Poetry

Separation Wall, Shoafat, on the outskirts of Jerusalem.”
Photo by Michal Fattal

 

 

(This poetry feature is a portion of Dare I Call You Cousin.)


“It has always been true that poetry can break isolation, show us to ourselves
when we are outlawed or made invisible, remind us of beauty where no beauty
seems possible, remind us of kinship where all is represented as separation.”
 
– Adrienne Rich, “Defying the Space That Separates,” Arts of the Possible.

 

“Thank you for Dare I Call You Cousin. The poems and photographs
are close to my heart. Sending my respect and appreciation.”

– Amos Oz


 

Dare I Call You Cousin
is funded in part by Portland, Oregon’s Regional Arts and Culture Council

 

 


 

 

Sheket

(Hebrew) Be quiet.

I’ve come though the voices shushing
me for years, through the underbrush
of sheket circling my feet, covering
my mouth, my eyes, past the tangle
of we don’t wash our dirty linen, past
we must speak with one voice,
beyond
you have no right, you’re not Israeli,
 
  My grandmother Bessie sewed rubles
into the hem of her coat, packed potatoes,
black bread, her pinochle deck, and walked
out of Russia, by herself, thirteen years old,
running from pogroms. Do you know, Francela,
she’d say to me, vot it’s like to feel homeless
 
My husband was a two-year-old kid
in Romania during the war that hunted Jews.
When we lived in Canada, and crossed the border
into the U.S., when we lived in San Diego, crossed
the border into Mexico, he’d turn to our kids
in the back seat of the car, and say, I’ll
do the talking. At the base of his neck,
he was breaking out in a sweat.
I know the gas has seeped through generations,
that this fear lives in Israel multiplied by millions.
I know we’re no longer victims, us Jews,
and you’d think we’d know how to be with power.
My thirteen-year-old granddaughter Sophie says to me,
We haven’t learned anything, Bubbe.
 

 


“5 am. Qalandiya Checkpoint, between Ramallah and Jerusalem.”
Photo by Michal Fattal

 

When Your Eyes
 
 
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 sack 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?

 

 


“Ben Gurion Airport”
Photo by Michal Fattal

 

 

Crossing the Border into Israel, II

“The majority of the Knesset decided to create a committee to investigate
human rights organizations…And they have more plans: …new regulations
that would deny entry to Israel of anyone connected to leftist activity.”

– Nitzan Horowitz, Member of Knesset

If they ask me why
I’ve come, I’ll say
Tourist

When they want to know
where I’m going, I’ll say
Haifa, not Hebron

When they look
in my bag, find
the tape recorder,
I’ll say Family stories,
not Awad’s story

But if they ask who
I work for, I’ll say, You

And when they don’t
believe me, and they shine
a steel lamp into my mouth,
and climb in

they’ll find my grandmother Bessie,
small, still wearing her coat, saying,
In the pogrom, they told me,
Hold your tongue, girl.

Today, my tongue
is not a rope
they can bind
back down my throat

If they ask me who
I am, I’ll say Jew

 


“Eviction 1, Sheikh Jarrah, a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem.”
Photo by Michal Fattal

 


“Eviction 2, Sheikh Jarrah.”
Photo by Michal Fattal

 


Nasser Ghawi, protesting his family’s eviction from their home.
Photo by Michal Fattal

 

 

I Will Stand
 
Nasser Ghawi, graphic designer.
Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, East Jerusalem.
 
