Onions and Lemons

(Gaza: January, 2009)



I went to the market
and all I could find there
was onions and lemons,

said Um Adel Abu Nahil,
resident of a Gaza camp,
trapped between Israeli tanks
and page A14, column 5
of this morning’s newspaper.

I went to breathe
but all I could find,

said another, was fire.

Every poet in Israel
lay down by the riverside
and beat their electronic swords
into shares of the New Israel Fund.

Thousands of Gazans became poets
and lay down in the dust,
waiting for water. The least
among them, children unlike yours and mine,
the blessed of the shelled Earth, the salt
of the blood-drinking Kevlar warriors,
lay down beside the corpses of their mothers.

I would gladly give up my home
a woman told me last week
and my land, in Maryland,
if I could trade it for peace over there.

A woman as kind as you or I, perhaps,
but wiser than a thousand ministers or
as was said of Hiroshima:
brighter than a million suns.

To kill, we send other peoples sons,
mostly. Blessed are the Refusers
for they shall see some bored officer,
or some conflicted officer, or some superior fool
commander with the commandment: Thou shalt kill.

You may leave your conscience at home,
but you shall go and lie down in the dust
with the children of Palestine, and embrace
their many aunts and uncles; they are the Chosen.

Honest journalists shall commit suicide
and be resurrected as witnesses. Poets
who cannot bite their tongues will be dragged
by their tongues, by Israeli colonels,
until we are turned completely inside out
so that all may see our revolting insides.

My house. My heart. Neither giving nor forgiving
will sate the beast of war. On the knees of our tongues
in the desert we went down, and we tried not to look
at the children with their dead eyes, and their dead mothers
and tortured fathers and enraged uncles. Would those
children permit us to care for them? No.
They have Abu Nahil. They have onion fields.
They have a vast paradise of lemons.

They have the righteous ministers and officers
of “the only democracy in the Middle East.”
They have the succession of US Presidents
and Secretaries of State, one at a time,
proffering their good offices in places
where even a gravedigger would hide his shovel in shame.