Texas doesn't have the Mediterranean
but any native knows the similarities.
The sabra is prickly on the outside,
sweet on the inside, like cactus fruit.
Texas has cactus, and we're also
not short on attitude.
Variations: Israeli ranchers are
Bedouins living in corrugated metal
and black plastic, moving goats
and sheep through Judaean desert,
not big men with Rolex watches
and Lucchese boots.
But the sky is the same, and the rocks:
I grew up surrounded by Jerusalem stone.
No wonder Zionism was innate.
Every palm, fig, banana tree
reminded my parents of kibbutz fields
rising like soldiers across the Negev.
This poem appears in my second chapbook What Stays (Bennington Writing Seminars Alumni Chapbook Series, 2002). It's on my mind because I'm about to spend several days with my extended Texas family in that other landscape which looks so much like the one where I grew up -- so similar, and so different, in all kinds of ways.
Sabra is Hebrew slang for "native-born Israeli." The name comes from the plant I grew up calling prickly pear cactus, which grows all over south Texas. (I know the paddles as nopales, an ingredient in Mexican and Tex-Mex cooking.)
There are things I would do differently if I were revising this poem now -- I'm not satisfied with the last line at all; I can see what I was trying to evoke, but I don't think it works -- but this is the way the poem appeared when first published. What Stays had a limited printing, but I still have some copies; email me if you're interested in buying one. (Also someone's selling one on Amazon!)