This poem was written as Israel’s attack on Gazans took its toll.
Tonight, the bombs fall down in Gaza.
As an African voice croons from my kitchen radio,
And the garden breathes through the open door,
And I sip this whisky
And my thumb throbs, caught just now in a cupboard hinge,
Wrapped handkerchief-tight against the pain,
The bombs fall down in Gaza.
The Portuguese percussionist
Accelerates his late-night radio rhythm,
And missiles plough in breezeblock clouds,
And rubble plumes spurt through the streets
In dusty radiance, spattering stone
Out from the tearing flash and boom.
Men are scrambling,
clambering over mounds of mortar.
A woman shrieks, kneeling in the midst
Of her fallen roof. A child,
Powdered grey with brick dust,
Lies, improbably angled,
Folded beneath a chandelier.
The woman’s hands clench to her face
Like this handkerchief to my thumb,
Clutching tight across the pain,
Which leaks out through the gasping sobs,
A shrill zaghrouta, ululating
Ay-ah, ay, her child is dead,
Splayed beneath a fallen roof,
Twisted like a spatchcock.
Tonight, the bombs fall down in Gaza,
And this is how it looks and sounds,
And how it feels and how it is.
Ambulance teams can drive so far
And then must park and clamber, scramble
Over the crumpled ceilings,
Bristling with iron rods,
And do what human beings must do
To claw their shape and sense from ruin,
Unearth, unpick the unkind
Scree from children’s clothes and sponge their dusty limbs
And close their staring icon’s eyes.
At dawn, they will lay the little limbs
In rows outside the mukhtar’s house,
Outside the mosque, or in the village square,
The trophies of another night
In Gaza, where the bombs fell down.
In a week, or a month, or a year, or a day,
When the dead are buried and their little names
Have dropped like rain into the salty sea of grief,
This rubble dust, that choked away
their brief time in the troublesome space
of light and noise and heat and pain
between the sleeps of womb and death,
this rubble dust will be cleared and heaped
and shoved and shovelled and mixed and shaped
to mend the shattered walls and floors,
contaminated igloos seamed
with traces of the little ghosts –
a hair, a scrap of skin, a nail
of Hamid, Khaled, Hind or Yousef –
all they left behind tonight,
when the bombs fell down in Gaza.
Justin Butcher (TPNS co-founder, and Bethlehem Unwrapped creative director)