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Poems from In the Path of Lightning: Selected Poems

  For Ilan Halimi  

kidnapped & tortured by French Muslims
Paris, January-February 2006

We do not call our dead shaheeds.
They do not blow up planes     or babies
or leap into flames to fly to the heavens,
not for sex with a dead universe
of virgins not for all the davening rabbis
of the holy land and not for God.

You, Ilan, will be recalled as a victim,
one more death in millennia-long caravans
of the martyred that trail from Babylonia
to Jerusalem     and back. Your body
was more brutalized than many,
but little children in Treblinka and Ponary

were treated worse: nothing is left of them
but our will to remember: no bones, no
headlines, no somber marches in the halal cities
of Eurabia. Because you were tortured in French
and Arabic, you will be a symbol, but the children
did not grow into their names. What is the meaning

of such cruelty to us, who were born in the shadow
of Shoah? We who remain alive will mourn you
as a brother     or as a son who left us wounded,
maimed on a highway, blind and deaf in a wood,
burnt and abandoned again, Ilan, by the God
in whom we ache to believe.




  A Song for Matthew Shepard

They might have been brothers,
but one of them was gay.
They breathed the prairie autumn air

and dreamed the star-field sky.
They might have laughed and cried together
except for that difference.

Except for that, they might have been brothers
and they might have been friends,
but they beat him and kicked him

and pistol-whipped his head. They would teach him
to be different and lashed him to a fence
and left him there to die.

                         *   *   *

Wyoming wind lapped him with cold fire
and the black Laramie night wrapped his bones in ice.
He hung on the buck-rail fence like a neon sign:

Hate knows its business but ignorance will suffice.

                         *   *   *

Then the murderers went home, stained
with their victim’s blood    and each saw in the other
his own death-streaked face.

So they pulled off the blood-splashed boots,
they stripped off the blood-spattered shirts,
and the women who loved them hid the evidence.

They hid the evidence    after leaving him to die
tied to a fence in Laramie    under
a star-field sky.




  A Bench in Tel Aviv  

Have I grown so old that every young person
seems bright-eyed and beautiful,

or is it that young Israelis, especially the women,
are imbued with strength and brushed with radiance?

They must be beautiful, these dark-haired women,
because I can’t keep my eyes from them

Their eyes don’t look away; instead, they turn towards me.
Today, again, I think of home

A woman in her twenties talks to the air: the wire
of her earpiece snakes down her left arm    a phylactery     

Behind her, a newly washed sheet flaps repeatedly
against beige-yellow stone

The day is white with sun, dry and intemperate
as desert wind

More beautiful girls float in the green fire of afternoon,
straps of their handbags lashed across one shoulder

Later, two men move haltingly under the violet shade
of jacarandas, one as frail as a May cloud in December     

As they drift in a haze of tenderness and devotion,
something wakes in me and tries to follow

Father, I see now I am still mourning you!
For so long —the length of an eclipse on Jupiter —

the fact of your existence spurred me on:
like the silent God I complained to, you held back your love

and kept true intimacy in reserve, as if the history
of your inwardness was revelation enough

And when, in your eighth decade, you emerged,
like a new sun blossoming, so that rays of sweetness

reached out to me, winter came too fast
It is too late now to rise from this bench together
as the light of Tel Aviv pours down its beauty




  Snow is the Poem Without Flags
  for Orhan Pamuk

What is whiter than stars yet darker
than cloud-sifted moonlight, softer
than the breast that nurtures a child? 

Only snow answers this call to mystery
and pleasure — the white snow of a winter’s
morning    that dreams itself gone.

And what is its name, this creature
of cold light and desire, where is the center
of its knowledge and longing? Clearly, its address

is history and the heart its blue-white body,
but who can tame it and raise it up from silence?
who can instruct its paws to brush like lamplight

against her face? Only the white breath of the wind
— the wind that moans in Arabic and Turkish    in Hindi
and Hebrew    and English    in the cold mouth

that prays in a thousand tongues and knows
no mother or father    that cries like a child
who thirsts for the breast    only the wind

brushing the face of the snow that was born
anonymous    the wind in the snow’s
white hair      And where can we find this snow,

immersed as we are in summer    in the heat
of war    with a hot sun blazing    and the whine
of rockets and bombs that fly like blown flakes

of darkness    everything on fire with a great
and unquenchable thirst? Only the wind can speak  
            and name its country.