poetry Thirteen Ways of Looking at Bana al-Abed
Thirteen Ways of Looking at Bana al-Abed
By Mary Bailey
Among the many snowcapped stories
the only moving thing was the sad
bright eye of Bana al-Abed.
I was of three minds, like a winter tree
in which there were three birdlike Banas,
tweeting. Or just one Tweet, but read
three ways. Or three official statements
sung in a little voice, awkward as three
stillborn paths that might have stemmed
from the glassy soul of her teleprompter.
But for obvious reasons, didn’t.
Her strained sing-song, her too-sad eyes
whirl in the ether winds, a small
part of the pantomime.
TV anchors applaud and parade her: America’s
best-loved “Syrian Correspondent.” She’s only
seven, and bird-boned,too, though not
bird-eyed. Her little voice could chirp all day,
amid the frozen stories, the sullen branches
of winter trees--policy advice to her treetop
circle of top-tier “friends” and 300,000 followers
“I’m talking now to the world live from East #Aleppo.
This is my last moment to either live or die.”
“My letter to @realDonaldTrump: I beg you, can you
do something for the children of Syria? If you can
I will be your best friend.”
“Dear World, it’s better to Start 3rd world war instead
of letting Russia and assad commit #HolocaustAleppo.”
I do not know which to prefer: the Bana
of inflections, of dire need, of deprivation, eyes
that stumble through the gap to stroke
the pebbled pity lodged inside the Western heart-
Or the Bana of innuendoes, the war-whistling
eyes of a mock-Rebel-fist that curls
around that artless pump and squeezes
til at last we say, Yes, of course, yes,
Little Bana, here’s a fine assortment
of artillery and a fleet of HUMVEEs.
Sweet Bird, don’t fret.
The Bana tweeting, or just after.
O thin lips of Babylon, of Newsweek and CNN,
this wide-eyed girl, this bird-boned thing
could step so lightly ‘round your feet,
elude your grasp with just one turn, swift
as the whirl of a single leaf.
I know your noble fictions tap the rhythm
of the great war drum. But I know too
that the Bana is involved in what I know.
Whether she disappears for a jug of milk,
the capture of a gold-winged moth,
or an identity overhaul--
But how her mismatched tone and quickened
eyes sometimes track from left to right,
and left to right, and then the little stumble,
then left to right, again: a read-aloud
rhythm, uncanny disconnection, caught
by the unthinking daylight of our TV screens.
One mustn’t ask the forest how it’s come to sing
of regime change. Or say, Bana, lovely teardrop,
perhaps there was no “#HolocaustAleppo.”
It was evening, all year long, while Bana looked
toward morning and the end of each long flight
from well-protected roost to well-protected
roost: from CBS and Simon & Schuster’s
Manhattan offices to Hollywood’s Highland
Center, where she trills beneath her own
spotlight. She’s grown tired of greenrooms.
Sometimes, between takes, she sneaks a spin
on someone’s swivel chair: round and round
she goes--ah, the gift of a shameless giggle,
dizziness threatening, bright eyes lit.
A highschool dropout who later earned a PhD from Brandeis University, Mary Elise Bailey has held positions ranging from dishwasher to silversmith, from bartender to professor; she now enjoys directing the Chase Hill School for Literary Arts. Her poetry has appeared in Field, Poetry East, the Boston Phoenix, Southern Poetry Review, The New Guard, Portside, and elsewhere, including Where Are the Rich And Where Do They Live? (Poetry East) and Waves: A Confluence of Women’s Voices (forthcoming, AROHO Foundation).