Monday, September 29, 2008

Poem on the eve of Rosh Hashana by Hank Kalet

I wrote this poem four years ago after the attack on a school that killed 300 in Chechnya. I'm posting it today, the first night of Rosh Hashana, because of the title and because I think its basic theme remains relevant.

Poem on the Eve of Rosh Hashana
By Hank Kalet

The count is more than 300 and the calculation
is not so simple, dead children
and building boulders scattered like
so many leaves on an autumn lawn.

What is terror but desperation, a political calculus
born of a sense that there is no future
but in violence. But violence is just violence,
the dead lacking the symbolic grace

of the High Mass or the Shofar's trilling call.
I can't watch the news anymore, filled with
so much pain and personal anguish.
I wash the coffee pot and measure out the beans,

pour them into the grinder and start the maker,
the harsh whir exploding the morning's silence.
The television drones in the background:
a hurricane batters Florida as the candidates

swing through the Midwest stumping for votes
and college teams get ready for their season.
The president's in Pittsburgh talking about jobs
and Kerry's in Ohio talking about taxes

as 13 Americans die in Iraq defending a lie.
I want to ask the president how often you need
tell a lie before it becomes a fact,
how many times you must repeat a wish

before the wish becomes reality.
But then I think of convoys destroyed
by rocket propelled grenades and American bodies
lying dead roadside and Iraqi bodies strewn

across burning cities, and language fails me,
words seeming woefully inadequate to the task.
Our toast has popped and the eggs are burning on the stove.
There is ethnic cleansing in Sudan, the refugees fanning out

across the plains, the rebel forces ragtag and hungry,
running roughshod over small villages as the government
terrorizes its own citizens, the nation breaking apart
under the weight of memory and too many guns.

Hamas takes credit for a bus bomb that kills 16
as if it were awaiting an award nomination
or signing its name to a painting like Picasso or Matisse.
The Israeli government responds with airstrikes that

kill another 14, retaliation begetting retaliation,
the circle of violence replacing the circle of life.
Who is to blame when the oppressed become the aggressor?
And how can we apportion blame when none of us is blameless?

How can we be so smug when we help create the conditions
that drive the young boy in Jenin or Ramallah to strap
a bomb to his chest and blow himself up on a
crowded bus or boulevard in Tel Aviv or Beersheba?

We have too much to atone for this year, too many lives
lost in the haze of never-ending violence,
a war of attrition taking aim, breaking our spirits,
its vast weight suffocating our souls.

1 comment:

Ron said...

thanks for this great poetry.