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Dalia of al-Bireh, Palestine

Bina of Rishon LeZion, Israel

 

Every step knows. But I’m taking them anyway.

Every body.

Marching towards the cold concrete

of our occupation

– there’s hundreds of us,

once again –

we carry no weapons,

but our breathing. The threat that’s arm-in-arm.


Not those

I grew up around (and what formed them).

Not those

you join (and who tells us so).

Not those

I’m selling coffee with on Ben Tsiyon now.

Least of all my mum.


But then, a single shot contains

everything

that won’t be conquered,

and the silence that follows

leaves me with nothing

but my words. What’s harmed is always more

than one person.


No one will ever be allowed to hear

what I feel

beyond I love my country,

and I want us to be safe. No one,

but this poem.

That’s where my pain really lives.


It’s there – in my life’s drought

stretching towards the withering twigs

of what’s only still reached

in a dream

I no longer know

how to dream.


But they’re running through me,

still. Like roads,

machine-gun-guarded:

all those.

Before I had a chance?


And it’s there – in stroking little Saif’s hair,

pretending not to know

that his mother won’t be replaced.

Not like this.

The way he walks out of my touch isn’t evasion.

It’s what he grew up with instead.


As if to say that I’m a solider now

won’t be covered

with the normalcy

of a life. All of me I stretched

to make my uniform

fit. And these fingers,

which were too small for the trigger

even at the end of my service.


Looking at him like this, I often wonder

what’s alive,

still. In his eyes. Like a miracle.

And I remember myself as a child… When all we had

was stones.


And holding on to a habit – it’s the same train

every day, now;

Rishon to Tel Aviv, half an hour for me

and my notebook

– doesn’t take: You’re not even in missile range,

Bina. How can you know?

It doesn’t take: At night,

I listen to the terror with my skin.


Today, I know that if a hand is too small

a stone

shrinks

exactly what their rifles

stretch inside a person. Back

to where nothing is possible.


I think, in a country that never

ceases

to question itself,

it’s as if the wind never

ceases

to blow. Our belief,

against another. Their situation,

against mine…


And if our lives are lived on nothing

but steadfastness, now

– what is steadfastness

in a moment like this? When it feels like

I’m walking

away

again, from what keeps everything in place.


And there are mornings

when I know it’s

more than a fancy to leave this train

at the wrong station,

and board a random bus instead.


Into what feels like forbidden territory.


And choose the opposite direction

everyone wants me to move in.


Where I’m allowed to think. If what’s being inflicted on a woman

defines who she is

she will need what’s being inflicted on her

the way a body needs water.


The moment the bus pulls out of the station,

I’m a little less afraid: every flag,

I think,

is a cry

for help.


Walking, like this, the ground beneath my feet

seems to hold a trace,

suddenly… Of that moment

when you where in the greatest of needs.

And our arms opened in a spirit

that looks like a hallucination now.


This is no longer a landscape

– stretches of absence

broken

by odd settlements; arid slopes

of limestone rising towards

the bright innocence that touches

everything

– nor even a land. Where

is this taking me?


Like passing a surprise checkpoint

after a deadly attack,

when whatever there is, in relief,

takes a long time to arrive,

because the pain lingers

and lingers…


The moment our capital wraps

what’s holy

in its stones

around my imagination,

the comfort I feel is real.


And the result is like a newborn baby:

almost too vulnerable to be held. That’s how I feel

this admission: no, I no longer believe

in our shaking off.


My mum’s fervent Intertwined with,

Bina.

Walking the narrow alleyways

of the Old City,

back when I still knew

how to do this holding on.

To: A presence.


As if it didn’t want me to walk

any further

than this, it’s coming up

against my face now.

As if

this was too far already. Like a wind?


Now I know that every dead body

cuts a twine. Wherever it falls. Every minute

passing…


Blowing al-Am’ari’s cries

down the streets of Netanya.


And a little more

of what we aim

to claim,

up here,

vanishes

every time we do.


Clouds of shopping street smoke

across Hebron’s daily festering.


Until there’s nothing left

but a shell

at the core of which

a once great dream

hangs massacred.


All this,

against all that.


And it bleeds, and it bleeds, and it bleeds.


But it’s this blood, my blood,

the blood that’s running through me, still,

that keeps pushing me on.


The moment I realise I’m walking

I realise how far I’ve come.


But then,

there’s the Wall.


Everyone in the camp could see my tears,

that night,

dripping into the helplessness,

and the anger, because

I knew,

long before they told us… That Shai

wouldn’t come back. That the only boy I ever loved

was dead.


And my memories march their despair

through my body

like an occupying army.


Like everything that’s in ruins

clustering –

high up in the sky – dropping

its inhumanity

into me

like a missile no one knows

how to intercept: a wound that doesn’t heal

doesn’t ask Who.


That’s when my legs give in

to a weight that’s there,

always. And contains

more, much more

than our accepted suffering.


But then,

there’s the Wall.


And as I stare at the concrete, I think: perhaps

it’s what you’ve lost completely

you understand best,

sometimes. Perhaps that’s why I feel this way. About your fear.


And all it’s doing

to you

brings me to my knees. But my hand refuses

to remain closed

in everything everyone

has ever told me, and no one can deny the readiness

I feel

in my reaching out. As if to reach

through.


And perhaps it’s to that

my hand

is opening now.


For touch exceeding its touching

in a being touched.


Until this is so tight

I feel

a pulse that says: sometimes, Dalia,

raising

and being raised

are one.


When I’m standing again,

the pain

has left my body.


And as if my seeing had lost

the apartheid

of its seeing, what’s coming in, now,

carries a current

that’s known to different eyes,

elsewhere.


And I know: all that’s filling me instead

won’t be claimed,

or kept,

or prolonged by any other means

than what’s creating it.


And with that,

it ceases. For the first time in my life.


And if there really is a presence

anywhere,

it’s here. And only here. In those windless moments.


When it’s too bright

to be denied:


All we could be.