I atone for my sins in dreams

And wake up to the walls of white.

I am a doll, porcelain, naked, robbed of the native robe and tongue.

He hits me. Resistance gives way to passive hate, indifference.

I am his trophy, his mate.

 

This cell is no gilded cage,

But it brings the salvation of silence, unlike

The ravaged remains of homes, rummaged through by the looters and breakers

That I've left behind.

I am both a compliant hostage and an escapee.

The window, unlatched in my cell, allows me to hear the bells every now and then.

A Christian sign, marking time.

 

"This is a book about hate", he said one night, indicating the holy artifact by his side.

"Read it".

But to read it I needed light.

Surrounded by white, his pale Serbian hands on my breasts,

I was blind, my baby blaming me from the faraway Christian Heaven

That didn't exist.

 

This is an alien place.

A hospital they have occupied.

I don't know if we're still in Bosnia,

If such a country remains.

But he keeps me safe.

I should be stoned, punished by people and Allah,

Since I no longer believe.

It's nineteen ninety- one, religion is out of place

In my cell with an open door

And a Satan who prowls back and forth

From his military compound to me.

 

It wasn't him who did this to her,

But his faithful, uniformed men,

Who think he's a God,

Not breaking ranks.

Everyday blasphemy,

Which I saw as they convoyed me to the latrine

Before I was moved to a better room.

 

The days are long if I stay on my own

When he is away.

I am his property now:

He has warned me, coldly, before he left,

That others won't bother me.

To busy myself, I lie on the floor,

Knowing that it had been cleaned,

Scrubbed, disinfected,

Licked, just for me, by some unfortunate girl.

 

The lithographs on the wall

Are inappropriate,

Obscene in a time of war.

I've wiped the dust off them recently, for some reason,

Feeling strangely peaceful.

I am starting to treat this place like home.

I chuckle at the thought, and

I am waiting for his return with instinctive apprehension,

Conscious of the masculine world in my mind.

 

As I lie on my bed I stare at the white that I hate,

Aware of the lack of colour, so unlike the black,

Which lets me imagine the things I don't wish to see.

 

Her tiny head, a fragile carnation of blood on the snow.

It's as small as a grain of sand

If you look out of the window from where

She was thrown

By the men in the uniform.

As my eyes trace the lithograph I hope

That she had no soul

At three months old.

That she had never known this world.

 

This was long ago,

And I'm glad I know that it wasn't him,

Even though

He could have easily done it to others' babies, others' dreams.

He came back tonight, his shirt sticky and dark on the left side.

 

I turn away to face an identical wall

As he throws the shirt on the floor

And washes away the blood.

I do not speak.

But I know that after he goes away tomorrow

If he comes back,

I will lie at his feet and beg him to notice me.

 

When he returned, I could see he was mad

At me or the war, or both,

And closed my eyes in advance.

The blow came, but it didn't hurt.

Only then I realized it was aimed at the wall

Just above my head.

There was nothing to say.

So I let myself sway, restless thoughts

Giving way to internal decay.

 

I woke up that morning to find him awake, too,

Still by my side, oddly,

And he told me the war was nearly over.

The Americans were on the move to the Banja Luka, he said,

Addressing the lithograph that we both knew so well.

There was nothing to say.

I could tell he was sad, his eyes dark,

Apprehensive, just as mine had been not so long ago.

 

I was free to leave, he informed me

In a stiff, strained voice of someone expecting a war crimes tribunal.

But I knew that I wouldn't go,

So I shrugged,

And he let out a short, astonished laugh.

I looked at the white wall, at our lithograph

And suddenly saw that he was like Saint Paul

A hater turned admirer.

 

Inspired by ‘In the Land of Blood and Honey’, 2011