Valentine’s Day with The Fiesers, 1942
He, an inspiring teacher, enthusiastic and engaging,
all-round athlete who leads expeditions
to beaches and mountains,
canoeing and hiking with his best students.
She, quick-witted and impeccably dressed,
hopes to be a medical doctor
but transfers to the study of chemistry
with the professor she’ll marry.
They write and research,
bond in their love of carbon.
They synthesise vitamin K for clotting,
and steroids for rheumatoid arthritis
to ease the burning in deformed joints.
Theories abound about the causes of cancer,
bring them the Nobel prize.
Secret research at Harvard is classified:
US Military uses their expertise
for the perfect poison gas.
It sparks an idea in his mind to replace thermite.
Just add a pinch of salt to gasoline and coconut oil.
Mix to the consistency of applesauce and let it sit…
Alum salts of naphthenic and palmitic acids
make the name Napalm,
a catchy conflation for their brainchild.
This Valentine birth-day was so easy. The perfect incendiary.
Safer for soldiers in the burning of buildings and fields;
in the burning of roofs and sofas and skin.
Like a needy child, it clings to all touching it.
Fanning flames to the core of things, pyres in its wake
it turns rivers to lava and devours all air.
The couple continues to conduct research together.
They wash their hands, write chemistry textbooks,
illustrate them with pictures of their pet cats.
The Bulbul Bird
He’s eight when he tames the bulbul bird,
carries it in his pocket, feeds it from his lips.
It sings as he whistles, they speak their own words.
It flies to him, holds his finger in its grip.
He lives in a big house in Holy Najaf
with his parents, two uncles, wives and children.
Surrounded by those he loves under one flat roof.
One day, Mama comes to him, keeps tears hidden,
tells him how sad his cousin must feel
that his mother is in hospital again
suffering from sadness, still.
He notices, in slow motion, the sudden
quiet and darkness – strangers in their home.
Four years his senior, his cousin sits alone.
Unsure what Mama means, but sure he knows
her words leave a weight in his heart.
He knows she’s telling him to let go.
Such a tall ask, to let go of the bulbul, a part
of him. He gives the bird to his cousin,
who, through red eyes and a shy smile,
offers muffled thanks with a glow not seen often.
His family moves away after a short while.
Years later, the cousin tells his own children of the time
when their families lived in a big house, all together.
One day he had prayed to the One for a sign
and the same day, his cousin became his brother.
The brother who gave him a bird.
A bulbul which flew to him when he whistled.
Abeer Ameer’s poems have appeared in journals including Acumen, The Rialto, The Poetry Review, Magma, New Welsh Reader and Poetry Wales. Her debut poetry collection, Inhale/Exile, in which she shares stories of her Iraqi heritage, was published by Seren in February 2021.