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Poem for the Brother

From Dilip D’souza

A couple of years ago I came across a poem written by the ancient Roman poet Catullus. The writer Chris Hedges, who was a war correspondent for years and later wrote a wonderful book about his experiences called “War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning”, read out the poem as a tribute to a friend of his who died in Sierra Leone in 2000, Kurt Schork. I can hardly do better than to paste below what Hedges said that day. Sad as it is, I thought this poem might capture for you a little of what Nawang’s passing must have meant.

all good wishes, and please stay in touch. dilip.

Kurt Schork — brilliant, courageous and driven — could not let go. He died in an ambush in May 2000 in Sierra Leone along with another friend, Miguel Gil Morano. His entrapment — his embrace of Thanatos, of the death instinct — was never mentioned at the sterile and antiseptic memorial service staged for him in Washington. Everyone tiptoed around it. But for those of us who knew him, we understood that he had been consumed.

I had worked with Kurt for 10 years, starting in northern Iraq. Literate, funny — it seems the brave are often funny. He and I passed books back and forth in our struggle to make sense of the madness around us. His loss is a hole that will never be filled. His ashes were placed in the Lion’s Cemetery in Sarajevo for the victims of the war. I flew to Sarajevo and met the British filmmaker Dan Reed. It was an overcast November day. We stood over the grave and downed a pint of whiskey. Dan lit a candle. I recited a poem the Roman lyric poet, Catullus, had written to honor his dead brother, killed near Troy.

“By strangers’ coasts and waters,

many days at sea,

I came here for the rites of your unworlding,

Bringing for you, the dead,

these last gifts of the living

And my words — vain sounds for the man of dust.

Alas, my brother, You have been taken from me.

You have been taken from me

And by cold hands turned to shadow and my pain.

Here are the foods of the old ceremony appointed Long ago for the starvelings under the earth. .

Take them.

Your brother’s tears have made them wet.

And take Into eternity my hail and my farewell. “