Do you remember Saddam Hussein’s statue falling as it was pulled down by ropes? What about former President Bush dressed in fighter pilot gear on top of an aircraft carrier proclaiming, “Mission Accomplished!”? The burning oil fields? News videos of bombs tracing through night skies? David Sullivan’s second poetry collection, Every Seed of the Pomegranate, recollects, gathers, and imagines the voices of this war: Iraqi and US soldiers, civilians, those wounded by the war and living with the consequences. Sullivan will read from this volume Sunday, July 15th from 5:30 to 7pm in room 5005 of the Horticulture Center, Cabrillo College, Aptos.
Sullivan’s collection meditates on how to process a war we protested against, which nevertheless raged forward, a war that began on false premises, which nevertheless fueled justifications of righteousness, a war from where so many returned wounded, while the numbers dead escalated every day. The Iraq invasion rests on all of us, and it is through poetry that Sullivan begins to address our responsibility. The first act being to imagine and listen.
In the “Preface” to the volume, Sullivan states, “I wrote these poems to help myself see beyond the simplistic labels of PTSD and jihadism, xenophobia and patriotism, and to imagine looking through others’ eyes.” The volume’s first section focuses on the invasion, while the second section undertakes the US occupation of Iraq, and throughout, the poems lend voice to the people directly affected.
In “Kurdish House on Fire” the fire raging is the aftermath of anger following a young woman’s gang rape by Saddam’s soldiers. “Leila Hussein, Housewife” relates how a woman continues to feed and celebrate her family in the midst of a war torn market. “The Day the Beekeeper Died, Sulaymaniyah” imagines a daughter covered in her father’s bees mourning his passing. Sullivan imagines the female Iraqi experience in these poems with bravery, lyricism, and humility. The poems don’t proclaim what or how to feel, instead they allow the reader to step into the world of war-ravaged Iraq and experience tragedy, strength and perseverance.
Other poems in the volume capture the varied experience of soldiers on both sides, their families, and even angels. One of the first poems in the collection “Angel Jibril (Gabriel), The Messenger” sets forth a lament from the archangel as to why human experience is filled with suffering. Jibril asks, “If you knew your feet/ would be blistered would you still/ offer up your prayers?”, as though any spiritual journey mandates trials, separation and loss. At the end of the poem, Jibril suggests that we place all into story and speak, even though these words “will be like the bones—/ hard, ivory splinters/ no one swallows. . . .” Those are the poems in this collection: hard words, difficult stories, the bones war leaves in our consciousness.
In the same poem, Sullivan proclaims, “. . . From them build/ what passes for home.” The Iraqi people are rebuilding their nation, culture, and their homes, both literally and metaphorically. We need to do the same. So many lives have been lost on both sides. So much destruction. So many wrongs. Perhaps one way to open our hearts and minds is to contemplate Sullivan’s Every Seed of the Pomegranate and remember these poems of bravery and loss the next time a politician warns of impending doom.
The publication celebration for Every Seed of the Pomegranate takes place on Sunday, July 15th from 5:30 to 7pm at the Cabrillo College Horticulture Center in Aptos. Iraqi musicians will play first, followed by Sullivan’s reading. The book is also available through your local bookstore on the shelves or through special order. Available on Amazon.com too.