Daniel Joseph Martinez, “The House America Built” (2004–17), installation view at HOME—So Different, So Appealing at LACMA, 2017 (photo by Elisa Wouk Almino/Hyperallergic)

 

Family

At the Catholic university, a speaker clicks through slide after slide of barbed wire, cattle-chute checkpoints, and walls. His mantra is occupation. What threatens the Christians, he concludes, is what threatens Palestinians. A woman stands up. I wanted to let everyone know, she says, that this talk was FULL of SPIN. (I can’t see her, she’s behind me, I’m afraid to look back.) The truth is the OPPOSITE. (My heart goes out to her, standing in the heart of another country.) The reason for the wall was that people were being ATTACKED, she says. BY TERRORISTS. After all, the Arabs sold the land, it was too much trouble. (I shrink back in my seat, shake my head.) And at a Catholic school, you should KNOW what the Church has done, especially during World War II! Then a man gets up (I can’t see him, he’s behind me, I’m afraid to look back). The Jews bought a tiny bit of land, but the rest, the rest was STOLEN! (My heart goes out to him, standing in the heart of another country.) BUT! he says. THEY did not buy everything, even if they buy Congress! (I shrink again.) She says, YOU have FOURTEEN ARAB countries! Can’t we have just ONE? THEY should take you in. He says, but this is OUR land! Why should we have to leave? Because EUROPE took it from us? That is why we fight! (What about peace? someone mumbles.) He says, how can you negotiate over a pizza when one side continues to EAT! She says, how can you negotiate over a pizza when one side is trying to STAB you with knives! It goes on like this for a long time. Years, decades, generations. I sit like a child at the table, watch parents grip their utensils, spit words like shrapnel. I hate

how I love them.
Ashamed, I look down, unable
to bury the hot metal.

 

Aaron (After the Bombing)

My flesh has swallowed an entire dream of heaven:
I’ve got a dozen screws floating around my spine,

casings & shells, mortar & construction nails
holding nothing forever. For legs I wheel

this chair. My body’s locked in the pitying gaze
of strangers, family, in the moment he froze

our fates together. I recall trying to rise,
slipping as if on ice, unseeing my eyes,

my father’s voice screaming something—what was my name—
but I could see only his mouth moving, the pain

in his eyes. I could not feel a thing.  Every day
I try to stand again. Sometimes I’m filled with joy,

sometimes I want to die. Myself I devour.
For his wish to be remembered, I’m raked with fire.

 

***

Philip Metres has written ten books, including Shrapnel Maps (Copper Canyon 2020), Sand Opera (Alice James 2015), and The Sound of Listening: Poetry as Refuge and Resistance (2018), among others. Awarded the Lannan Fellowship, three Arab American Book Awards, two NEAs, and the Adrienne Rich Award, he is professor of English and director of the Peace, Justice, and Human Rights program at John Carroll University.





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