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Winter 2022-2023

Pramila Venkateswaran


         “If something were to happen to me in Yemen by an American drone strike, it would just be a day’s news. I don’t really think I have any special protection being an American,” says Abdul Yafai.

          To be young, American, and Muslim, after 9/11, by Meher Ahmed, NY Times, Sept 15 ‘21
I breathe in Abdul’s helplessness
even as I push it to the bottom of my consciousness.
I don’t know how to fight emotions.

Broken bodies, heroism, fear, I see them all,
some learning how to walk, breathe, love,
in a broken world, the whiz of metal carrying
gods of fire. The scene replays: someone
houses war drones, someone controls them,
someone releases their fire onto a spot on a grid.
Wedding party, blasted. Check. Love, not consummated. Check.
No memories.
The dying
into the dust of brown hills.
I lift my palm and look at it.
It is whole, perfect, hard. No trace of
pulling levers. Yet,

I can’t wipe the blood from my palm.
I read in Buddha’s Lotus Sutra
that when we are helpless,
we can transform. How long
to climb out of helplessness? How long
to see the light? The distance
between me
and the drone controllers
is an eternity
and it is also the shortest distance;
the drone controller is living in me.
Where is the switch to disable the wires
of a diabolical army without conscience?

Pramila Venkateswaran, poet laureate of Suffolk County LI (2013-15) and co-director of Matwaala: South Asian Diaspora Poetry Festival, is author of many poetry volumes, the most recent being We are Not a Museum (Finishing Line Press, 22). She teaches at Nassau Community College, leads writing workshops at Strength for Life for breast cancer patients, and is the President of NOW Suffolk.