what have we learned 15 years later...
On the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attack on the USA - September 11, 2001 - I can only post these two poems. I do not believe we have opened our hearts to the wisdom of our wound. I do not believe we have grown more compassionate nor connected to the suffering we cause in a broken world. I hate to my core the violence and venom our attackers brought to innocent Americans on that day - and continue to advance - and still I sense that rather than go deeper because of this attack, we have become more shallow and shrill. I love my nation and my people and I know we are masters of denial and privilege, too. So, in sorrow, I read the poetry of Naomi Shihab Nye - and wait.
my father would say. And he’d prove it,
cupping the buzzer instantly
while the host with the swatter stared.
In the spring our palms peeled like snakes.
True Arabs believed watermelon could heal fifty ways.
I changed these to fit the occasion.
Years before, a girl knocked,
wanted to see the Arab.
I said we didn’t have one.
After that, my father told me who he was,
a good name, borrowed from the sky.
Once I said, “When we die, we give it back?”
He said that’s what a true Arab would say.
Today the headlines clot in my blood.
A little Palestinian dangles a truck on the front page.
Homeless fig, this tragedy with a terrible root
is too big for us. What flag can we wave? I wave the flag of stone and seed,
table mat stitched in blue.
I call my father, we talk around the news.
It is too much for him,
neither of his two languages can reach it.
I drive into the country to find sheep, cows,
to plead with the air:
Who calls anyone civilized?
Where can the crying heart graze?
What does a true Arab do now?
The man with laughing eyes stopped smiling
to say, "Until you speak Arabic,
you will not understand pain."
Something to do with the back of the head,
an Arab carries sorrow in the back of the head,
that only language cracks, the thrum of stones
weeping, grating hinge on an old metal gate.
"Once you know," he whispered, "you can
enter the room
whenever you need to. Music you heard
from a distance,
the slapped drum of a stranger's wedding,
well up inside your skin, inside rain, a thousand
pulsing tongues. You are changed."
Outside, the snow has finally stopped.
In a land where snow rarely falls,
we had felt our days grow white and still.
I thought pain had no tongue. Or every tongue
at once, supreme translator, sieve. I admit my
shame. To live on the brink of Arabic, tugging
its rich threads without understanding
how to weave the rug…I have no gift.
The sound, but not the sense.
I kept looking over his shoulder for someone else
to talk to, recalling my dying friend
who only scrawled
I can't write. What good would any grammar
to her then? I touched his arm, held it hard,
which sometimes you don't do in the Middle East,
and said, I'll work on it, feeling sad
for his good strict heart, but later in the slick street
hailed a taxi by shouting Pain! and it stopped
in every language and opened its doors.