Journalism in Verse – EST. 2016

Whada, a Syrian refugee mother living in Zahle, Lebanon, holds her young daughter, Waffa. Waffa has barely spoken since losing her father and her home in January 2013. 
UNHCR/E.Dorfman / May 2013

Sticks and Stones

in Middle East/World by

My mom-friend complains that her child is saying no too much—
to veggies, to doors, to bedtimes. I say standard issue.

She tells me how she hates herself for yelling all of the time.
I tell her to put more water into her mouth

to float her anger. Or, if it’s an animal clawing—greet it,
do not try to snare it from the haunt of her body, where it dwells.

When mothers give birth, something feral burrows
into that hollow.


My own son wilds, clanks his head. Bashes walls.
He does not know when they are made of glass. He does not feel.

The lifeguard says “but he looks so normal” as if she can read auras.
She marks progress by how long she can hold her breath.

I used to breathe for two.


I hold my son in water, spread his arms to float, teach him how to swash
angels in the wake so he’ll never be alone.

I add wide future to our list of struggles,
pray I never die.


My friend nags on—sibling rivalry, excessive crying, name-calling.
I tell her about the photo of two small boys in Syria. Gassed.

Foam gunking their lips. How, when you look the heart says no.
The brain says no. The way their arms are hugged say no.

The mother, who is not trained in wailing, says yes, look and lets the animal rise from her throat.
She screams until the bombs that are said to sing their names break only what’s already been broken.



‘Children are dying before our eyes’: Images from suspected Syrian gas attack again tell the story [USA Today]
US, allies, hit 3 Syrian sites linked to chemical weapons program [NPR]
The Syrian war is actually many wars [The Atlantic]

Megan Merchant lives in the tall pines of Prescott, AZ. She is the author of two full-length poetry collections: Gravel Ghosts (Glass Lyre Press, 2016), The Dark’s Humming (2015 Lyrebird Award Winner, Glass Lyre Press, 2017), four chapbooks, and a forthcoming children’s book with Philomel Books. She was awarded the 2016-2017 COG Literary Award, judged by Juan Felipe Herrera. She is an Editor at The Comstock Review. 

Photo of Syrian refugees by UNHCR/E.Dorfman.

Latest from Middle East


Breaking Apart

By Sheree La Puma. An Iranian missile strike results in 167 incidents


By Michel Krug. What happens to Iran's military leadership in the wake
Go to Top