 
The Israeli police came at five in the morning, came with cars, their guns, their horses, and a dog. We could hear them breaking down the door. My niece was crying, they wouldn’t let us take our stuff. My kids were crying. If you don’t stop crying, I’ll arrest you. An officer said this to my kids. To me he said, Give me the key, Mr. Nasser. You bombed the door, I said. There’s no door to use the key. He said, Give. Me. The key. Then he ran to the settler, gave him the key, to show me This is not your house anymore. An hour later, settlers moved in with their mattresses. I was born in this house 49 years ago, my brothers were born in this house, all our children were born in this house. This is the lemon tree my mother planted, the fig, the olive, the apricot. Our family has been in this house for 56 years. We have the original deed of ownership. It’s an old document, the Israeli court said. We can’t recognize that kind of paper. So they cancelled the document. They cancelled the document. The settlers’ deed is one hundred and thirty years old. The court decided the land belongs to them. The settlers put a menorah on the roof that was my house, is still my house. Our family slept in a tent in front of the house for months, protesting our eviction. The police took it down nine times. I will sit on a chair in the street with my children without a tent, without anything, Maysoun, his wife, says. They stole the house from me by force. I will stand or visit my house. I have a right to be here.

 

 


“Ariel Ben Aharon.” (The sticker on the laptop says, ‘Love for Free.’)
Photo: Michal Fattal

 

Love for Free and Arabic Music in the Background
 
Ariel Ben Aharon, settler
Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem
 
Yes, you can see that I love Arabic music. We love all. We teach not to hate, anyone who hates is someone who is damaging himself. The Rambam, Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon, who lived 950 years ago, wrote that there are a million ways, and if I tell everyone that my way is better, it will make a mess. Each in his own way, each with his own thing, we must simply love everyone, doesn’t matter who, anyone, any goy. We love. Very simple, we do not hate anyone.
 
How do I get along with my neighbors? Very well. Sometimes there are ‘things’, but how to say it, that’s the youngsters, those who love action, who haven’t seen enough movies. Listen, if someone comes to hit me, we’re not sitting quiet and saying to him, come and beat us and everything is fine. But we are not putting hate in here, nothing. How do I explain it to you. I’m here already three months and I never in my life went to anyone and said to him, Go away, you asshole, or something like this, I didn’t throw him words, but I always see they are the irritators, they’re always throwing words at me in Arabic. I don’t understand Arabic but I understand they’re curses. I keep quiet, say to myself, I don’t care. The land of Israel belongs to the Israeli nation according to the Bible. Abraham, God promised him. Why do I need them? They can shout until tomorrow.

 

 

in the mirror
 
to my israeli and american jewish family
 
 
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

 

 


“Clashes.”
Photo by Michal Fattal

 

Out of Nowhere
 
Sarah, Jewish resident, Jerusalem
 
 
Have I ever been to the West Bank,
to Palestinian villages? No, but I’ve driven
on roads that go past them. You Americans
can’t know what it’s like unless you live here.
 
We’re driving with some friends at night on a road
just 10 minutes from here, from our house in Jerusalem,
and out of nowhere, some young boys, teenagers,
Palestinians, rush toward us, close in on us, throw
boulders at our car, boulders not stones, they shatter
 
the windshield. Thought I was going to die right there,
our friends in the back seat calling the police, who, thank G_d,
directed us to the station. We put the car in reverse
and raced back down the road. You’re lucky to be alive,
they said. Why were you there in the first place?
 
Terrifying. I was attacked just because I’m a Jew.

 

 

      

Photos by Michal Fattal

 

 

Dare I Call You Cousin
 
 
“Wish wish wish the world would take that dare.”
– Poet Naomi Shihab Nye, on hearing the title
of the exhibition.
 
 
Too often comes the death stare.
Too many daughters, sons, ashes.
Wish wish wish we would take that dare.
 
Schoolgirl on a bus, death doesn’t care,
doesn’t falter. It whirrs and flashes.
Wish wish wish we could take that dare.
 
Oud player, cyclist, release despair,
release the pain that death attaches.
Yes yes yes we should take that dare.
 
Stone thrower, soldier, in death’s wide glare,
together we will heal the gashes.
Salaam, shalom, why not dare
 
end, for both our peoples, death’s career.
Abraham/Ibrahim, watch us
do more than wish to take that dare.
 
Enough, this death-dark nightmare.
Cousin, let’s stop these clashes.
Too often comes the death stare.
Yes yes yes let’s take that dare.

