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Sunday, January 11, 2009

White Phosphorus

Substance similar to napalm, causes deep third-degree burns on human flesh, right through to the bone. Used by the US in Fallujah, and now being rained on Gaza by Israel. In complete violation of international law.

In 1972, British poet, Denise Levertov (whose father founded the Habad branch of Hasidic Judaism) wrote this poem on the US using white phosphorus in Vietnam:

Overheard Over S.E. Asia

"White phosphorus, white phosphorus,
mechanical snow,
where are you falling?”

“I am falling impartially on roads and roofs,
on bamboo thickets, on people.
My name recalls rich seas on rainy nights,
each drop that hits the surface eliciting
luminous response from a million algae.
My name is a whisper of sequins. Ha!
Each of them is a disk of fire,
I am the snow that burns.

I fall
wherever men send me to fall–
but I prefer flesh, so smooth, so dense:
I decorate it in black, and seek
the bone.”

Footprints (1972)

My friend Matt Brockwell just posted this comment on my Facebook wall:

I had the very great privilege of taking a poetry class with Denise as an undergraduate. I remember her very well, and have no doubt that she would be outraged by recent events in Gaza, and that she would also have very likely been standing outside somewhere cold and very public, with a candle in her hands, for most of the evenings of the last two weeks.

Read one of Matt's poems here on this blog.


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