18 February 2014

The Reed-Nets of Suweira

See how these cut reeds float down
the Tigris to the reed-nets of Suweira,
through fields and farmlands
green and ploughed, allotments,
orchards; past the piers where
fishing boats tie up against the night,
sliding north of the Sasanid ruins;
through Babylon and Persia, sixty miles
as the bomber flies, twice that
twisting through tended groves
and dusty weed-blown lots.
Here the sun is hot as they float
in the main stream. Dark at night
they drift, tumbling the waters of the dead.

In the mornings, the fishermen of Suweira go
out in boats to free the reed-nets.

This happens every day -
two or three a day. We find them
in the net, which is there for the floating reeds.
Wait, his body is rotten, his belly is
cut open - he can't be lifted out.
Does he have a head? No, its been cut off.
Power up well drag him out.

See how they wind these reeds in plastic,
keep them on the shore till someone comes
from Suweira to take them east to Kut.

Has the body been shot, does it have bullet wounds?
Yes, his robe is full of holes,
Is the body handcuffed and blindfolded?
No, it isn’t, but his face is marked
and we found bullets.

So far we have received
about five hundred bodies.
They are men of military age.
We have also received about ten women.
Most have been shot or tortured.
They are much decomposed, so
you cant be near them for long.
They have floated at least three days
to come to Suweira.

We seek identifying marks on the body,
because he has no name, or anything else,
we rely on these marks. Sometimes the body
has a tattoo from which we can identify him.

My brother went missing was on his way
to Baghdad. He was murdered in Yusufiya
with a group of men. We found the body
of one who was with him he’d been handcuffed
and blindfolded and shot three times in the head.
There were clear signs of torture on his body.

We’ve been looking for my son
and three other men who were with him.
Some people told us to go to Suweira.
I came here. They said, Go to Kut,
I came to the hospital in Kut
and we found him with the others.

See how this dross that has
floated down the Tigris to Suweira
now rots in the heat: At the graveyard
they dust the bodies, bury them
shallow in their clothes in the section
for those from the reed nets.

We could wash the body with water
but it is often too decomposed.
The hair and nails will fall out
if we wash them, and that is haram.

6563. 26 May. Female.
Write down a description of her clothes.
What is she wearing? An embroidered gown...
Move her head from this side. Take a picture of her.

2656. This is her number. Put it close to her head,
OK, now throw the dust on her.

See, even as the dry earth settles,
more are coming on the rivers back,
gently rounding the many bends
down to where the nets of Suweira
strain against the unrelenting water's flow.
© Michael Cope
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based on:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/6902024.stm


"Michael Cope was born in Cape Town in 1952. His father was the distinguished novelist Jack Cope. In addition to being a poet, he works as a writer, designer and goldsmith. He has published a novel, Spiral of Fire (David Philip, 1986), a volume of poems, Scenes and Visions (Snailpress, 1990), several chapbooks of poetry, and extensively on the World Wide Web. Ghaap, Sonnets from the Northern Cape is forthcoming from Kwela Books. He is a veteran performer of poetry, and has made a CD of jazz & poetry with Chris Wildman, Everybody Needs. [more...]"

Michael Cope