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poetry Thirteen Ways of Looking at Bana al-Abed

California poet Mary Bailey captures the voice of a Syrian girl from Aleppo who, with assistance from her English-speaking mother, sent messages through Twitter documenting the siege of the city.

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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).