Two Poems by David Allen Sullivan

Found in the Dictator’s Desk

yo-yos to amuse children
at photo ops;
medals to pin on broken
a pamphlet from the opposition,
a black marker for redaction;
a red
marker for death sentences;
a clay figurine
from childhood, limbs missing;
a snow globe
with a mosque,
Kalashnikovs for minarets;
petals from a blown rose,
dried blood-brown;
a line on vellum of the Qu’ran
scripted in his blood;
an address book
with numerous names crossed out;
minced lamb onion and parsley,
kebbeh housed
in a bulging bullet of rice;
a tooth,
removed by a classmate’s fist;
a flask of tears;
a green beret;
a mustache comb;
a place
he called home which wasn’t;
the feel
of his father’s hairy knuckled fist;
nightly ululations;
a cuban cigar, seal
a set of jacks, each red ball
with a skull decal;
a notice of execution;
a nail file, curved
from excessive use;
a bullet’s shape
distending an unaddressed envelope;
a straight razor, folded
into its bone handle.


Occupying forces allow us 1 Kalashnikov
per family, 3 families per house, 1 improvised
bomb shelter. We acquire gas masks times
number of residents.
Local governments allow
1 ration card per adult: kilo rice, kilo flour, kilo
dried beans. Bread is improvised, sawdust
a viable substitute. 1 guard dog
1 adult per 4 children, 2 eyes
per family member (average), average
life expectancy 39 (men), 46 (women).

This is not how it was.
This is all I’ve ever known.
This is for your own good.
This is for good.
For goods.
For God.
This has never been good.

We calculate blast radiuses, annual rainfall,
chances of making it to the grocer
(and back).
Estimate the wait in line
for petrol, the, percentage increase the boys
hawking petrol will charge.
We count
supplies: valium, cotton swabs,
band aids, ace wraps, gauze,
needle and surgical thread,
cotton balls
Qu’ran, prayer rugs (times number
in family), a Bible to placate foreign soldiers,
a Torah, one citizen card per adult,
for calling on local Sheikhs, local
police, the local hospital, local
We collect dark jokes:

How’s every Iraqi joke begin?
By looking over your shoulder.

One ski mask. One parachute.
Rope as long as the well is deep.
Stolen flexi-cuffs. Hoarded bullets.
Rifle grease. Cloths.
foreigners will find inoffensive.
Cigarettes (for barter). Cigarettes
(for the end of days).
One roll black tape.

David Allen Sullivan is poet laureate of Santa Cruz County, California. His books include: Strong-Armed Angels, Every Seed of the Pomegranate, Bombs Have Not Breakfasted Yet (a book of co-translation with Abbas Kadhim from the Arabic of Iraqi Adnan Al-Sayegh), and Black Ice. He won the Mary Ballard Chapbook poetry prize for Take Wing, and his book of poems about the year he spent as a Fulbright lecturer in China, Seed Shell Ash, is forthcoming from Salmon Press. Nightjars—a long narrative poem about the friendship between an Iraqi interpreter and a US soldier—is searching for a home, as is an anthology of poems about the paintings of Bosch and Bruegel he edited with his art historian mother who died recently. He teaches at Cabrillo College, where he edits the Porter Gulch Review with his students, and lives in Santa Cruz with his family.

Appears In

Issue 11

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