Children of Aleppo

- 1952-

The children were asking
a thousand questions about why
the sky was blue and grass was green
when suddenly their tongues
were stilled by an answer they
never saw. Now silence rings
in their place so loud a stone
can hear it in Arkansas.
So why not the men inside
the sky who only hear the roar
beneath their wings that rip
the clouds? Who believe the distance
is theirs for the way it turns
the heavens into a high of feeling
nothing at all? In which
they have everywhere to turn
as excellent pilots—really
superb—with nowhere to go.

More by Chard deNiord

Frog

My tongue leapt out of my mouth
when I lied to her and hopped away
to the stream below the house.
Mute then, I started to write the truth.
My tongue turned wild in the stream,
for which I was glad and unashamed.
I listen now from my porch to the complex things
it says in the distance about my heart.
How hard it is to tell the truth inside my mouth.
How much it needs to sing in the dark.

The Double Truth

I still taste you from the time
you painted my tongue
with your scarlet finger.
It cured my heart of innocence,
that single dose, and I have tasted it—
the double truth—ever since:
the bittersweet in the words
I cannot speak but stick
in my mouth like stones
I've learned to talk around.

Goddess of Maple at Evening

She breathed a chill that slowed the sap 
inside the phloem, stood perfectly still
inside the dark, then walked to a field 
where the distance crooned in a small 
blue voice how close it is, how the gravity 
of sky pulls you up like steam from the arch.
She sang along until the silence soloed 
in a northern wind, then headed back 
to the sugar stand and drank from a maple 
to thin her blood with the spirit of sap. 
To quicken its pace to the speed of sound 
then hear it boom inside her heart. 
To quicken her mind to the speed of light 
with another suck from the flooded tap.

Related Poems

The War After the War

                     for Greg Greger

I

Where were the neighbors? Out of town?
In my pajamas, I sat at my father's feet
in front of their squat, myopic television, 
the first in our neighborhood.

On a screen the size of a salad plate,
toy airplanes droned over quilted fields.
Bouquets of jellyfish fell: parachutes abloom,
gray toy soldiers drifting together, drifting apart— 

the way families do, but I didn't know that yet. 
I was six or seven. The tv was an aquarium: 
steely fish fell from the belly of a plane, 
then burst into flame when they hit bottom. 

A dollhouse surrendered a wall, the way such houses do. 
Furniture hung onto wallpaper for dear life. 
Down in the crumble of what had been a street, 
women tore brick from brick, filling a baby carriage. 


II

What was my young father, 
just a few years back from that war, 
looking for? The farm boy from Nebraska
he'd been before he'd seen Dachau? 

Next door, my brother and sister fought
the Battle of Bedtime, bath by bath. 
Next door, in the living room,
a two-tone cowboy lay where he fell,
too bowlegged to stand. Where was his horse?
And the Indian who'd come apart at the waist—
where were his legs to be found? 
A fireman, licorice-red from helmet to boot, 

a coil of white rope slung over his arm 
like a mint Lifesaver, tried to help. 
A few inches of ladder crawled under a cushion, 
looking for crumbs. Between the sag of couch 

and the slump of rocker, past a pickle-green soldier, 
a plastic foxhole, cocoa brown, dug itself
into the rug of no man's land 
and waited to trip my mother. 


III

Am I the oldest one here? In the theater, 
the air of expectation soured by mouse and mold— 
in the dark, a constellation of postage stamps:
the screens of cell phones glow.

And then we were in Algiers, we were in Marseille. 
On foot, we fell in behind a ragged file 
of North African infantry. Farther north 
than they'd ever been, we trudged

straight into the arms of the enemy: 
winter, 1944. Why did the French want to live in France, 
the youngest wondered while they hid, 
waiting capture by the cold. 

They relieved a dead German soldier
of greatcoat and boots. Village by muddy village,
they stole, shadow to shadow, trying to last 
until the Americans arrived— 

as if, just out of range of the lens,
the open trucks of my father's unit 
would rumble over the rutted horizon.
Good with a rifle, a farsighted farm boy

made company clerk because he'd learned to type
in high school—how young he would look, 
not half my age, and no one to tell him
he'll survive those months in Europe,

he'll be spared the Pacific by Hiroshima.
Fifty years from then, one evening, 
from the drawer where he kept 
the tv remote, next to his flint-knapping tools, 

he'd take out a small gray notebook 
and show his eldest daughter 
how, in pencil, in tiny hurried script,
he kept the names of those who died around him.