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Robyn Rowland – Operation Unclarified

Rowland profile Dec 2020

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing, Volume One, December 2020.

Dr  Robyn Rowland AO has 14 books, 11 of poetry, most recently Under This Saffron Sun – Safran Güneşin Altında, Turkish translations by Mehmet Ali Çelikel, (Knocknarone Press, Ireland, 2019); Mosaics from the Map, Doire Press, Ireland (2018) and This Intimate War Gallipoli/Çanakkale 1915 – İçli Dışlı Bir Savaş: Gelibolu/Çanakkale 1915Turkish translations  by Mehmet Ali Çelikel, Five Islands Press, Australia; Bilge Kultur Sanat, Turkey, 2015; republished Spinifex Press, 2018. Her poetry appears in national/international journals, over forty anthologies, eight editions of Best Australian Poems. She has read in India, Portugal, Ireland, UK, USA, Greece, Austria, Bosnia, Serbia, Turkey and Italy and is published in translation. She is filmed reading for the National Irish Poetry Reading Archive, James Joyce Library, UCD, available on YouTube.


Operation Unclarified                      

That is what war is: confusion.
– Janine di Giovanni, war journalist

Disentangling is so difficult,
fisherman’s net caught with weed,
fishing-line, propeller, rusted
metal anchors, hanging, dropped
and the fish crazy about where
they are, inside or outside,
free or trapped and
always the ocean pounding
against their slim scales.

War is a mesh of bloody chaos. Kosovo,
lost to the Serbs when Ottoman power rode in
prising it from one empire to another, 1389,
Albanians doing the unforgiveable, converting,
Islamic and thriving. Balkans aflame 1912
it’s channelled back; then into a Yugoslav Federation,
1946, knotted together by Tito’s communism.
Fraying to shreds on his death, it’s back to the whirlpool,
Milošević snarling the lines of nationalism.

Flapping about in a frenzy of fear, Albanian Resistance
kills Serbs, Serbs kill Albanians and the Roma swim
and swim, no way out unguarded by barracuda or shark.
So much sand is stirred up, clarity lost,
bodies flung by Albanian ‘liberators’ into Lake Radonjić ,
many more Albanians, dug into hidden massacre
sites in Batajnica, Serbia by the Yugoslav army.
Buried together in thousands, years later identified by DNA,
they return to families in piles of dust, chips of bone.

Sanitation, identity cleansing, archival cleansing
carve out new words for genocide. Take passports,
birth certificates, land titles, photographs,
every thing that could endow memory.
Homeless, carrying nothing, march Albanians out
of Kosovo through snow-thickened mountains
driven by a Serbian army frenzied on generational history
that came with lullabies and mother’s milk.
Stunned fish, blank-eyed, scaled, dying from exposure.

It’s tangled, cloudy, when NATO wades in.
Bombs drown Belgrade, sometimes Kosovo, Montenegro.
The Serbian government lures its people into the open
holding rock concerts on bridges under the crash of sonic bombs.
Operation Allied Force, Operation Noble Anvil
language is a shifting current, confused by translation
into Operation Merciful Angel. But families
cooking dinner in Belgrade, crouching beneath tables,
leaving cafes running, don’t get it.

Women giving birth on branches laid quickly in mountain snow
escaping Kosovo, don’t get it. Chinese killed in their embassy
and those in the watching world, confused, don’t get it.
Remaining are rising cancer rates after depleted uranium in allied
bombs; the widows of Krushë e Madhe, Kosovo
who watched their village burned to the ground, all men shot;
flourishing sex trafficking following peacekeepers in Kosovo,
and in Tašmajdan Park, Belgrade, a grey stone memorial shaped
into open butterfly wings, engraved : We were only children.


© Robyn Rowland