Sunday, March 17, 2013

Always Jewish, Lately Palestinian

I wrote this poem more than 20 years ago and have revised it many times since. It is in my book Wild Once and Captured (available on-line). A video of me reciting this poem and two others can be found here.

I am Jewish because the love of others made me so.

I am Jewish because I grew up on the south side of Chicago where even my public school seemed Jewish.
I am Jewish because my grandfather was oh, so Jewish;
I felt it then, I feel it now.
I am Jewish because in my grandmother’s kitchen nothing would rise,
but of everything there was plenty.
I am Jewish because angry Irish boys felt my Jewish nose at the end of their Catholic fist.
I am Jewish because the South Shore Country Club would not let us in
(though Marx also warned us against joining clubs that would have us).
I am Jewish because my Dad once slugged a guy who cussed a Jewish pitcher for the White Sox.

I am Jewish because the Jewish god is not diminished by my disbelief.
I am Jewish because Emma Goldman and Hannah Arendt were Jewish,
and so was Karl Marx and so was Groucho and Jesus, too, for that matter.
I am Jewish because of the Maccabees and Masada and crusader violence
and Spanish inquisitors and Cossack pogroms
and the ghetto and the death camps
and because I also planted trees in Israel.
I am Jewish because Jewish workers fight in labor struggles and because Jewish people resist racism and because, like all the world’s poor, poor Jews endure.
I am Jewish because we are commanded to remember when we were slaves in Egypt,
and I do.
I am Jewish because being Jewish means never using violence against another
except when life, itself, is directly threatened;
that principle must never be compromised.

I am Jewish because I am a child of Abraham;
Palestinians, therefore, are my brothers and sisters.
We are all children of Abraham.
I am Palestinian because Jews, too, have been homeless.
I am Palestinian because we have a future together or none, at all.
I am Palestinian because Palestinian yearning is so like Jewish yearning.
I am Palestinian because Jews have been uplifted by the love of Palestinians.
I am Palestinian because peace in Arabic and in Hebrew bestows the same gift.
Although Sarah and Hagar are our separate birth mothers,
I am Palestinian because we all live in the embrace of one mother,
and will return to her.

If you summon one of us for cruel judgment, there will be no telling us apart.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Sneaking Suspicion

In an earlier post, I explained a bit about why I call this blog "Outdoor Poetry Season." It is so named, in part, because a lot of my first lines, sometimes whole drafts, develop outside. That is how this one happened.

Overcast and warm and drizzly, almost no one else around. Jetta, usually solidly opposed to getting rained on, didn't mind the drizzle. She was off leash for a lot of the walk, too, but keeping companionably close. I imagine the warm, moist air was redolent with good stuff, lavishing scents and contentment on Jet.

Freed of the responsibility to supervise, of the worry that Jetta might joyfully accost and unintentionally terrorize passersby, I savored the peace of the Franciscan monastery's pastoral garden and mini-Via Dolorosa with its ritual contemplation of death and resurrection.

Walking slowly uphill, I wrote a poem about life after death and one aspect, at least, of the shadow of doubt. Raindrops splattered irregularly on my paper, spotting the page, rendering my pencil somewhat less reliable than usual. But like I said, it was warm and pleasant and peaceful and the poem got written during outdoor poetry season. A good thing, I say.

The Sneaking Suspicion

If you believe
in life following death,
then the sneaking suspicion,
trailing behind

like a holy phantom,
like Smeagol,
the reflection
of all our sins,

could well be the thought
that you
are already

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Never Can Tell

My sister, Teri, is going to read this one at the Heartland Cafe on April 6th. 

She wakes and feels this past
lurking beside her,
the ghost that will not fall behind,
pummeling, insistent.

She wakes and prays,
whoever is there to hear,
get me through this day,
I’ll not ask for more.

She wakes and dresses
her bits of scattered self,
hauling scarred pieces to
proper places, endlessly preparing.

At the door, she checks for menace
in hallways, scanning streets
for fleshy threats and phantoms,
seeking her whom she always meant to be.

Out the door,
she strides ahead
as if fearless,
limitless and ready.

She arrives feeling
unreckoned power, feeling this day
pregnant with difference, this day
ready, perhaps, for what yesterday was not.

We Were Women

for Betsy Gannon
I knew George, but not that one.
But I knew all the ones
when you talked to them they thought,
she likes me.

I was a woman and
he thought he needed me.
Imagined what I could do for him.
Date him. Rescue him. Get horizontal.

Like a mother, make the world safe.
Georges just like him told me
it's so hard, there are
30 million desirable women

out there and I haven't had
a girlfriend since 1984.
He was sad and his sorrow plucked my strings.
I dined with a man like him.

Danced with a man like him.
But his need crawled me.
It's not going to work, I said.
Later, he wanted to know more.

Would it work, if I was Catholic?
If I was tall? If I was young?
If I was old? Would what work,
I asked. Us, he said.

Please, there is no us, I told that George.
And then the other one came by our gym.
We were a group of women
he didn't know in our exercise clothes.

He shot us all. We fell like lovers,
like mothers, like dancers.
I did not know how much he hated
until he killed me.