Six Poems from Iraq 1991: Dress Rehearsal for Imperial Demise

From “Iraq 1991: Dress Rehearsal for Imperial Demise”, section in Avatar on the Borderlands, unpublished manuscript by Pina Piccolo. The poems “Desert Sand” and “Sindbad” were published in 1991 in Poetry USA,  a print journal edited by Jack Foley.


Desert Sand


Fine, fine desert sand

blowing at will, knowing no master

No rational route

in the highways of sky and land.


Daughter of mountains

that fell and decayed

overwhelmed by sea and time

you learned to survive

covering and uncovering

thousands of years

minarets and Bedouins’ tents

the bones of camels and the bones of men.


Fine, unruly and unpredictable,

Insidious, halting precision machines

A threat to established boundaries

A scourge to stability

Praise be to the grain of sand

that shifts and changes,

and refuses to be anchored.




Desert Drum


Beat the drum,

great grandsons of Chief Seattle,

let your ancestors mourn

fresh victims of the great grandsons

of cowboys, of slaves, of field hands.

Let your lament envelop them

like a mother’s blanket,

let it be a lullaby

of rage for lives that became twisted.

Beat the drum,

great granddaughters of warriors and wise women,

let your voice shriek out

a cry of denunciation,

let it sting like disinfectant,

let it destroy the germs of domination.






Sindbad, won’t you tell us

A story of silence,

Of ancient cities living underground,

Like moles scared to be blinded

By unforgiving lights.


Tell us,

Sailor of olden times,

About a place with barely a stretch of sea,

Ringed by ships spewing fire.


Tell us what the children did

In the thousand and one nights of horror,

When the siren went off?

Did they follow the seductress’ song

To the womb of the earth,

Or were their tender limbs

Scattered in the wind

By incandescent droppings

Of steel birds?


Sindbad, have you lost your tongue?

We need you, ancient adventurer,

For the chess players of power

Conjure false images

To atrophy the heart,

Twist words out of meaning

To plug up the brain.


Please spin us a tale,

Where shame can glow redder than hot coals

And sorrow can flow more bitter than medicine.




Schwarzkopf Meets Gilgamesh


Das General Blackhead

strayed for a moment

from his fawning court of admirers,

seeking a moment of quiet

under the tranquil fronds of the Hilton garden.


All of a sudden there appeared

a man of great height

(most unusual for an Arab, thought he).

He approached, with a fierce countenance,

in ancient robes:


“I have come – said the stranger –

for thou hadst summoned me

for high noon,

I beseech thee

to cross through this door,

in the middle of the forest,

and then we shall see

who is the winner?”


Storming Norman stood there,

not quite knowing what to do,

trying to remember

what the US policy was about doors.

Should they be kept open

or slammed? What about strange ones

coming out of nowhere, should one

cross their threshold if you couldn’t see

what lay behind them?

Pondering he stood there

wishing he had taken some precautions.


But the merciless giant urged on,

he had to show he was a man

So he crossed.


How did it feel to fall

down the centuries

like clouds,

lifted by the wind

of arrogance,

then pushed down by the lead

of blows?

How did it feel to see

suddenly all Empires

rise and fall,

all medals rust and wither?

Limbs scattered and brains blown

hatred and guts spilled?

The threads of uniforms

barely hanging, heavy armor molten

in the oven of time?


General Schwarzkopf,

gently lifted off the ground by an aid,

embarrassedly murmured:

“One martini too many”

but thereafter showed some reluctance

at crossing doors.


Gilgamesh sat there under the fig tree

waiting disconsolate

like he had for millennia

for his door to catch

a general wearing no blinders.





Prickly Gifts


A friend phoned

because he didn’t want to be

alone with his bitterness.

The telephone wire

delivered me a gift of prickly pears.

The skin tough and spiny,

but inside filled with

pulp and seed

promising cactus

that could grow on arid land






Gonna Cry Me a River


The parched land,

dry and brittle as bone,

made wicked by the sight

of armed men

deafened by the sounds

of bombs, missiles, and tanks

Blinded by the smoke of fires

nauseated by the stench of death

refused to put on blossoms.


She wrapped herself in a black veil

walked barefoot

and began to wail

screaming her sorrow

to the winds of the universe.

Her tears washed the dust

for 40 days and 40 nights

A newborn river flowed

not of forgetting,

but of eternal remembrance.


The Tigris and the Euphrates

now have a third brother

The river of Shame,

of blood spilt in vain

on the altar of a 21 century Baal.


Cover image: Dick Marconi. mixed media, enamel, resin on wood panel