THE BLOG
02/14/2013 12:16 pm ET Updated Apr 16, 2013

Baghdad Valentine

Valentine's Day -- I should probably linger long on the topic of romantic love. Yet somehow such thoughts leave me feeling a bit selfish and small at the moment. Don't get me wrong: I am a fan of the tender touch, the expansive dreamy possible. It's just that far too little air-time is given to celebrating the power and promise of non-romantic love.

To be sure, friends and family (and the joys therein) do get props in popular culture, but what of love for those one may never meet? All this news about the Pope resigning and so little discussion of what it means today to love one's fellow human beings in a world where war and hatred saturate the news of here at home and far away.

My faith in brotherly and sisterly love is unflagging. It comes not from a house of worship (although the studio at YogaTree Castro does come pretty close), but rather from the sacred writ that I find in books like Vasily Grossman's Life and Fate and certain poems, which sing hymns to conjure the necessary angels. Such poems speak the tales of early heavens -- small enclaves of human grandeur amidst hellish cruelty or senseless confusion. They are to me so much lovelier for the base nature of their origins. Human not divine words, and so their soaring is all the more miraculous.

These are my thoughts as I make my way through the pages of Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here, an anthology of poets and writers responding to the 2007, bombing of Baghdad's famous cultural corridor of bookshops and literary cafes. In a sense, editors Beau Beausoleil and Dema Shehabi recreate the space that was decimated by a suicide bomber to give voice, not just to the cries of universal loss precipitated by this inhumane act, but to the victory calls of the kind of love that no explosion can diminish.

One poem "Marianne Moore in Baghdad" by Gloria Collins particularly struck me. In it, the poet describes an Iraqi student who emails her English department in America to say that he studies the poetry of Marianne Moore and that "today my brother is shot dead." His uncle too, he writes, is lost amidst the debris of destruction. And yet still the young man "reads the poems out loud while his mother makes tea,/verses mingling with mint-scent, street dust, his own humid/breath, the ash of his relatives and friends."

Collins' brief snap shot of a young poetry lover portrays one of many readers who have swum in the words of Marianne Moore. The young man "drinks her metaphors, mixing them with his own" just as countless other have done. Unlike his counterparts in the Northampton, Berkeley, or Charlottesville, however, he must hide his books and dodge dynamite. How can I not love that young man? I do, with a purity of purpose, a shared intent, and an ardent passion that honors all the beauty and goodness and light that a human heart can capture in this life.

The poems he loves and the one he inspired will live forever. What greater love exists than that? Don't throw away your chocolates and your rose bouquets, but also take a moment to spread wide your embracing arms to the soul mates who see the things you yearn for and feel the amazement that is true freedom. Be mine. Be theirs. Love always, Tamsin

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