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Three more from Before There Is Nowhere To Stand

NowheretostandHere are three more poems from Before There Is Nowhere to Stand, a collection of poems arising out of the conflict in Israel / Palestine. (I have two poems in this collection as well; I am honored that my work is in print alongside these varied and powerful voices.) I have read the entire collection through more than once, and every time I open it, a different poem moves me.

My previous post in this series featured one poem by Rick Black and one by Reja-e Busailah. When I made that post, I was asked whether I felt I was equalizing the experiences of the two sides in this conflict. Am I implicitly saying that the each side has suffered the same amount, or that each side is equally righteous? It's not what I mean to be saying. But I'm not particularly interested in rehashing old arguments about which side has committed greater atrocities.

As a poet and as a rabbi, I'm interested in the possibility that poetry might be able to help us hear one another. (If poetry can't, I don't know what can.) Some years ago, when poet Rachel Tzvia Back spoke at Williams, she quoted Susan Sontag, who said -- in accepting the controversial Jerusalem Prize -- that now, more than ever, we need poetry because it is poetry which "will open up avenues of compassion and remind us that we might aspire to be better than we had ever imagined ourselves to be." (By the by, I recently reviewed Rachel's latest collection of poems.)

Perhaps you would never sit down with a settler, or with an Israeli peacenik, or with a Palestinian in a refugee camp, or with someone whose spouse or child was killed in a suicide bombing, or with someone whose spouse or child was killed by the IDF. But I invite you to sit down with these poems, and with the realities to which they bear witness. The first is about the withdrawal from Gaza in 2009; the second speaks of Palestinian resistance; the third is another look at the aftermath of a terror attack. (=


Waters of Gaza

June 22, 2009

They moved out of Gaza
not without protest, not without prayer
feeling like ivy ripped off the walls
like irrigation pipes torn from the soil
they moved out on unwilling legs
on buses to nowhere
fathers, mothers, children
and children without fathers
without mothers

They moved into Gaza
not without covet, not without envy
feeling like water released from a dam
bursting into surrendering fields
carrying all before it, trees, houses
places of prayer, fences, gardens
waves breaking over alien temples
again and again til water covered all

After the water came briny hatred
lusting for a redder liquid
and the skies darkened again
lightning and thunder returned to Gaza
rained on this thin strip of unhappiness
writhing between the wrath of history
and the dark depths of the sea

-- Johnmichael Simon

Here We Will Stay

In Lidda, in Ramla, in the Galilee
we shall remain
like a wall upon your chest,
and in your throat
like a shard of glass,
a cactus thorn,
and in your eyes
a sandstorm.

We shall remain
a wall upon your chest,
clean dishes in your restaurants,
serve drinks in your bars,
sweep the floors of your kitchens
to snatch a bite for our children
from your blue fangs.

Here we shall stay,
sing our songs,
take to the angry streets,
fill prisons with dignity.
In Lidda, in Ramle, in the Galilee
we shall remain,
guard the shade of the fig
and olive trees,
ferment rebellion in our children
as yeast in the dough.

-- Tawfiq Zayyad, transl. Sharif Elmusa and Charles Doria

(I may have more to say about this poem later in the week -- there are some interesting resonances between this Zayyad poem and this week's Torah portion.)

Body Parts

Outside a market, a foot
lies on the ground. An arm,
skin leathery and suntanned, or
slack, with blue cables of veins.
The freckled, the spotless,
the hairy, the smooth.

A rabbi in long coat and black hat
picks them up.
He will save them
for burial with the dead
so that on the last day no one will arise
without feet, arms.

The rabbi puts them
in the plastic bag, mixes
defenders with attackers.
At the last day, all
will stand up together.

--Hannah Stein

Learn more: Before There Is Nowhere to Stand at Lost Horse Press. As before, I welcome comments and conversation about these poems in the comments, but please bear the VR comments policy in mind; inappropriate remarks will be deleted.