art, human rights poem

Human Rights Poem (86): The Homeland

Adunis

Adunis

(source)

The Homeland, by Adunis (translation by M.M. Badawi)

To the faces that harden behind a mask of gloom
I bow, and to streets where I left behind my tears;
To a father who died, green as a cloud
With a sail on his face, I bow,
And to a child that is sold
In order to pray and clean shoes
(In our land we all pray and clean shoes);
To a stone I inscribed with my hunger,
Saying it was lightning and rain, drops rolling under my eyelids,
And to a house whose dust I carried with me in my loss
I bow—all these are my homeland, not Damascus.

More about Syria here. More human rights poems here.

Standard
art, human rights poem

Human Rights Poem (85): I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou, by G. Paul  Bishop Jr

Maya Angelou, by G. Paul Bishop Jr

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou

A free bird leaps on the back
Of the wind and floats downstream
Till the current ends and dips his wing
In the orange sun rays
And dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks down his narrow cage
Can seldom see through his bars of rage
His wings are clipped and his feet are tied
So he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
Of things unknown but longed for still
And his tune is heard on the distant hill for
The caged bird sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
And the trade winds soft through
The sighing trees
And the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright
Lawn and he names the sky his own.

But a caged  bird stands on the grave of dreams
His shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
His wings are clipped and his feet are tied
So he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings with
A fearful trill of things unknown
But longed for still and his
Tune is heard on the distant hill
For the caged bird sings of freedom.

More human rights poems here.

Standard
art, human rights poem, international relations, war

Human Rights Poem (84): Suicide in the Trenches

Trench suicide, by Otto Dix

Trench suicide, by Otto Dix

Suicide in the Trenches, by Siegfried Sassoon

I knew a simple soldier boy…..
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.

In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
And no one spoke of him again.

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.

More human rights poems here.

Standard
art, human rights poem, international relations, war

Human Rights Poem (83): The Baghdad Zoo

Tiger in Baghdad Zoo

Tiger in Baghdad Zoo

(source)

The Baghdad Zoo, by Brian Turner

An Iraqi northern brown bear mauled a man
on a streetcorner, dragging him down an alley
as shocked onlookers cried for it to stop.
There were tanks rolling their heavy tracks
past the museum and up to the Ministry of Oil.
One gunner watched a lion chase down a horse.
Eaten down to their skeletons, the giraffes
looked prehistoric, unreal, their necks
too fragile, too graceful for the 21st Century.
Dalmatian pelicans and marbled teals
flew over, frightened by the rotorwash
of blackhawk helicopters touching down.
One baboon even escaped from the city limits.
It was found wandering in the desert, confused
by the wind and the sand of the barchan dunes.

During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Baghdad zoo was completely destroyed.

For their own safety, zoo workers suspended feeding the animals in early April 2003, when Fedayeen Saddam troops took up defensive positions around the zoo as U.S. forces began the battle of Baghdad. Out of the original 650 to 700 animals in the Baghdad Zoo only 35 had survived to the eighth day of the invasion, and these tended to be some of the larger animals.

During the absence of zoo staff and officials, the zoo suffered from severe looting. Cages were torn open by thieves who released or took hundreds of animals and birds. Zoo staff claimed most of the birds and game animals were taken for food as pre-war food shortages in Baghdad were exacerbated by the invasion.

Many animals were found roaming the zoo grounds. The remaining animals were found in critical condition, dying of thirst and starving in their cages, including Mandor, a 20-year-old Siberian tiger that was the personal property of Uday Hussein, and Saida, a blind brown bear.

Several lions escaped from the abandoned zoo and were rounded up by American soldiers in armored fighting vehicles. Four that would not return to their cages were shot by the soldiers. (source)

More on Iraq here. More human rights poems here.

Standard
art, human rights poem

Human Rights Poem (82): What Work Is

unemployed people looking for a job during the Great Depression, 1935

unemployed people looking for a job during the Great Depression, 1935

(source)

What Work Is, by Philip Levine

We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is–if you’re
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it’s someone else’s brother,
narrower across the shoulders than
yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin
that does not hide the stubbornness,
the sad refusal to give in to
rain, to the hours wasted waiting,
to the knowledge that somewhere ahead
a man is waiting who will say, “No,
we’re not hiring today,” for any
reason he wants. You love your brother,
now suddenly you can hardly stand
the love flooding you for your brother,
who’s not beside you or behind or
ahead because he’s home trying to
sleep off a miserable night shift
at Cadillac so he can get up
before noon to study his German.
Works eight hours a night so he can sing
Wagner, the opera you hate most,
the worst music ever invented.
How long has it been since you told him
you loved him, held his wide shoulders,
opened your eyes wide and said those words,
and maybe kissed his cheek? You’ve never
done something so simple, so obvious,
not because you’re too young or too dumb,
not because you’re jealous or even mean
or incapable of crying in
the presence of another man, no,
just because you don’t know what work is.

