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Sweet Blue

On this tepid day
while the COVID clock ticks past
one-hundred-eighty-thousand casualties
we are digging shallow holes
into a Vermont hillside to lay down a line
of low-bush blueberries [. . .]

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childhood dogs

no one can remember who
bought this mug, or if it belonged
to a larger set, which got lost along
some move or broken in some forgotten
box—maybe in the basement or the attic? [. . .]

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hospitable / nebula / night shift

I meet a girl who is an alien for Halloween, which is the secret queer costume of the decade; she wears it in green sparkles and two antennae launching from her hair. I am trying to tell if she is straight, and also, to be sexy, so I ask,
what is your favorite emoji? . . .

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I found a stack of letters you wrote to me from Bethlehem / Some people recognize physical acts of courage

I get home and my kids ask me to explain simple things: Why don’t humans lay eggs? Will it ever snow? Do people stop loving you because you’re far away? They’ve taped a sheet of paper to the wall, to keep a tally of all the mosquitos they killed since we arrived. . .

Transplant

There he was carrying a tray of bygone at a San Francisco Hilton. Surrogate for husband #1. Food services manager, not engineer. . .

Flower Moon in Quarantine

Astrologers say this moon in Scorpio is where we welcome the death of an old life, an old identity, old ways of being. It’s letting ourselves be reborn […]

Just This

My father did not fight in Vietnam, as he was a young scholar with a family Until he left home one day without explanation, exiled himself from doing harm.[…]

Google Searches

How to let people know I love them without reminding them I’m real. Am I real? Would it be better if I was real? How many times can a real person say “I love you” before someone gets annoyed and straight-up murders them?[…]

ON CATHOLIC SCHOOL

In Theology, I learned Jesus called his father Abba, and passed because it’s the name I call my own—who feared that I would leave Friday Mass half-faithful, forgetful of the place where I learned how to be hated.[…]

still want to be here / impressions / dissonance

trust me when I say I am not you. I do not know who you are, your likes & dislikes, why you care about this-that, him-her, why you cried or hours on end over at Krakow, burying yourself in the chest of a room I can’t recall[…]

Neighbor

the dying Italian mother of seven
raps the ceiling with a wood cane
as we make love in silence—no
less eager than a mother scolding

The Pain Scale / Must Be Nice

I knew for a decade just one way to die the one that took my uncle, my cousin, all the kids from my high school who didn’t leave town.[…]

Recipe for Dream Deferred Jambalaya after Langston Hughes / Swimming Lessons

A PAIR OF PARROTS COME IN FOR SURGERY

not subtlety, and at sundown begin moaning. The veterinarians act more veterinarianly. It must be internal damage. It must be the liver rupturing. Yes, the liver. And that is how these prognoses tend. Diagnosis being […]

Proclamación de Amores

Poets are just whisperers, whispering the rose verse, Weaving words as a curse. They wander the groves In order to find doves. They wander the meadows, So they find adagios. They wander the streams, To find the crowns of queens. Poets are just whisperers, Who their lament makes ornate.[…]

Opuntia stenopetala / translation or prayer / luciérnaga

your island, before storms and faces crashed on your shores with new names for death and stolen lands, whips and dark nights, histories of ancestors piled in the hulls of ships[…]

At the Lynching Museum, Bryan Stevenson Says / Signs Nailed to the Mailbox on Winnequah Road / Reparations

The auction block still rides on the black backs of ghosts hurling themselves town to town […]

Signs Of Spring / Who Made The World / Black Gold

The chapped lips of last season’s flora, the winter-cracked cattails slowly recovering their limber. Today I saw a willow precisely […]

Dear Mama / Watercolor / They Tell Us to Live in the Moment Because the Moment is All We May Have

I want our childhood back to watch the ice break off at the shoreline and float away when the sun begins to warm the waters of Lake Superior early spring. Or spend whole Saturdays planting the pink and purple candy-striped petunias you loved in flower boxes and along the borders of our little sidewalk. […]

Depression Aubade, or My Therapist Has a Breakthrough / Feedback

Everyday the author takes the bus like a distant hum, I love that. I love that somebody leaves the author a voicemail and doesn’t talk about pain as a thin golden feather. I love that the author calls back.[…]

Waorani Legend (With Appropriation)

My Gardener

Of a Fixed Nature

Two boys pull green oranges from the tree
that hangs over the churchyard fence. They

throw them into the street with such auto-
matic skill that they may be the same boys

sent to kill in any war that will never be theirs […]

ednos

Not Yet Five / Mother

With Cleopatra eyes and Sadé skin her words sting clear as Noxema lather:
“Mom, I’m not pretty,” she confesses. “What?” I accuse—“What do you mean,”
I spit and sputter, my mind scrambling to organize an understanding
of this violence she commits against herself […]

