In 2003, the United States finalized plans to invade Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein. Ten years ago to this very day world wide protests broke out from New York to Rome to Capetown to Auckland to Antarctica, where a group of scientists protested outside McMurdo Station on the edge of the icy Ross sea. And today my short story “The Wife’s Lament,” inspired by the unreality of those times, has been published by The Collagist.
I was with the estimated two hundred thousand people who took to the streets in San Francisco, joining thirty-six million people said to have protested across the globe over the next two months. I went to the protests alone, chanted when I could bear it, and stepped up onto the sidewalk from the street when a cop touched my arm and asked me to do so. Most of the protesters buzzed with a holiday vibe and directed their unfocused rage on the few cars that had become stranded or tried to force their way through the throngs.
It came to nothing of course. The Iraqi invasion started in March and when the leaders of the American anti-war movement backed Democrat John Kerry in his doomed bid for the Presidency and halted street protests all momentum was lost. I felt betrayed and gave up on political activism, though by that time I had been distancing myself from it for many years. I am a writer by training. temperament, and gift. I was forced to acknowledge that politics made me miserable and unproductive.
“The Wife’s Lament” is an attempt to reconcile the existence of politics and war with the demands of art and I understood them. An Iraqi woman, a scholar of old English poetry, has returned to Iraq with her husband before the invasion. As she translates a poem by another anonymous writer in the middle ages whose subject, and perhaps experience, is a woman whose husband has been lost to a foreign war, her own husband apparently goes missing. The poem, in an original translation, and the story are woven together with meditations on truth and language, and what can and cannot be said. What follows in an excerpt. The whole story is here.
“We may fall into the hands of the soldiers or the insurgents at any moment. We have learned to live with this. He knew this, or he did not, and I knew this, or I did not, when he left me this morning.
The Wife’s Lament
I speak a riddle of my unhappiness, my own,
mine fated. I who am able to tell
of my life’s hardships after I grew up,
recent or of old, never more than now.
Tenebrific, my torment, always, my troubles,
As when my husband first left his people
Over tumbling waves, and I grieved before
For where my leader of men might be.”