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Memo

To those who wish to sponsor
the immigration of their family from Vietnam
through the Orderly Departure Program

The information we request
as a matter of routine
may be disclosed to local
or foreign law enforcement
agencies, concerned or unconcerned
individuals, or universal mailings,

and though you tell us
the nature of your employment
and that you believe in God, please
send us your balanced check book
to assure us that the aliens
you wish to sponsor will not
become a public charge

for we dedicate this great country
and all our natural resources
to the dollar. Your submission
is voluntary, but should you refuse

your wife and children may remain
in the camp where their space is marked
by the flattened cardboard boxes you sent
and a tin roof that captures heat
and makes rain sound like the staccato
of machine gun fire.

If your information suits us
we may consider

--Edie Aronowitz Mueller


Learning to Read
Caesaria, Israel

In a grove of orange trees
you learn to read
from the torn earth
sifting sand through your fingers.

You learn to read
the shattered oil lamp
sifting sand through your fingers.
Refugees left behind

the shattered oil lamp.
Richard Coeur de Leon rides past
refugees left behind
under blue-drained-of-moisture sky.

Richard Coeur de Leon rides past
the cell of Rabbi Akiba
under blue-drained-of-moisture sky.
Torah: the pattern of God's face.

The cell of Rabbi Akiba
who will not give up
Torah, the pattern of God's face,
holds a broken perfume bottle.

Who will not give up
the green of Phoenician glass
holds a broken perfume bottle
made for a sailor's lover.

The green of Phoenician glass
is drawn along the wall
made for a sailor's lover.
A caveman's spear


is drawn along the wall,
and an ochre bison.

A caveman's spear
is a prayer to capture life.

And an ochre bison
in the grove of orange trees
is a prayer to capture life
from the torn earth.

-- Edie Aronowitz Mueller
first published in Prairie Schooner


The Children's Bomb Shelter
Kibbutz Sdot Yam, Israel

From the air all planes can see
lines of cypress, red poppies, crowns
of thorns, mounds of grass hiding the shelters.
Ours in under the jungle gym.

Days the door is open. We play inside:
pick-up sticks, jacks on the cement floor.
Tzillah paints rows of flowers
on the cinder-block walls.

Once a month we stay overnight
in a narrow, three-decker beds
with guard rails, the whir
of the fan pumping air.
When the lights are out

Moshe tells a story
about a mangle boy whose parents send him back
to his grave. In her sleep
Zhava mutters. Morning

we race to see the sky.

--Edie Aronowitz Mueller


Precious Things
-- for my husband’s mother

After sixteen years of Christmas
at your house, your stories

of how you saved the house, saved
the kids, led them through war

as if they were the only precious thing,
putting them to bed with their clothes on

even their shoes; how my husband said Schoen
when flares lit the bomb’s way;

how your husband Walter
scavenged the fields after harvest,

giving the farmer his grandfather’s watch;
how the man upstairs left teeth marks

in the butter; how a neighbor ate
all his rice ration walking home

then died when his stomach burst –
I still can’t ask

Did you ever see a Jew
wearing a yellow star?

Were her eyes hazel
like mine?

Instead: what was worse:
the war
Or taking care of your husband and sister
who died at home one months apart

you their only nurse; holding your sister’s
hand as it got cold, talking to her

all afternoon, into the night, knowing
hearing is the last to go;

getting into the hospital bed with Walter
holding his head on your breast

when he says “Grete,
I miss you.”

You say
“The war.”

Edie Aronowitz Mueller


Range-Finding

The battle rent a cobweb diamond-strung
And cut a flower beside a ground bird's nest
Before it stained a single human breast.
The stricken flower bent double and so hung.
And still the bird revisited her young.
A butterfly its fall had dispossessed
A moment sought in air his flower of rest,
Then lightly stooped to it and fluttering clung.

On the bare upland pasture there had spread
O'ernight 'twixt mullein stalks a wheel of thread
And straining cables wet with silver dew.
A sudden passing bullet shook it dry.
The indwelling spider ran to greet the fly,
But finding nothing, sullenly withdrew.

-- Robert Frost


Blood

"A true Arab knows how to catch a fly in his hands,"
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,
"Shihab" -- "shooting star" --
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?

-- Naomi Shihab Nye


Tourists

Visits of condolence is all we get from them.
They squat at the Holocaust Memorial,
They put on grave faces at the Wailing Wall
And they laugh behind heavy curtains
In their hotels.
They have their pictures taken
Together with our famous dead
At Rachel’s Tomb and Herzl’s Tomb
And on the top of Ammunition Hill.
They weep over our sweet boys
And lust over our tough girls
And hang up their underwear
To dry quickly
In cool, blue bathrooms.


Once I sat on the steps by a gate at David’s tower, I placed my
two heavy baskets at my side. A group of tourists was standing
around their guide and I became their target marker. “You see that
man with the baskets? Just right of his head there’s an arch from
the Roman period. Just right of his head.” “But he’s moving, he’s
moving!” I said to myself: redemption will come only if their guide
tells them, “You see that arch from the Roman period? It’s not
important: but next to it, left and down a bit, there sits a man
who’s bought fruit and vegetables for his family.”

-- Yehuda Amichai

translated from the Hebrew by Glenda Abramson and Tudor Parfitt
in Great Tranquillity: Questions and Answers, 1983. Harper & Row

 

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