;

BEAUTY

Miss Iraq, the first               crowned

                        in forty years of foreign meddling,

means it when she wishes for world peace—

                                                her cousins’ deaths

both tallied               by sectarian violence in her

war-quilted, war-torn nation.

                                                She is aware

the pageantry—       pinup smiles and stiff,

cupped hands (their rotational gesture)

—will not beckon peace.   Salvation

            may have functioned

such ways in old, dog-eared eras. There’s evidence:

all our parched frescos or pocked statues

                        depicting one or another stoic god,

                        its crimped hand raised,

signaling for peace like a captain calling a play.

                        Run peace, they might have said,

            or run samsara        or run godhead

if peace is too transparent a trick

name for an offensive set.             In Saddam City,

                                                today, broken men train to play

the beautiful game, to execute levity

with their feet. Under Hussein’s boot,

            losses on the pitch often translated

into torture—forty degrees Celsius

sessions training to kick               molded concrete

                                                            futbols or hours

spent begging deliverance from within

an iron maiden’s spiked void. Those years

we call “the dark era”—when Saddam’s son,

Mr. Uday, was the face

                        of Iraq’s Olympic committee,

before he would become the ace of hearts

            in the most-wanted card decks

coalition troops carried in their fatigues.

“Clearly recognisable”                   —how the Guardian

would describe Uday

Hussein in U.S.-released glamour shots—

            “despite having a thick beard

and a wound            that had destroyed

part of his nose and upper lip.”

                                                On this side

of that suffering,                  five years since

Iraqi Freedom’s end,

Ms. Qasim will wear the red,

            green and black sash,

and the U-23 team will play

for Olympic glory, despite the death

threats that may bloom into dying.

Authority’s lens abhors

            beauty—its saturation in this world,

its disregard for the vacuums

men slaughter each other to create.

 

 

THE ECONOMY OF SWALLOWED KNIVES

I warn an auditorium full of children,
Do not try this at home.
Then I begin
ingesting skewers. Unintentionally,
I enlist their youthful volition
into the war against waiting to grow up.

On the drive home, they pelt their parents
with salvos of Can I and Please, while fathers
being fathers, retort, When you’re grown,
paying your own bills for your own roof,
you’ll be free to live as foolhardily as your heart
desire
s. There: the moment of escalation—

suddenly their every waking hour becomes
a struggle to buy back their right to self-
destruction. Lemonade stands and lawn
mowing. Frozen meat pucks flipped
under sallowed arches, endless refolding
of denim. The children sprout acne and fuzz
as their piggy banks pudge. Their minds
have long since forgotten the death-defying
blade sleight that followed my disclaimer
years ago.

They are teenagers. Everywhere
something else shouts This could kill you,
and, achingly, they answer Yes. They can
taste it: tattoos, cigarettes and sex—
any form of flirting with mortality.
Beneath youth’s aegis, they believe
themselves mighty, no matter how poor,
but soon enough they are adults renting
efficiencies and driving jalopies—stretching
dimes for the privilege of being grown.

See how this economy needed no help
in tailoring their malaise. What next?
Heat assignments for the middle-class
scramble to obfuscate death.
Then kids of their own. Then the rest.

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About Kyle Dargan

Kyle Dargan
Kyle Dargan is the Assistant Director of creative writing at American University in Washington, D.C., where he also lives. He is the author of four books of poems, and his newest, Anagnorisis, will be published by Northwestern University Press in 2018.