Post-Partum Jenga

I almost see myself trip and shatter
us both on the stairs. I almost see
my arms slip and tumble you over
the balcony to crack on the sidewalk
below […]

The Shekhinah, The Key to the Cinema, & The Very Breath of Children Is Free of Sin

The Shekhinah

Some say the Shekhinah is the queen
of presence, pulsing upward through
the living earth, bidding us to bloom
in our skins. The apple orchard
in full blossom. But when you see me,
I am a burning flame,
blonde hair billowing behind.
You have no throne festooned with ribbons,
no needle to embroider my plastic chair,
no silks to shimmer with my light.
I am an environmentalist drinking
from a Styrofoam cup. In cafes, I am silent,
can’t chat about good coffee and bad men. In the sukkah
sleeping under the eyes of myrtle, I dreamt I
was walking in Umm Batin and from under the main street
Hebron’s sewage rose till I was wading,
waste on my face, slogging until I got to a tent
to sip thick coffee and smoke a negilah, a minyan
of black-clad men in a corner bobbing. No
sewage here. It settled back into the earth.
I awoke shivering, sick under the patchy sky,
choking on ashes. I longed to tell my friends,
to dwell in the tabernacle of fellow feeling,
to harvest some compassion, to share
how our eyes always on Jerusalem blinds us to the stranger
who also dwells here, who doesn’t need the sukkah
to know everything is connected—new settlement
bathrooms, sewage leaching into the soil, meat, and cheese.
Next year in Jerusalem the chance of a Bedouin
getting cancer up 60 percent. I opened my mouth
but bees flew out, buzzing about a village girl
molested by her brother. Silence heavy in the sukkah.
In Wadi el-Naam, the health clinic I built to help
sits on a toxic waste dump. I ring out the last drops
of my strength in that village. I now pay to protect
the solar panels. My partner
accuses me of getting kickbacks from doctors.
This land holds magic and poison,
everything that sustains, every toxin.
It gets into your blood. I burn
to be part of the tribe, harvest rainwater,
farm like Ruth and Naomi, tend grapes and olives
without grabbing from those who have so little left.
How can you break bread around the Shabbat
table with those who don’t care?
So I live in a flat in Tel Aviv
no earth between my fingers, no growth to tend,
gates to God closed. My land, my heart
cordoned off with eight meters of concrete
and spirals of wire. The Wall
where papers are checked
and compassion halts.
In Hebrew, the word for person
is adam; adama, soil, has the same root.
I want this place
to feel like home.

 



The Key to the Cinema

My psych of genocide
prof invited me to a Friends
of Palestine meeting.

There each spoke around the circle
of their connection with Palestine.
A woman showed an old

photo, opened a box
on the mantel, took out
a key. Outside Jaffa
 
Gate was my house.
It’s a cinema now.
Her son said he’d never

been home.
A long
walk and there it is—

the Cinematheque. Not
the same walls—abandoned,
demolished—maybe what Mahmoud

meant when he said a house
dies without its owner. So
when the dead or dreaming visit,

they see old rooms;
the children’s ghosts chase
each other with a toad when no one’s

around like the day I wandered through
(why open yet empty?), red
ropes holding nothing back,

and from theatre four I heard
Grandma’s soft snore
as she took her rest before suppertime.

 



The Very Breath of Children Is Free of Sin

from a short passage in Raja Shehadeh’s Strangers in the House

As children were walking home from school
men kidnapped a boy
walking home from school
and shot randomly into the crowd of boys
walking home from school
who ran to the hills for cover.

Children were walking home from school
but one boy had not returned. His mother went
to the prison where she was told her son was kept
she was afraid he was cold and brought a sweater
to the prison where she was told her son was kept;
the prison guard took it from her
at the prison where she was told her son was kept
and promised to hand it to him
inside the prison where she was told her son was kept.

Aching, three days. She waited, yet
the boy was not released
from the prison where she was told her son was kept;
a shepherd found the boy
dead above the village
killed by one of the men’s bullets
walking home from school.

 

The granddaughter of a captain in Israel’s War for Independence, Joy Arbor grew up in Los Angeles, CA, listening to his stories of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To listen to other points of view, she joined the Compassionate Listening Project’s citizen delegation to Israel and the West Bank. Poems about her experiences have appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Scoundrel Time, and Scintilla. She is also the author of the chapbook, Where Are You From, Originally? (Finishing Line Press, 2016). She lives with her husband and son in Michigan’s Thumb and blogs occasionally about genocide and racism at https://joyarbor.net/blog/.