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And then, I think about war

Protests in Puerto Rico in August of 2019

Protests in Puerto Rico in August of 2019.

Trees no longer holding their arms up to heaven
block the road, intersecting the wrong planes.
The rain does not wash, but slices wind-driven knives
into everything permeable. The dark, a heavy cloak, wires,
lifeless serpents slithering through the rubble. Some of this

gets fixed. Too little, too slowly. We protest. We are tired of
no refrigerator, no stove, no light to switch on; the house feels
dead. Ninety days. Some days, the sun rises, the moon shines,
water flows. Relief. Almost normal. But then it crashes again,
the balloon of normalcy. The lights are gone, the house
newly dead.

We are tired of this. The disaster.
It repeats itself. Each time,
the panic comes a little faster,
we sink deeper into it.
Trauma, stress, syndrome.
I think I am learning to understand.

And then, I think about war.

About how there will be no blue tarps for the houses,
no one to complain to
about the broken everything, how the stink is not just
the uncollected garbage,
but the unburied, unburiable dead.

All these years I thought I knew. We protested.
We chanted: Not in our name. But
we were far away,
or it was far away,
the war we were making, the roofless dark
where no life could hide.
The nights rolled one into another
the terror spread, oil on waters lit by flame after flame.
Some lose limbs and some lose life and
each time the panic comes faster, strikes deeper and
we thought we knew,
but we were far away, chanting
Not in our name.

Linda Backiel is a criminal defense attorney living in San Juan, Puerto Rico. This poem reflects on the author’s life in Puerto Rico months after Hurricanes Irma and María.
2020, Commentary, Volume 72, Issue 01 (May 2020)
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