This is real, and I want to be prepared: Elul, Selichot, and Rosh Hashanah
Season of transitions

Revision / reprint of a poem from 2003


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.