eater of death |  shailja patel


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Based on a report from of a woman whose husband and seven children were killed at breakfast by US air strikes on Kabul.
To date, it is estimated that over 5000 Afghani civilians have been killed by US military action.

They came as we ate breakfast, I remember the taste
of black market naan.
Zainab and Shahnaz turned eyes like whirlpools
as I sprinkled them
with precious water.
My children ate slowly,
tasting each crumb.
I remember the bitterness
in my throat.

Before we finished
the sky ripped open, vomited
death, everything
fell around us, everything
burned, children screamed, walls shattered,
a voice like a jackalís howled
Kamal Gohar Shahnaz
Sadiyah Zainab Zarafshan

On and on, after all
the other noises
Kamal Gohar Shahnaz Sadiyah Zainab Zarafshan
split my head, I would have beaten it
into silence.

I raised my hands
to block my ears, my fingers fell
into the well
of a hole in my face,
the howling
came from me.

Three days later,
in the shelter,
thick with the stench
of human waste, of terror,
starvation and nausea
fought like mujaheddin
in my gut.
Aziza, my neighbour,
scraps of rubble
still in her matted hair,
showed me
a package. Yellow
like the bombs. With an
American flag.
She said:
They say itís food.

Tears gouged tracks
in the dirt on her face,
her mouth twitched, her head jerked
her one remaining hand shook, spittle and words
jumped from her lips:
Food coloured like
the bombs. For the children
not yet murdered
to pick from the minefields
with the hands
they still have

And then I knew
the savagery of a people
who would gloat
over those they kill,
who would take the limbs,
eyes, sanity
of their victims
before execution. I cried out
to the shelter roof, dark as a coffin:
Have they no mothers
no children
in America?

On the ninth day,
after Aziza died
still clutching the pack
she refused to open, I
pried it from her lifeless
lacerated fingers, I

ate the food.

The blood and bones and fat
of my children,
in a yellow pack,
with an American flag.

I ate the names
Iíd patted into my belly
as they ripened inside me,
one by one. The names
that angered
their father,
in his despair.
He said:

What future have they
in this country thatís meat
for wolves?

I answered him:

Each of them
is a miracle of life, I will not
dim their wonder.

Kamal - perfection, how you bruise
and scrape my abscessed tongue.
Gohar - diamond, precious stone,
now break my loosened teeth.
Shahnaz - princess, red gelatinous heart
of this monstrous American pastry,
I smear you on my mouth.
Sadiyah - blessed one, stone in my stomach,
heavy as a tomb, I take you back.
Zainab - granddaughter of the Prophet, peace
be unto him, sugar
my saliva, prophesy
what comes to eaters of death.
Zarafshan -
Zar- af - shan, littlest one, I named you
for a mighty river. You taste now
of rancid mud, you taste now
of poisoned fish,
littlest one
you taste
of splintered glass.

Their names will not be remembered,
they are not American.
Museums will not hold their relics, they are not
American. No other motherís
children will be murdered
in their memory, they are not

But I?
I have eaten food
from the bowels of hell,
chewed and swallowed
the fragments of my children
and now
I am no longer human.

Now as every nation
seals its borders against us,
now as they gun us down
when we beg for sanctuary,
I will march America
along my tendons, electrify
America through my nerves.
Seal the borders
of my body to pain,
seal my eyes, mouth, belly
to any hunger not
my own

I rename myself
America. No love
no grief in the world but mine.
And I will keep them safe -
in the cracks of my teeth
in the pit of my pelvis
in the raw raw flesh
beneath my eyelids.


To join Shailja's mailing list to receive monthly emails about her upcoming performances and features, please send an email to You can read or hear more of her work by buying her chapbooks, Dreaming In Gujurati, and Shilling Love, and the CD, "Best Of The Berkeley Slam Poets" which contains 2 of her poems along with a lineup of other amazing Bay Area spoken word artists. Send a cheque to Shailja Patel, 360 Guerrero St, #205, San Francisco, CA 94103. Books: $5 each, CD $10, CD + 1 book: $12, CD + 2 books: $14. Postage and packing: $3. Please specify the name and address you want the book/CD sent to, if it differs from that on the cheque.

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