I don't want to write about the girl
killed by an Israeli bulldozer while
trying to protect a Palestinian home.
Don't want to write about mentioning it
in casual conversation and finding myself
weeping uncontrollably into my dishtowel.
Don't want to write how politics
have infected every email list I'm on,
how poets across the nation are arguing
whether those who voted Green
in the year 2000 got us into this mess
instead of debating the merits of form
and free verse like we used to. I thought
those arguments were dull, repetitive, but
today I'd pay to see my inbox overflowing
with impassioned pleas for a return
to iambic pentameter, diatribes about
how "women's poems" differ from whatever
the alternatives are. I don't know what
the alternatives are. I keep lending out
that article about healing through "dark" emotions,
the one that says anger and sorrow
aren't the problem, the problem is
when we stamp and tamp them down
so the pressure of our denial shapes
the slicing stone-edges of despair, but
I can't see the darkness around us lifting.
I've always said hopelessness
isn't an option, if we don't believe
in tikkun olam we might as well be dead, but
I don't know how to get through this.
This is not a poem about "them" or what
they're doing to "us," this is not a poem about
politics or regime change, this isn't even
a poem about the horror of Iraqis hissing
that the mothers of the American soldiers
will weep tears of blood, or the shame
of Americans braying that those people
are animals, not like us, don't respect life.
This is a poem about forestalling despair
by taking a breath and diving as far as I can,
wishing that I could surface in a kinder world.
This is a revision of a poem I wrote in spring of 2003, around the time of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the death of American activist Rachel Corrie. It was originally published in The Pedestal in the fall of 2004 (see Rachel Barenblat: No Alternatives.)
I returned to it this week in the wake of the court decision exonerating the Israeli government of responsibility for Rachel Corrie's death. The poem has changed shape, I've trimmed a bit (from 51 lines down to 42), and there's a new ending. If you read both the new version and the original, I'll be curious to hear which one you think is a better poem.
Some of this poem feels dated to me now, even in revision. The Iraq War has been a reality of our world for so many years that it's hard to remember what it was like to think that we could have prevented it. But some of this poem still feels current (war, despair, hatred: unfortunately not out of style), and the ending speaks directly from my heart.
The "article about healing through 'dark emotions'" was an essay by Miriam Greenspan in Tikkun. It later became a book with that same title.