Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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SHJ Issue 5
Spring 2012

[Two Poems + Commentary]

by Frances Payne Adler

in the mirror

to my israeli and american jewish cousins
have the fears from our history 
crusted our eyes 
like the inside of kettles

have they rusted the hinges 
of our mouths

have our machine guns 
and tear gas and 
bulldozers turned 

back on us, the barbed wire 
of our laws bound our hearts, 

caused our souls to forget 
their fingerprints

 

—From the collaborative work-in-progress, Dare I Call You Cousin, and previously published in Rabbis for Human Rights (December 2011)

 

When Your Eyes

5 am, Qalandiya checkpoint, just outside East Jerusalem
You can barely see, at first, in the dawn light, working men 
jump from buses, race to get in line, the banter between them. 
You can’t see the signs like in a dream when your eyes won’t 
open. What you can see are men bundled against the cold 
night air, men who jostle, shove, climb the steel bars, try to 
break the queue, men who pray, who face east, kneel, press 
their heads to cold concrete, all who wait for the gate to open. 
And then you hear it, a few words slipping from lips—parched 
wells, the wadi, permits denied for cisterns, permits denied 
to build a bakery, and when you do, the bulldozer. What you 
hear is the gasp rising, the not-so-slow stifle. What you see 
are soldiers, teenagers, some in their twenties, machine guns 
slung like satchels over their shoulders, their boots clacking 
the concrete, and no one moving to open the gates. What you 
hear are students in the “Humanitarian Line,” It’s for nothing 
you’re filming us. They come, they film, nothing changes. 
What you hear is the silence of a woman wearing a black 
hijab, who carries a sac of books in her arms. What you 
see is a man who clutches his side and tells you, I wait 
here, away from the crush. I got my ribs broken last week 
in the line. What you smell are figs in the fingers of a child, 
her father beside her, I’m taking her to hospital in Jerusalem,
he says to you in Hebrew. And when the interpreter translates, 
Her name is Pella, you hear her whisper in his ear, Baba, I 
need to use the bathroom, and there is none. What you hear 
is a businessman with three daughters, taking them to school 
in East Jerusalem. What, he says, waving his arm at the steel 
bars, the soldiers, the guns, are my daughters learning from this?

 

—From the collaborative work-in-progress, Dare I Call You Cousin

 

Photo of Qalandiya Checkpoint, by Michal Fattal
Notice: Photograph is protected by international copyright law.
Please click on pic for gallery and details.

“Qalandiya Checkpoint” by Michal Fattal
(Reproduced here by permission)

Commentary by Frances Payne Adler

What do you do when poems start spilling out about Israel’s Occupation of Palestinian Territories, and you need to be there? In Fall 2011, I traveled to Israel and the West Bank to research and interview Palestinians and Israelis living through the Occupation. I toured initially with Rabbis for Human Rights, and then stayed in Jerusalem, working in collaboration with Michal Fattal, an Israeli photographer who works for Haaretz, and Yossi Yacov, an Israeli videographer, who has been documenting the peace movement for years.

The poems, “When Your Eyes” and “In the Mirror” are part of our work-in-progress titled, Dare I Call You Cousin, a multi-disciplinary multicultural exhibition and E-book that witness the lived experiences of Palestinians and Israelis. The project, funded in part by a grant from Portland’s Regional Arts & Culture Council, portrays multiple points of view, and aims to educate and encourage audiences to participate in the dialogue and expand the diversity of voices for peace.

I think of poet Martín Espada, who, when asked, What is poetry good for, said, “In a time of war, the government divorces language from meaning…. They drain the blood from words. Poets can put the blood back into words.”

This is a deeply personal art project. I’m on a journey to unlock the complex way I experience the Occupation and human rights: I was married for 20 years to a man who is a child-survivor of the Holocaust. My grandmother walked out of Russia by herself at the age of 13 to escape pogroms. Why am I doing this? Perhaps the question is, how can I not.

 

SHJ Issue 5
Spring 2012

Frances Payne Adler

Photo of Frances Payne Adler by Tey Roberts
Photograph by
Tey Roberts

is the author of five books: Making of a Matriot, Raising The Tents, and three collaborative poetry-photography books and exhibitions shown in capitol buildings across the U.S. The two poems in this issue are from her collaborative work-in-progress, Dare I Call You Cousin.

Professor Emerita and Founder of California State University Monterey Bay’s Creative Writing and Social Action program, Adler lives in Portland, OR.

 

 

SHJ Issue 5
Spring 2012

Michal Fattal

is an Israeli photojournalist with whom Frances Payne Adler worked while in Israel and the West Bank. SHJ appreciates permission to use her disquieting photograph.

www.michalfattal.com

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose is to
perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury