all the dead children.
At the protest today,
There wasn’t enough room
To string the names of them all,
Each printed on a single sheet of paper,
Around the clock tower park where we gathered.
I don’t know what to say
To those who claim their deaths are
“unfortunate, but unavoidable”
To those who deny their blood stains our hands,
Even though our tax dollars
Bought the bombs, the planes, the drones.
To those who blame the deceased,
Insisting they must have ties to terrorists,
Or they wouldn’t be dead.
To those who say Israel has a right to defend itself,
Ignoring the right these children had to live.
To those who say, we would do the same.
They are right.
And we have.
In Iraq. In Afghanistan.
In Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia.
The murder of civilians, of babies
Always cast as a necessary evil
On the march to security.
Do I tell them that life has grown from my flesh,
That my body has nourished it with milk?
Do I tell them that as a baby knit itself together in my womb,
I felt the tether to other beings weave itself tighter to my soul?
Do I tell them that grief and rage flows from that desert strip,
Through the tether, into my blood?
Do I tell them that though I would die to protect my baby,
I do not think she is more valuable than any other child?
Do I tell them I can’t help but side with the children?
What can I say to make any sort of difference at all?
My little human stops at the door to our bedroom,
Her tiny palm flat against the glass,
Looks back at me and yells, “Mandie!”
Not “mama,” not “mommy,” but my name.
Her toothy, face-squished-up smile shines.
I put down my computer, reach for her, pull her to me
I lean in, pretend to gobble up her tummy.
Her laughter cascades out over the balcony.
Some college kids below remark on the sweet sound.
We sit up, me and my little sassy pants,
Smiling and whole and alive.
She wiggles to get down,
I resist the urge to hold her tight.
I let her go.
This is what I want to tell them:
Take my hand.
Do you feel how warm it is?
Keep holding my hand.
Where will we go if we cannot let go, ever?
Mandie Caroll is a single mom by choice, yogi, and student affairs professional in Santa Cruz, CA. She occasionally blogs at http://scribblemight.wordpress.com/ about politics, social justice, and raising a young child, often at the same time.