You used to complain about those straight girls
that would just lie there in bed.
Like corpses, you told me.
In Sderot there’s a saying,
always muffled by fifteen seconds
Once you’ve seen one corpse,
you’ve seen them all.
One white, one brown, one red, one
Mizrahi, one Arab purple yellow
Jewish polka-dotted corpse, one corpse
cloaked in burns or bruises, that your father
bought for two zuzim in this country
I never chose, where I burst for you like
twelve blood oranges, where I learned to
drink my coffee sweet, to pull
smoke through my lips
like string, to string you
along, darling, in this country
where the men learn to be hard, to break
a woman, to make a straight woman crooked
in two weeks or days or hours or can’t you see
I’m trying to love you less?
when I walk by the soldiers, they shout
the foulest words of love
in a language I don’t understand.
In this country where even the buses can bleed
so astoundingly, like poppies in the Negev,
where only the godly men
sit at the front, their payot like
cigarette rings, their wool coats
so heavy, longing.
Yes, these are the men who draw breath
when they brush my arm
as if they’ve touched a corpse.
But it is at these moments that I think of
you – whatever you are – and the place
beyond walls – wherever that is – beyond
documents and green lines, helicopters whirling up
tempests of sand, always in my shoes
and later in my dreams,
I feel the breath of a mother I never chose,
an umbilical cord
wrapped taut around my neck,
yanking me back to the land
where letters to God shoot up
like missiles, and on Fridays I confuse
the Wailing Wall for the Iron Dome, on Fridays
even prayer books
smash through stone, even
Copts and Ethiopians sing
to separate Gods, always failing
to out-shriek each other.
But here I am – whatever I am – trying
to read your name:
white sand steeped
in red, breath
vowels washed from stone.
Featured image by Maggie Meshnick.