 

 


“Students Yael Keinan and Areen Nashef, at Hand in Hand School, in front of flags of donors’ countries.”
Photo by Michal Fattal

 

So What
 
 
Jerusalem’s Hand in Hand (Yad B’Yad) School, one of the only
bi-cultural, bilingual, integrated schools for Arabs and Jews in Israel.
 
 
The idea right there in plain sight,
obvious as breathing with a hat on,
though few of their Israeli and
Palestinian neighbors and friends
and cousins could see it, their eyes
cataracted with fear. But for Areen
and Yael in first grade, it was easy.
Teachers filled the classroom with
Arabic and Hebrew, and so what
they had no words yet to talk to each other.
They used their hands, wrapped books
together, ate figs and pomegranates together,
played ball together under the olive trees.
So what if they disagreed and agreed
all the way up the ladder of grades,
they learned each other’s languages
and listened, didn’t they, heard with their
ears and toes and rows of desks, cluttered
and spattered with their complicated lives.
They spoke, didn’t they, they understood,
their arms around each other’s waists.
And their words rose with the years,
We don’t blame each other for the
adults’ mistakes, we are sisters.

 


Video by Yossi Yakov

 


 

The Breasted God
 
On the day El Shaddai / Inanna, the Breasted God, returns
after many millennia, wouldn’t you know it, artists set to work
immediately, and crosses and crescents and stars of David
become breasts oo or 8 the shape of infinity signs.
And She sends us a message in six thousand and seventy
languages: We’re here forever so clean up and come over.
I’m inviting the whole family in for tea.

 
And so I’m here. We’re all here. You can hardly get in the door.
Everyone I’ve ever loved is here, everyone I’ve known and
heard about, and all of you I have yet to know.
 
Well, first off, She serves tea. I mean, She Herself
serves it. And She has all of our favorite teas,
from each of our families’ tea bins, Of course,
why wouldn’t I,
She says, and sits down. So tell me.
 
She wants to hear our stories. She opens Her desk,
turns on Her computer and its Translation Program,
the one with the built-in speakers so we can all
understand each other, and as we talk, She takes notes.
 
I mean, She takes notes. Any other place, an assistant
would be taking notes. I’m going to write down all
that You tell me, and then I’ll read it back to You
so You can tell me if I’ve heard You right.

 
Sounds like She really wants to hear, alright,
and what’s more She’s writing it down.
It’s up to You how You do this.
 
Well, no surprise, we can’t agree on how to do it.
We soon realize that in Her house, no one
has any more power than She does or
each other, so we just do it, tell our stories.
One at a time.
 
It’s like a Grand Intervention.
Of course that’s how it is.
How can it be any other way?
We all know what a muck we’ve made of things.
 
And here’s another thing: in Her house,
we discover that what we all have in common,
every one of us, is a fine-tuned Baloney Factor Meter.
And we use it. We’re at that place where enough is enough.
 
So we sit here with this large I mean large family
and tell each other our exact experiences. And it’s tough.
But we’re in Her house and we feel emboldened by the group.
We talk, we hear, we use The Meter.
 
And it goes on into the night and next day and next night and years
and we talk and listen and meter. And there rises in the room
a kind of centrifugal caring. Each word carries it.
 
And She takes down each of our stories and the group’s
responses and reads it all back to us and we listen
and look at each other. Hard.
 
We know so much about each other, that by now we are a family.
It’s clear how we’ve hurt each other, how we love each other,
where we’ve failed, where we’ve gotten it right.
 
And at last She says, So go home and clean up
what You now know and invite me to come visit.
I will sit in Your kitchens next time, see Your stories
for myself. And then I will tell You mine.

 

 


 

Brief Description:
 
Dare I Call You Cousin, a manuscript and exhibition of poetry, photos, and videos, steps inside the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Images and stories, from both Israeli and Palestinian points of view, show the simmering conditions underpinning their lives. The art’s peacebuilding aim is to create breathing space for discussion. Three artists concerned about the Occupation have collaborated to create Cousin: Portland poet Frances Payne Adler, Jerusalem photographer Michal Fattal, and Tel Aviv videographer Yossi Yacov. The Dare I Call You Cousin exhibition opened at Havurah Shalom in Portland, Oregon, and was shown most recently at Brandeis University’s Graduate Program in Conflict Resolution and Coexistence. A portion of Cousin appears here in Persimmon Tree.
 

