“How to Unpack a Bomb Vest” by Matt Hohner

Matt Hohner


Start with the vest itself, each pocket stuffed with scriptures
and explosives, hatred and nails, belief and batteries. No. Start
with prayer on Friday, or Saturday, or Sunday. No. Search
online for where the materials and the rhetoric were bought.
No. It’s at the hardware store, the mosque, the chatroom.
Begin with an olive tree, a way of life, a desert sky. First,
learn a language spoken for thousands of years. Learn its
words for forgiveness, for war, for love. Learn every word
for revenge spoken by anyone who has seen a drone. It is
scrawled in the concrete dust of Aleppo, in pockmarks across
the walls of Baghdad. The source bubbles up from the ground,
black, thick, pungent. Start with the forests of dinosaurs. No.
Start with the treasuries of the west. Look in your gas tanks
for the instructions on demilitarizing sleeveless tops. Drink
the poetry of nomads and scholars for a taste of old bloodlines
and darkness. Walk the back alleys of grievance in the shadows
of pyramids. Cover yourself with hijab and begin with apology.
It is there, in worn carpets and stained coffee cups, in bombed
out hospital wards and torture cells. Dig a hole six millennia
down through generations of soldiers’ bones and sacrifices
to God, deep in the cool earth between two ancient rivers,
and get in it. This is where you will find the directions
for grace written in carbon, written in breath, written
in songs whose lyrics the dead have long since forgotten.

from Poets Respond

[download audio]


Matt Hohner: “In response to the apparent suicide bombing of a pop concert attended by mostly young women and girls in Manchester, England. I don’t know for certain what poetry’s role is in situations like this, other than pure self-expression. Perhaps through metaphor it builds bridges, knocks down walls, heals wounds. Regardless, it is how I use my voice, my weapon of choice.”

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