More on the right to work here. More human rights poems here. Wagner, by the way, is absolutely fantastic:

Standard
art, human rights poem, war

Human Rights Poem (81): O What Is That Sound

w.h. auden

W.H. Auden

O what is that sound, by W.H. Auden

O what is that sound which so thrills the ear
Down in the valley drumming, drumming?
Only the scarlet soldiers, dear,
The soldiers coming.

O what is that light I see flashing so clear
Over the distance brightly, brightly?
Only the sun on their weapons, dear,
As they step lightly.

O what are they doing with all that gear,
What are they doing this morning, this morning?
Only their usual manoeuvres, dear,
Or perhaps a warning.

O why have they left the road down there,
Why are they suddenly wheeling, wheeling?
Perhaps a change in their orders, dear,
Why are you kneeling?

O haven’t they stopped for the doctor’s care,
Haven’t they reined their horses, horses?
Why, they are none of them wounded, dear,
None of these forces.

O is it the parson they want, with white hair,
Is it the parson, is it, is it?
No, they are passing his gateway, dear,
Without a visit.

O it must be the farmer who lives so near.
It must be the farmer so cunning, so cunning?
They have passed the farmyard already, dear,
And now they are running.

O where are you going? Stay with me here!
Were the vows you swore deceiving, deceiving?
No, I promised to love you, dear,
But I must be leaving.

O it’s broken the lock and splintered the door,
O it’s the gate where they’re turning, turning;
Their boots are heavy on the floor
And their eyes are burning.

More Auden. More human rights poems.

Standard
art, freedom, human rights poem

Human Rights Poem (80): The Suppliants

Statuette of Euripides, identified by an inscr...

Statuette of Euripides, identified by an inscription on the base. On the background panel are listed some of Euripides' works

From John Milton‘s translation of The Suppliants by Euripides

This is true Liberty when free born men
Having to advise the public may speak free,
Which he who can, and will, deserves high praise,
Who neither can nor will, may hold his peace;
What can be juster in a State than this?

More human rights poems here.

Standard
discrimination and hate, freedom, human rights poem

Human Rights Poem (79): I am a Negro

Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes

(source)

I am a Negro, by Langston Hughes

I am a Negro:
Black as the night is black,
Black like the depths of my Africa.

I’ve been a slave:
Caesar told me to keep his door-steps clean.
I brushed the boots of Washington.

I’ve been a worker:
Under my hand the pyramids arose.
I made mortar for the Woolworth Building.

I’ve been a singer:
All the way from Africa to Georgia
I carried my sorrow songs.
I made ragtime.

I’ve been a victim:
The Belgians cut off my hands in the Congo.
They lynch me still in Mississippi.

I am a Negro:
Black as the night is black,
Black like the depths of my Africa.

More Langston Hughes. More about racism, slavery, lynching and Congo.

Standard
human rights poem, justice

Human Rights Poem (78): The Cure at Troy

Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney

(source)

Excerpt from The Cure at Troy, by Seamus Heaney

Human beings suffer,
they torture one another,
they get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
can fully right a wrong
inflicted or endured.

The innocent in gaols
beat on their bars together.
A hunger-striker’s father
stands in the graveyard dumb.
The police widow in veils
faints at the funeral home.

History says, Don’t hope
on this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
the longed for tidal wave
of justice can rise up,
and hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change
on the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
and cures and healing wells.

More Seamus Heaney. More human rights poems.

Standard
health, horror, human rights poem, poverty

Human Rights Poem (77): Once in Awhile a Protest Poem (Famine)

Once in Awhile a Protest Poem, by David Axelrod

Over and over again the papers print
the dried out tit of an African woman
holding her starving child. Over
and over, cropping it each time to one
prominent, withered tit, the feeble
infant face. Over and over to toughen
us, teach us to ignore the foam turned
dusty powder on the infant’s lips,
the mother’s sunken face (is cropped)
and filthy dress. The tit remains;
the tit held out for everyone to see,
reminding us only that we are not so hungry
ogling the tit, admiring it and in our
living rooms, making it a symbol of starving
millions; our sympathy as real as silicone.

More on famine and on disaster pornography. More human rights poems.

Standard