For Khaled al-Asaad

We called him Uncle,

kind-quiet oldie man

with his liney-face smile

and his sun-glint specs,

sometimes giving us

a shiny piastre,

a sticky basbousa,

a sharp look if we swore.

All us townies knew the time of day

by his morning walks to the Museum,

his evening walks home:

long retired but always working.

But when They came 

all clocks changed,

Uncle’s too.

We children were in bed

but we heard hushes

that he was walking,

always Museum-bound,

at night in cool dark.

First Tadmur was blown to pieces by Them,

then all Shia shrines and Sufi sanctuaries:

all us townies were called out to watch,

to try not to plug our ears to Their blasts.

When They got Uncle

we asked our parents

what They would do:

nothing as long as he told Them

where he had hidden

the ancient treasures,

where he had preserved

art, history and knowledge.

Then They called us all out to watch again:

Uncle, filling our blinding-sun town square

with his slightness, his silence, his past.

One of Them recited, another hacked off his head.


feeble pumping

is soon done:

They hung him

from a traffic-light –

we clustered

to gawp nakedness

beneath his spattery thawb.

A man’s balls are just as old as him,

so Uncle’s were eighty-three years of age

when they were screamed with electricity,

made both defiant and charcoal by flames.

Uncle’s head,

once so twinkley

in generosity,

They placed

at his unshod feet:

those round glasses

still there,

still catching the light.                                                                                                     

Ted Eames, 2018