All Too Human

All Too Human

Patriarchal history is the story of one long bloodbath ruptured by moments of aspiration and eons of denial.

Inhuman, they keep saying, animals! But animals are far more civilized. They don’t arm themselves, they don’t practice revenge. When will we recognize who we are? Our behavior is all too brutally human.

In the late 1980s, I spent quite a bit of time working with women in the Middle East region, and was there during the Second Intifada, in Israel, Egypt, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria–and the Gaza Strip. I have written at length about this in two books, The Demon Lover: The Roots of Terrorism, and in The Word of a Woman, a book of my essays. These writings are copious, personal, and detailed, so I won’t repeat or echo them here, except to say that I learned many things from the women there. The same things. The same powerlessness, the same fury, women on both sides, screaming NO, you will not use my children as cannon fodder.

Women on both sides, telling their stories of suffering–and of laughter in the teeth of suffering. Women on both sides worrying about me, a mere visitor, insisting that I eat, get some sleep, feeding me laughter, love, food, and lethal Middle Eastern coffee, even when my stomach could not bear it — why? “Because you must eat, you must be strong, we must survive this.” Generations of Ashkenazic and Sephardic women, believing the myths that they would be safe in the state of Israel, only to live out generations in fear. Four generations of Palestinian women, who were born, lived, and died in the refugee camps, in unspeakable conditions. The despair of repetition, the despair of not learning despite what is being taught, the despair of women crying Must we intervene? The men are not capable of making peace! And I won’t say which woman from which side said that. But in truth, women from both sides did.

The despair drives me to poetry, the only truly safe place, I know—and I did promise that the blog each week would have a piece of work from Harvesting Darkness, my new book of poems, just published by Spinifex Press.

This poem is called “The Winter Solstice,” and it’s a sonnet. It juxtaposes the elegance of form with the cruelty of subject matter.

The Winter Solstice

These small hours of a slowly dying year
leak through night’s cracks–pale, splintery,
bleak. No window’s warmth, no gleam, no wintery cheer shimmers at us. We crawl by in despair,

weary of weeping yet wary of growing numb,
seeing a world doomed by our filth and rage,
suspecting nothing we now grieve can gauge
the final conflagration yet to come.

Like children begging for another chance, some
claim to acquire night vision and to see
bright blurs of hope through the debris
–phosphorescent algae astride seafoam—
until that beauty, these glowing pearls of pus
reveal the true catastrophe is us.