“I turn often to poetry” feels like such a ridiculous thing to say. Do I mean, instead, pretentious? Perhaps I do, despite the years I’ve spent trying to unlearn the internalized and complicated classism that is the hidden curriculum of every single one of the schools I attended.
However I feel about the fact, the fact remains.
This week this poem by Lena Khalaf Tuffaha found me on every platform.
This week I did a lot of reading. This week I tried to sort out the difference between what I learned and what is happening. I tried to sort out what I think and what I feel and what I feel able to talk about and why I feel like I need to talk about those things. Able is a heavy word. Perhaps I mean ready. Perhaps I mean qualified. Perhaps I mean prepared. Perhaps I mean have done enough reading.
What amount of reading is enough when children keep dying because bombs keep falling on them and the reasons given by the people dropping the bombs are not the reasons for the bombs.
What kind of Ishmael are you, is a question I have been asked. Aren’t people something, with their questions and their declarations and their insistence.
What amount of deliberate, years-long refusal to stereotype will suffice?
I keep trying to know. What amount of knowing is enough? What does knowing resolve?
I don’t know.
They call us now,
before they drop the bombs.
The phone rings
and someone who knows my first name
calls and says in perfect Arabic
“This is David.”
And in my stupor of sonic booms and glass-shattering symphonies
still smashing around in my head
I think, Do I know any Davids in Gaza?
They call us now to say
You have 58 seconds from the end of this message.
Your house is next.
They think of it as some kind of
It doesn’t matter that
there is nowhere to run to.
It means nothing that the borders are closed
and your papers are worthless
and mark you only for a life sentence
in this prison by the sea
and the alleyways are narrow
and there are more human lives
packed one against the other
more than any other place on earth
We aren’t trying to kill you.
It doesn’t matter that
you can’t call us back to tell us
the people we claim to want aren’t in your house
that there’s no one here
except you and your children
who were cheering for Argentina
sharing the last loaf of bread for this week
counting candles left in case the power goes out.
It doesn’t matter that you have children.
You live in the wrong place
and now is your chance to run
It doesn’t matter
that 58 seconds isn’t long enough
to find your wedding album
or your son’s favorite blanket
or your daughter’s almost completed college application
or your shoes
or to gather everyone in the house.
It doesn’t matter what you had planned.
It doesn’t matter who you are.
Prove you’re human.
Prove you stand on two legs.
— Running Orders by Lena Khalaf Tuffaha