Today’s BBC has a report about the daily toll of mutilated bodies dumped into the Tigris River in Iraq and found in nets down river. Once a symbol of a river of paradise, the Tigris might as well be fed these days by a burning lake of fire. There are times when perhaps the best way to respond is in poetry.

A river rises in Eden to water the garden; beyond there it divides and becomes four branches. The name of the first is the Pishon; it is the one that winds through the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. The gold of that land is excellent; bdellium and lapis lazuli are also there. The name of the second river is the Gihon; it is the one that winds all through the land of Cush. The name of the third river is the Tigris; it is the one that flows east of Asshur. The fourth river is the Euphrates. The LORD God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it. (Genesis 2:10-15)

Eden is lost
yet again.
The weeds of war have choked the marshes
where the water god once spoke of life.
Nothing rises in Eden today
but the dust of a hate I can not measure.
God’s good well is dry
and the fields lie parched,
savaged by unwanted salt and more lies.

Only two sisters survive,
spinning out their lonely exile
now that the trees of paradise are reduced to oil.
The blood of their brothers flows without stop,
more than the innocents drowned in Noah’s flood
or the apocalyptic hell even Daniel shuddered to dream.
If only Alexander had lived
and restored the wisdom that once overflowed your banks.

The hanging gardens of Babylon feed the river
a daily crop of headless bodies and broken limbs.
No imam’s henna can drown out the stench
of butchered meat left as a sacrifice to long dead gods.
No answer to prayer reaches the banks of a world
where children search for their fathers in the reeds.
The killing waves of Hiddekel stain humanity
more than the blood-soaked arrows of Asshur
or the henchmen of a dead dictator
or smart bombs that enter lives without knocking.

Tigris, I remember your sun-bathed hair
parted by a wind of hope.
How I loved you then.
But now the nets catch only a sadness.
I can not bear to see you naked
or touch the wounds.
Who did this to you
and did not rape his own mother?

How can I bury you
when there is no water to wash away your memory?
How can I swim in this sea of despair
without sinking even further?
Why has time stopped
and not soothed my pain with darkness?

They say you once came from a family in paradise.
If only you had time to bear children?
Their tears could fill you
but I can not even drown myself in sorrow.
We have been too long bound and you are the sacrificial blood
that now flows in my veins.

Honor tells me to show no mercy
to the man who slit your throat.
But there is no room left to bury a criminal’s corpse.
And who, in this desert, would bury me?

Daniel Martin Varisco