Behind the Glass, Beyond the Biodome
"The War Works Hard"
By Dunya Mikhail
A New Directions Book
The biodome has evolved here in
Outside of the complacent dream bubble, lies the nightmarish reality of war. Like a forest fire, its destructive energy has laid waste to ancient cultures, while still leaving nourishment for something new to feed and grow upon. What has sprouted among the ashes is Dunya Mikhail's The War Works Hard.
Written in Mikhail's native tongue, Arabic, The War Works Hard reminds insulated civilians that with war it doesn't matter who's right, it only matters who's left. Using deceptively simple speech, Mikhail tells of a scorched world where mothers extract excited relief from finding the remains of their slain children. This is a place where people watch "their old neighbors on the TV running from bombs," instead of E! True Hollywood Story. Here, war has taken on a life of its own, using its time industriously by entertaining "the gods by shooting fireworks into the sky," spreading good will by giving "grave diggers a pat on the back."
Unflowery language makes space for details, giving the reader a remarkably disturbing panoramic image of war's aftermath. Emotions plummet like Tomahawk missiles with the progression of each line in the tenth selection, Between Two Wars. The poem starts with a statement of forlorn scarcity: "This is all that remains." From the beginning of the book, the reader has been confronted by remains of every sort; the remains of casualties, the remains of a nation, lost loved ones that remained behind. Now, when reading that simple word in that simple sentence, a sense of impending dread creeps over the reader. This feeling is dissipated only by the over whelming hopelessness that accompanies the last line.
Gradually creating a tempo throughout the collection by cleverly using the vernacular, Mikhail avoids the obscure archetypes and far reaching metaphors that frequently bog down poetry and ultimately alienate the reader. On more than one occasion, Mikhail walks the fine line between cliché and plain-old trite, yet somehow rearranges the words in a way that one is still left contemplating. Unfortunately, a handful of poems, including The Voice and A Drop of Water, lapse into a sort of writerly babble that only a die hard poetry aficionado could comprehend, or at the very least, respect. In regards to these poems, one hopes that something was simply lost in translation. When comparing these seemingly inspiration less pieces to the more bitingly candid works, it's easy to give Mikhail credit. Exposing the unrelenting tragedy that is forcing democracy upon a sovereign nation, Dunya Mikhail makes it difficult to dream of anything else as you snuggle up under your sateen encased, Ralph Lauren down comforter.