Letter to a City Under Siege

Carolyn Forché


Letter to a City Under Siege

Carolyn Forché


Poem introduction

I wrote this poem to a friend who had endured the Siege of Sarajevo.

Letter to a City Under Siege

Letter to a City Under Siege

Turning the pages of the book you have lent me of your wounded city,
reading the Braille of its walls, walking beneath ghost branches
of chestnuts, fires that turn the bullet-shattered windows bronze,
flaring an instant without warming the fallen houses
where you sleep without water or light, a biscuit tin of nothing between you,
or later in the cafe that is no longer, you choose the one,
hours of an evening discussing burnt literature
from the library where all books meet with despair,
I want to give your notes back to you, so they might be
published in a common language, not yours or mine, but a tongue
understood by kindergarteners and night-watchmen.
I want to lie down in the cemetery where violets grow in your childhood
before snipers fired on the city using gravestones for cover.
It isn't difficult to sleep among the dead.
Before leaving I want to tell you that your tunnel is still there,
mud-walled and hallowed of earth, through which you brought
into the city medicine and oranges - oranges! -
bright winter moons by the barrow-load.
I would crawl through your tunnel as you did,
leaving some of your violets and the night of your poems.
I would bring everyone a gift of pears,
then walk further up, [ ] Street,
where one can the city in fog, roofs woven of blackened timber, filled with sky,
uprooted bridge railings groaning in wind, where a shard of glass is suspended
as a guillotine over the spines of books in a shop window,
and where, through snow, a dog finds his way with, in his mouth, a human bone.
What happens isn't complicated, is it. Nor is the city hell on earth.
Shells don't rain down from the heavens, but are fired by human hands.
The children of the city make bullet-proof vests out of cardboard.
There is no shortage of food, water, medicine -
food, water, medicine are withheld.
The clopping sounds aren't horses, but roof tiles shattering.
There are carcasses of trolley cars, and trams - limbless caryatids.
The library burns on page sixty, as it burns in all the newspapers of the world.
Quiet are the ruins of the houses of God. All the houses.
And what else, what more? No food no light no water.
Clocks aren't spared. The tunnel! The oranges!


'Letter to a City Under Siege' used by permission of the author.

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