 
Acknowledgments:
 
For permission to reproduce the photographs reprinted in this feature, thanks go to photographer Michal Fattal. Copyright © 2022 by Michal Fattal. Reprinted with permission of the photographer.
 
Thanks to Yossi Yacov for his insightful videography.
 
“Sheket.” Persimmon Tree. Summer 2015.
 
“When Your Eyes” and “In the Mirror.” Serving House Journal. Issue 5. April 2012.
 
“Crossing the Border into Israel II.” Voices Israel Anthology 2012: Poetry from Israel and Abroad. Jerusalem. Vol 38. June 2012.
 
“The Breasted God.” Bridges. Eugene, OR. Vol. 9. No.2. Fall 2002. Making of a Matriot. LA: Red Hen Press, 2003, 2017.
 
“Matriot.” Progressive. Madison, WI. Feb. 1995.
 
Havurah Shalom community in Portland, OR, for their original showing of Dare I Call You Cousin.
 
And to Odds, my generous writing community.
 
I’d also like to acknowledge, with thanks, Editor Sue Leonard and Poetry Editor Cynthia Hogue, of Persimmon Tree, for their generosity and belief in my work.

 

 

 

 

 

Bio

Poet Frances Payne Adler is the author of five books: two poetry collections, Making of a Matriot and Raising The Tents; and three collaborative poetry-photography books and social action art exhibitions with photographer Kira Corser that have shown in galleries, universities, and state capitol buildings across the country, as well as in the U.S. Senate in Washington, D.C. She also co-edited Fire and Ink: An Anthology of Social Action Writing, with Debra Busman and Diana Garcia, that won a ForeWord Book of the Year Award for Anthologies. Adler is the poetry editor of Tikkun Magazine, and Professor Emerita and founder of the Creative Writing & Social Action program at California State University Monterey Bay. She now lives in Portland, Oregon.

Israeli photographer Michal Fattal has worked for Jerusalem's Ha'aretz newspaper since 2010. Her photographs have been published in The Guardian, New York Times, Newsweek, Time, La Razon, Berliner Zeitung, and International Herald Tribune. Exhibitions at Jerusalem Artists' House, the International Photography Festival, Tel Aviv Photo, and Visa Pour L'Image Perpignan, France. She received Israel's Intel Exhibition Excellency Award. Fattal studied photography and digital media at Hadassah College, and trained as a photo therapist at Musrara Multidisciplinary School of Art, specializing in at-risk youth. Her recent collaborative work is a book with her photographs: Ein Karem - Exploring and Cooking in Jerusalem's Biblical Village. She lives in Jerusalem. Her photographs can be viewed at www.michalfattal.com

Yossi Yacov, an Israeli filmmaker/videographer, has 25 years' experience in documentary and TV news as director, photographer, editor and correspondent, and has been filming the Israeli & Palestinian peace movements for years. For the last 10 years, he has worked for human rights organizations such as Breaking the Silence, and the Association for Civil Rights. Yacov lives in Tel Aviv and studied cinema at Tel Aviv University.

5 Comments on “Poetry

  1. Thank you for this presentation of poetry, photographs, and video. As an American who has lived in Israel, I find it well balanced and very well done. The two girls interviewed at Hand in Hand School were inspiring in how they handled the questions.

  2. Thank you so much for this powerful and complicated tapestry of poetry, stories, and photographs. It was also very special to meet Yael and Areen- beacons of hope for the future.

  3. The moving interleaving of photographs and words that respond to and open those photographs makes this a complete and immersive experience. You cover yourselves with honor in bringing this fine work to a larger public, especially in this time of ongoing war.

  4. This complicated narrative and the stunning pictures and the amazing poetry have taken my breath away. My heart is pounding. Thank you, thank you for bringing this to me.

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