I Have No Pictures of You
By Maheen Hyder
For Tim Hetherington—friend, colleague and photojournalist killed in 2011 while covering the civil war in Libya.
During a sleepless night in Saloum refugee camp,
we forged birth certificates to greet prayer. I scolded you
for tipping the kettle as you reached for soaked pistachios.
I hated how grateful you were for leftovers. As men marched
towards the checkpoint, humming their hunger for pulse,
I did what you said, I lit the match. You were right,
temporary jade skies in Alexandria protect no one.
As the frontline swelled, winged shrapnel lodged itself
on the horizon as ornament, an axis for all that haunts
from a distance. An afternoon emptied smoke from its throat
as I stood at the border and watched a tribe of men and women
I worshipped, a tribe that once took risks, surrender
to running water in Beirut. Six eulogies later, I stayed.
Witnessing an empty casket held hostage in exchange for food
finally forced me out. Hunger is a coy, desperate machine.
At the Newseum in D.C, I gasped and pointed to your name
carved in seams of sprawling crystal. I passed a whole summer
through me, just staring. I want to believe your homecoming
was the burst of every silence tapped open through your camera
collared around your lanky torso. An abandoned reel of all you saw
and never documented shimmering with a reckless reaching.
The questions we fought over circling your hush: What are you
chasing? Is it worth it? Are you sure? Your answers matter now.
Twelve minutes and twenty eight seconds in, I pause the film
Sebastian made about your life, to inspect the blurry polaroids
of your angled eyes, the lighthouse you never showed me.
I keep watching. The same shots are fired. An ambulance arrives
fogged with saline, a makeshift wooden stretcher brims,
Brown bodies starfish their limbs in swelter, a siren
frantic to catch every breath. Gauze pleats mortared skin
till the red disappears. Those first few minutes were smeared
with an awning of speculation. You were unlucky.
Maheen Hyder is a Pakistani poet and clinical social worker currently living in Toronto.