It’s a problem of inflection really, how we have to speak about it with some sense of distance as though from a far hill or a room with no windows.
The trick is to avoid excesses of horror so as not to scorch the mind and strike it dumb, though grief may yowl in the dirt and the villages burn.
For instance, if we were to say they brought the men to the square and bound them to the posts and one by one gouged out their eyes, how many of us would turn away in disgust, witnesses only to our own revulsion? And could we risk throwing children half-alive into a well until it was—already we feel uncomfortable with darkness and water and the sheer weight of suffering, must we add— packed to the top?
It’s a question of tact, after all, how when we say they had no hands or feet we mean to imply the butcher’s knife as well, the wrists tied down, the blade seesawing through the bones.
Now, imagine a woman giving birth by a river—the Euphrates let’s say— after her long deportation through the desert, the soldiers around her laughing and pointing their swords at her belly as the baby comes and then— must we say it?—they are slicing her open, they are shoving the baby back in. Admittedly, some facts stare back at us with such severity, we must either flinch or cry out. But isn’t it the shape of horror we are after, the poignancy of our own trembling sensations, not the horror itself, not the lash of every gruesome detail on our own skin? For instance, the deserts of Der-El-Zor, the starvation camps, the thousand hands reaching for a piece of bread: weren’t those hands like the wings of thin, bruised birds?
In Kharpert, everyone knew the boys with good heads on their shoulders.
Along the Euphrates, some women died in their own blood, and some, holding their children close, threw themselves into the river:
say the sun was too harsh and blinding, say the river was beautiful once.