In almost every country, in particular those where guns are prevalent, the murder rate is overwhelmingly men killing men; whether in gangs, organised criminal activities, or random acts of violence. Yet, it is women, mothers especially, who are at the forefront of the grieving and action to stop further killings of their sons and partners. In the UK, there are initiatives such as the Mothers Against Violence in Manchester, in a number of US states MOMS Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, there is even a Grandmothers version of this group.
Of course, in zones of conflict and state-sanctioned violence, the pattern is even worse. In Argentina, during military rule in the 70s & 80s, it is estimated that 30,000 people went ‘missing’. It is the mothers, sisters, aunts, who turn up at political institutions, holding pictures of their loved ones who were taken by the junta, asking for information. In the once besieged town of Raqqa in Syria, families are now searching for their men who went ‘missing’ at the hands of Islamic State. And one can only imagine how widespread this is in Syria at the hands of the government.
Zeina Hashem Beck’s poem, ‘Message from my Aunt on her son’s death anniversary’, beautifully tells of the narrator’s relationship with her aunt who lost her son ‘to a shooting on the street’. This is done through the seemingly blunt tool of texting and emoticons, but what is told is poignant, sad, and also uplifting, about a love between an aunt and niece – two women grieving over the loss of another man to gun violence.
Zeina Hashem Beck is a Lebanese poet. Her most recent collection, Louder than Hearts, won the 2016 May Sarton NH Poetry Prize. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, won Best of the Net, and appeared in Poetry, Ploughshares, World Literature Today, the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day, and elsewhere. Her poem “Maqam” won Poetry Magazine’s 2017 Frederick Bock Prize.
Message from my Aunt on her son’s death anniversary
My aunt, the one who lost a son
to a shooting on the street, the one slowly losing
her sight, sends me voice messages and emoticons,
prayers like A fortress, my love,
protect you from harm in all directions –
above and below you, behind and before you.
Today, the emoticon is an orange.
Perhaps it’s a mistake. Perhaps she means
a kiss, or a heart, or a flower,
her eyes and aging fingers failing her.
But perhaps she means the fruit, remembers
how she used to sing me that song
where I was the orange she wanted
to peel and eat and not share with anyone,
remembers how much I love sour winter oranges,
the way they are round and whole, yet break
into many bright crescents hidden beneath their skin.
Perhaps she’s saying what she always says
when she opens her arms and walks towards me,
I was telling myself you must have arrived.
The whole town smells of oranges when you are here.