How to paint the portrait of a terrorist

Paint over a picture of an old mosque
a city destroyed and crumbling, with an open metal gate
Paint then
something simple, like a flag or a cross
something handsome like a soldier
something useful like a gun
Put this painting
in a field or
in a crowd
right behind you
hide your guilt
with nothing to say
do nothing
Maybe the terrorist will come quickly
but he might be waiting for something
don’t worry, wait
wait for him through all the years
the speed and the cunning
of the terrorist’s arrival
has no relation to what you are painting
When he arrives
observe the most profound silence
of those who were talking
wait until he fits into your easy picture
then put him there
now add some tanks
then one by one remove the tanks
and add some pretty things
like bright red crosses
a clean oil mine and some flowery graves
but make sure not to touch any of his devotions
or how he stares back at you
Paint then over the city a picture of an airport
and don’t be discouraged if you think you’re no painter
and that your painting won’t come out
your terrorist will help your painting
with the skin on his hands
Once you’ve got your terrorist
give him the best seat on a plane
with the best food, extra leg room
and a bathroom to wash before prayer
paint also the other passengers
the brutes and the babies
with the color of the shining sun
and be sure now that all the past of the painting
is neatly covered up
Now is the moment!
to see if the terrorist decides to chant
if the terrorist doesn’t chant
it’s a bad sign
sign that that the painting is bad
but if he does chant it’s a good sign
sign that you are the master
painter of your world
sign that you deserve to sign your work
so pull off his right arm and sign your name with his blood
in a corner of the world.

This poem is inspired by the surrealist work of Jacques Prévert, specifically his poem “Pour faire le portrait d’un oiseau”.

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