We Interrupt This Poem

[audio link]

I am writing: The rain a silver sheen across the lake
when radio voices spill like rain across my words.

First the mother's voice slides inside my own: Bosnian and Serb,
we have lived side by side, our children like blood brothers.
Do I treat Nesa the Serb different from Sead, my own son?
I cover him with a blanket when he's cold.  Feed him
the same as my own.  So why?
I ask why?

Nesa, filtered through Sead's voice, explains: I'm a soldier now.
I must beat you, my friend, or they will kill me.
And Sead, beaten many times, says, Hit me.  I will bear it,
but he cries when he sees Nesa's face.

This story is new.  I have heard it all before.

From Karakraj Camp near Zvornik, Sead flees
over the Alps.  His mother, alone, in winter,
makes her way across the border to a Zagreb mosque.
I imagine them today in a Queens walkup.  Maybe she
touches his arm.  Maybe they sit together on a flowered sofa
and flowers fill the window box.  Sead crushes memories in his fists,
his words, like birds fleeing his own dark center:
          I did nothing except I am Muslim.  Now, if they handed me
a Serbian child, I would kill him with my bare hands.

I wait, but the mother does not speak
of what she is capable.

—CJ Muchhala, Shorewood, WI