The War Reporter Paul Watson and the Arab Spring

by Dan O’Brien


In dead of winter Bouazizi wheels
his cart down the road. Outside a governor’s
office in Tunisia. With some rotting
apples and oranges. Since he was ten
he fed his family. After his father’s
heart infarcted in Libya, fitting stones
in Gaddafi’s summer homes. Speaking of
madness: Faida Hamdi, a woman
well into her 40s. Sporting the dove
-blue uniform and matched, peaked cap. Demands
the bribe Bouazizi never has. Go
home to your mother. Words become shoves and
Hamdi scatters Bouazizi’s apples
and Bouazizi may or may not punch
her breast. She spits in his hair. His father’s
a mongrel, she’s a whore. Two policemen
sweep in and bludgeon and kick and stroll off
with Bouazizi’s scales. He drags himself
into the governor’s office. Where a clerk
slaps him this time with words. Finding some fuel
somewhere, a friend or a construction site
nearby, it’s unclear, he’s back at the scene
of the insult. Dousing himself. Stinging
scrapes and bruises. Climbing into the bed
of his cart. Defiled. How do you expect
a man to live this lie? Flicks his lighter
till his pants catch fire. Panicking. Toppling
in and out of a coat of flames. He falls
to his knees as traffic crawls. Fortunately
for democracy, people click open
the cameras on their smartphones and enshrine
his performance. So many hands lifted
into the sun like salutes are instead
angling for a better shot. One man’s face
is slapped, and dictators’ palaces fall
like trees that haven’t borne fruit in years. Years
later in Beirut, sipping espresso
outside a café garlanded in pink
jasmine, my colleague replies, Why should I
risk my life? They’re just going to upload it
to YouTube anyway.


Dan O’Brien

Photo Credit: Casey Curry for PEN Center USA

The War Reporter Paul Watson and the Arab Spring by Dan O’Brien was one of two poems that first appeared in Issue 1 of Bare Fiction Magazine, December 2013 and is part of a new series of poems based on Paul Watson’s reports from Syria. We’re delighted to have 5 poems from Dan O’Brien’s new collection, Scarsdale, in our Issue 4 of Bare Fiction Magazine, November 2014. Scarsdale is out now from CB editions.

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