From Issue 16: "Qamishlo," Matt Broomfield (Poetry)

Reading time: Approximately 6 minutes

"Qamishlo" by Matt Broomfield first appeared in Issue 16 of Tahoma Literary Review. Beyond the topical content of this poem, what drew me in and held me is the insistent verse creating a pounding and urgent rhythm. In technique, this isn't the easiest thing to accomplish across multiple pages, but perhaps more importantly this pounding is a sensory barrage that clearly mimics the explosions of a battle zone. Broomfield provides the reader with just enough adrenaline to see the conflict, and perhaps one day soon, to end it. 

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Mare Heron Hake

Poetry Editor




by Matt Broomfield


 it must be all the time or let it be not at all,

the census-roll so chequered with black kisses

gutting out the names of those exempted from the war


—by which we mean the keeping-out of frogs

from well-swept keeps with snub-nosed brooms,

the leaping wildfires pissed on by the people and

the frequent loss of life for bullshit, dumb,

the sound-bomb turned too often in the palm

in the terror-zone where diplomats tread lightly,

fearing the fresh wrinkling of tan sands where much blood was,

can be—


this war which eroded the old manners of sisters and brothers,

which needled ash and milk in fire-scorning brows of mothers

in the kill-box forming patties on the finger-tips so steady,


it must be all the time that we light up the way with smartphones,

seeking in the martyr’s cemetery for a fight we cannot handle,

deir-ez-zor that’s texas they tell you and they cackle,


ewropa less a mystery with each screen-shotted shish kebab,

with each foreign legion hoodlum struggling through the lunar surf

from hood ornament ghanima to the cold trappings of a state


it must be all the time, knight-stepping through the checkpoints,

shabiha sweet as pepsi in the zones of hatched control

these egg-crack nerves, this stinking trash-fire night

in which no whiskey smooths out partisans smooth as a syntholled arm,

the saboteurs who sabotage, who really let it blow,

the abibas flexing, the sunflower-seed milling,


sosyalizm the slogan not the winnowing of profits,

crude oil in sci-fi simile that makes earth man hoot and holler,

bedsheets spraycanned over with such fine talk of borders

as the mothers scrape for gleanings in the endless wheatfield west,

afterward to unanistan, after after to the stars,


half the city at the roundabout

to bring down unmanned drones with moon-songs,

so easy in the kill-zone as the grandmothers arise,

so rough and hard to grasp in the car-bomb morning after,

three million catapults not enough

to meet the lack of one good MANPADS,

one good night’s sleep impossible,


such spoils we have not seized, the chance for touching on the front-line

with paracetamol abusers who know exactly how to die,

those who went in oil-tanker bellies and came back in cardboard boxes,


all for the toddler dogfights off the shoulders

of the great gray mountain of gay sorrow

the chest pierced and let open with

needles fat with breastmilk

shrieking blissful sigh at supper-time,

the spoon-in-thermos clatter

of the people’s steam-train reincarnate

architects of torture programmes

let out to volley-ball rehabilitation,


with every right to slaughter we pass candies through the bars

of unparaded nightmares, the census-roll so chequered

not for cowardice or crossed palms but for each mother’s tearing

of flesh patties from her breast at the broke bell’s ringing

with 6-milli rounds in the Euphrates basin

let off in raw delight at the reasonableness of ordinances

made up by the people with reference to the earth-mother-goddess

enthroned far from geneva, here where everything is crescented

and lightbeams shuffle shifty in the direct glare of kings,

where it takes twelve to frown and only one to touch the trigger

and whole towns to save the barley from combusting IEDs,


it must be everything but

everything can be hot-wired

the oil tanker horse-drawn

to the stasyona gaz to drink,

the grin so shitty starry

when asked by hacks to find the people,


they are here in public gestures,

raising dust from boomboxed floorboards

on the turn round quartered corners,

scrabbling for a lighter

in the pockets of resistance

bleeding stemmed with bootleg filters,

the price of losing pace

must be the high-wire execution

the cut-short fall and dangle

between boroughs that are drifting,

welling up in public meetings,


assad or we burn the country

we are nothing if not burning

booster rockets in jazira

pouring flames down al-corniche.



reprinted with the permission of the poet

Matt Broomfield had this to say about his work:

I've been living here in Qamishhlo, the de facto capital of Rojava, for a year now. Our supporters want us to be a good little liberal feminist Muslim-slaughtering proxy-force wet dream fantasy—but we aren't. Our enemies want us dead but we are not that either. So much primary-coloured propaganda and grey criticism has been written about Rojava, totally missing the real energy of the place. This revolution is living ugly writhing self-contradictory hopelessly compromised and utterly worth fighting for, and that's what this poem is about—the big and small movement of life through the land.

Matt Broomfield @hashtagbroom is a poet, journalist and activist currently living and working in Rojava in solidarity with the socialist-feminist revolution there.