Two Poems about Palestine, Truth, and Balance

The Ruins of Gaza

Jerusalem/ Gaza (2012-2014)

If there were no separation between
Events in space because of time
How would we order our world?
We would have to live with our history then
And live with our acts always.

Ancient walls would be
Obscured by the images of the hands
That lifted the stones, again and again
And we would see those hands
Like a cloud of birds, rising, fluttering.

And we would also see the hands
That cast those stones down
And the shape of each stone falling.
Perhaps seeing that appalling waste
would teach us something.

Some places in the world
Would be thick always
With the images of the slain
Heaped in the roads and gutters like leaves
Fall, the gurgling of clotting drains.

And from on high the view would seem
Like something from a crazy Escher dream
Outlines of the bodies, chalked in as at the scene
Of a crime of such brutal magnitude
No absolution ever could intrude.

Seeing Both Sides

In a patch of cream-colored light
Three men lie sleeping
Under an ancient olive tree
In early morning sun.

A ladder is propped up
Into the heart of the tree’s green crown
And the branches are heavy
Fruit weighs them down.

It is an east facing slope,
The sky’s edge is still stained pink with dawn,
Somewhere a single bird sings,
Takes flight, is gone.

If you drew near now you would feel
The hard, round fruit, pits like bullets,
Through the soles of your shoes,
See how the olives pool, in the outspread canvasses.

And you would see the men
Their closed eyes turned from the light,
Away from the sun, lying still,
Facing quietly uphill.

And the sun would lift slowly higher
The light the men lie in
Intensify and spread
And you would wait for them to rise.

You would see finally from below,
Birds break cover, flash uphill,
And see one woman coming
Then a few more, and how haltingly…

At the same time, you might hear cries
From over the crest of the ridge
You could see the other side:
From that point you could see the bigger view.

See the fresh cut trees, scarred fields,
The raw houses, concrete and wire,
The fences, walls and towers,
All new.  

And the different swagger here and there,
That men with guns have, would come clear to you.
From that vantage point
You could clearly see both sides.

East the women now,
Finally finding their men,
West the scarring roads, un-spooling wire,
Other olive groves on fire.

It is both winter
And harvest time.
The fruit lies heavy on the ground,
The sun has lifted high.

The shadows have shortened
And finally
Have gone back inside
The things that cast them.

You can see downhill to where
The women slowly bear
The three men home
For washing, lamentation, prayer.

And to the west
The compounds of the settlers
Who have chosen this land
Over Russia, Belarus, New York and Poland,

Who arrived here
Pushed loudly in next door
And then proclaimed
Danger lay in their new neighbors.

They made proximity, an issue of security,
Patrolled the trees they didn’t own,
Preemptively gunned down
These olive pickers working near their home.

And now the sun has passed midway
Shades reappear and stretch out towards the east.
Birds fall mute, only in the gentle breeze,
A few torn leaves at play.

Cream colored canvasses lie spread
Like squares of light
And on them, where the sleepers lay, the blood
Oxidizes to the deep rust browns,
Of desert night.

Every ridge has two slopes, every river has two banks,
Whoever cuts a thing to steal a half
Has in truth destroyed the whole–
No matter who speaks in their behalf,
No matter what god gets their thanks.

I haven’t seen the place, it is a fact.
I only read the daily news like you,
But I have learned not to mistake
Symmetry for balance,
Or oily words for tact.

I know imagined details
Can result in a clear view
And when one weighs opposing sides
What weighs is not the balancing itself,
But finally, what is true.

And night has fallen on the hill
And shadows on the scene.
All is still except the prayers in the dark.
The ladder, the dark rungs of a dream,
On dark leaves the moonlight’s sheen

‘An olive tree of neither east nor west’*
A ladder mounting to its crown
Who scales it ranks among the blessed.
Blessed also those who tried
But found their rest upon the ground.

*From the Holy Qur’an

(Saudi Arabia, 2003)

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