Envoy to Palestine By Yusef Komunyakaa

Envoy to Palestine

By Yusef Komunyakaa

I’ve come to this one grassy hill
in Ramallah, off Tokyo Street,
to a place a few red anemones
& a sheaf of wheat on Darwish’s grave.
A borrowed line transported me beneath
a Babylonian moon & I found myself
lucky to have the shadow of a coat
as warmth, listening to a poet’s song
of Jerusalem, the hum of a red string
Caesar stole off Gilgamesh’s lute.
I know a prison of sunlight on the skin.
The land I come from they also dreamt
before they arrived in towering ships
battered by the hard Atlantic winds.
Crows followed me from my home.
My coyote heart is an old runagate
redskin, a noble savage, still Lakota,
& I knew the bow before the arch.
I feel the wildflowers, all the grasses
& insects singing to me. My sacred dead
is the dust of restless plains I come from,
& I love when it gets into my eyes & mouth
telling me of the roads behind & ahead.
I go back to broken treaties & smallpox,
the irony of barbed wire. Your envoy
could be a reprobate whose inheritance
is no more than a swig of firewater.
The sun made a temple of the bones
of my tribe. I know a dried-up riverbed
& extinct animals live in your nightmares
sharp as shark teeth from my mountains
strung into this brave necklace around
my neck. I hear Chief Standing Bear
saying to Judge Dundy, “I am a man,”
& now I know why I’d rather die a poet
than a warrior, tattoo & tomahawk.

Yusef Komunyakaa, “Envoy to Palestine” from The Emperor of Water Clocks. Copyright © 2015 by Yusef Komunyakaa.  Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.


Vijay Prashad, editor, Letters to Palestine: Writers Respond to War and Occupation:

“I would like this book to be carried in backpacks, placed on bedside tables, carried to festivals, read aloud at gatherings. This is a book to be used, a book to start conversations with. These are letters to Palestine—although the book could very well have been titled Letters about Palestine for a world that needs to reawaken its active solidarity through Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions (BDS) actions. I would like to see this book define the way we talk about Palestine—not through the fake legalese of the Oslo process, but as a land whose people have unfulfilled national aspirations, and as an idea for a people who remain as permanent refugees. Robin Kelley’s essay is titled, “Yes, I Said National Liberation.” We would like that kind of language to return to our framework—the language of liberation and national self-determination (which is right there in Article 1 of the UN Charter).

My colleague from LeftWord Books, Sudhanva Deshpande, was recently in Palestine to work with the Freedom Theatre. While at a bookstore in Jerusalem, he saw Githa’s From India to Palestine prominently displayed. Perhaps those letters from India, which Raja Shehadeh hoped would “bring about close understanding between the Indian and Palestinian peoples,” will be a model for these letters from the United States. Perhaps someday Letters to Palestine will find its way to bookstores in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Beirut, Amman, Detroit, Berlin, London, New Delhi, Beijing….Sahar Mandour, who edits the Palestine supplement of As-Safir, will be running the “letters” in Arabic. There is already a Korean edition to come. Others will surely follow.

There is a poem by Samih al-Qasim that I had in mind as I edited this book:

On the day you kill me
You’ll find in my pocket
Travel tickets
To peace,
To the fields and the rain,
To people’s conscience.
Don’t waste the tickets.
(translated by Abdullah al-Udhari).

These “letters,” I hope, are like those tickets. Don’t waste them.”

Rachel Mennies

rachel mennies

Here, in part, is how ImageUpdate has described the collection:

Rachel Mennies’s first collection is a powerful lyric account of a woman’s search for self through her relationship to God, Judaism, and history. These carefully-shaped poems arrest the reader with startling imagery and sound. With a compelling voice that is at once anguished and utterly composed, these poems ask: how does one reconcile one’s personal faith and struggles with those of one’s ancestors? And how, within the context of this history, does one come to terms with a God of witness and mercy?

How to Make a Jewish Poem

What makes this poem Jewish? Nobody’s
blessed it yet. Nobody’s named it,
named it again in Hebrew, put the name
on a Kiddush cup, filled that cup
with wine purple as a bruise.

Who’s going to march it
up and down the aisles,
dress and undress it
like a newborn at the altar,
kiss the book that taps it
from the pews?

Where are the bobby pins to stick
the lace to this poem’s crown, cover
its head on the Sabbath? Where’s
this poem’s sense of ritual? Its litany
of tics, its love of counting?

Let’s call this poem Rivka, Also,
Becky. Also, Rose, an ancient
relative this stanza’s never met.
Let’s yoke it to the ox of rules.
Let’s light a candle after dark.

smash a glass under its husband’s foot,
circumcise its wailing, red-faced
sons, watch it multiply
into a book (some poems
will remember, some
will not)—sit shivah
for its passing once
it ends

Rachel Mennies