16 pages 32 minutes read

Dunya Mikhail

The War Works Hard

Nonfiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 2005

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Symbols & Motifs

Injury and Death

The most tragic effect of war in the poem is the way in which it literally and figuratively scars the human lives and bodies within the war-torn country: injury and death are therefore two powerful, complementary motifs throughout “The War Works Hard”. The poem’s first description of the war’s impact is the rush to retrieve the dead and wounded from scenes of recent bombardments every morning, as the war “wakes up the sirens / and dispatches ambulances / to various places” (Lines 5-7). The war “swings corpses through the air” (Line 8) through exploding bombs, and “rolls stretchers to the wounded” (Line 9) in the wake of the violence, physically scarring the bodies of its victims with wounds. The speaker even describes bodies being pulled from the wreckage of ruined buildings, some of which are already ‘lifeless”, and some of which are “pale” with pain and “still throbbing” with life (Lines 15-16). Likewise, the speaker alludes to amputees left permanently disfigured by war, and describes the bodies war leaves behind as “food for flies” (Line 36). The visceral yet matter-of-fact language that Mikhail weaves throughout these descriptions amplifies the violence and the emotional numbing of these events, emphasizing both the physical costs of war, and the less-visible emotional damage that war brings to its victims.

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By Dunya Mikhail