The Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle thanks all those who submitted poems to its second poetry contest. Once again, our judge was Yehoshua November.
November teaches writing at Rutgers University and Touro College and has published two collections of poetry, “God’s Optimism” and “Two Worlds Exist.” He’s a winner of the Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry, the National Jewish Book Award, the Paterson Poetry Prize and the Autumn House Poetry Prize.
Two winners were selected in the adult division: “Jonathan and Mariam: Israeli-Palestinian Relations in Four Parts” by Judy Meiksin; and “Peacemakers” by Fred Bortz. The winner in the teen division is Jordan Poller-Prince for his untitled poem.
Poets were asked to write on the theme of peace. In addition to their poems being published below, each winning poet will receive a $54 gift card to Pinsker’s Judaica, courtesy of an anonymous donor for whose generosity we are grateful.
Jonathan and Mariam: Israeli-Palestinian Relations in Four Parts
1. Jonathan: My Wife Buys an Oud from a Palestinian Store Owner
circa 1948, almost the dawn
before they open fire on us in the main street
of Haifa where I join the Navy
as a mapmaker while my wife composes on her piano,
the oud on top, double sets of strings
sounding together, I imagine, as she and the Palestinian
perform together at the radio station, then later
sip mint tea at his shop
and she buys the oud.
My wife buys an oud, requires lessons
from the Palestinian musician
who might be firing on me
while I map the Lebanon horizon
in moonlight, glimmering just across the Mediterranean Sea
while my wife composes
on the piano, striving—I imagine—to match
the pitch of the strings on the oud
as she awaits her lessons.
My wife refers to the oud
when she wonders whether Saed
resides, still, on the other side of the hill
as she says “I wonder how the oud
would sound under the circle of eucalyptus trees
on the other side of the hill”
and I convince her to first hear
how it sounds on our balcony
in twilight before the sirens sound
and I imagine dropping the oud
off the balcony to draw her attention
to songs she could be writing
to encourage us mapmakers to wade, at times,
in malarial waters; I need
her songs to pace my steps
and my heart separate from the rhythm
of the guns and shells, to turn my sweat
into a shield—
I need her to stop pining for Saed
as if he’s a lover and his wife’s pregnancy
is hers, but she tunes
the oud to match her piano so she can
play the lullaby he composes when they
last sip tea at his shop,
when she buys the oud with his promises
to teach her how to play.
2. Mariam: An Israeli in My Living Room
When I go to America, seeking choices with my husband,
we choose science over a poverty-ridden refugee camp
in Lebanon, we choose a three-story house
over a key to a door demolished in Palestine.
My laboratory lets me mix platinum
in zirconia as an electrical conduit, a replacement
for lithium batteries; but my husband prefers batteries;
and my mother, the sun over the Mediterranean
that separates her from her home;
none of us choose the 80-year-old Israeli
in my living room this evening whose wife
knew my father, gone to Allah. None of us
choose the club in Tel Aviv, possibly their granddaughter,
an explosion that would never happen
with platinum mixed in zirconia. My invention
allows fuel and air to pass by one another
in close quarters—I should hate him
for letting me grow up in dirt, dare him
to try and make me cower
this evening, but he grabs my hand
in both of his, he says
I’m cold. Cold as the key
in my mother’s kitchen drawer? Yes,
he says, cold as that.
3. Jonathan: Gold Band
Before my granddaughter’s Bat Mitzvah
I dream she’s outside an explosion
of Bus 18; she’s drinking a lemonade,
her paper cup overflows with ice cubes,
so much so that when she finds
a child’s finger, with a gold
band, she places it in her cup,
believing the gold will deter infection
and the ice will keep it alive
until authorities find the child
I didn’t dream
I would be in the living room
of a lady scientist in America two days
before my granddaughter joins the army
and a call on my cell says
she might be in the explosion
of the night club in Tel Aviv.
knows the view of Israel
from a refugee camp in Lebanon,
might have played on the same horizon
I mapped out for our Navy before she was born.
Let luck have it
that if my legs give way, the scientist
will offer crutches, if my fears
give way, she’ll turn on a shortwave radio,
if her choke gives way,
we’ll be another step closer to the ionosphere.
4. Mariam: Blame & the Palestinian Refugee Status in Lebanon
My mother blames the Jews, my father—the ‘48 war.
My brothers blame the rich, my three-year-old stomach—the U.N.
For keeping me hungry. The Lebanese blame the Syrians,
The Israelis—the Arab Nations; my cousin blames no one
But says—when we become school children—I found out we’re made up
Of atoms that roll around wherever there’s space, and I decide
To be an atom.
Like an atom, I can choose to be part of a crystal wall,
know my position, or amorphous in order to look for others
like me, willing to be carried in an air wave without
hate or love, blame or self-doubt, but rather curiosity:
when we’re hungry, how do we draw water out of sand?
when we’re cold, how do we store the sun?
when we’re falling in the heat, how do we wrap a lizard skin
around ourselves and when we meet the enemy let us ask
How can I help you? How else will I know whether the enemy
is Israeli or everybody’s fear of one another?
Unlike fear that will unwelcomingly penetrate a wall,
atoms gravitate toward others that complement them,
that is, complete them, that is, create bonds to repel
too much heat and dig a channel welcoming more atoms;
we don’t ask, Do you support the government’s decision
to put up barbed wire? Or Did you help set off that bomb….
We say, I got more money from the Science Foundation—let’s buy
that microscope so we can figure out where these atoms are going
and I’ll leave the window open so you can still get into the lab….
Left-wing Americans want to know whether to believe
The Israelis or Palestinians on the news and my answer is
Go to Lebanon. Go to Israel. Go to the West Bank and Gaza.
Go to the Old City in Jerusalem. That’s crazy, you say?
It is July 22, 2006 and a group of Moslems launch rockets
Today from a location nearby Tyre, where my mother lives in a refugee camp.
Some of their rockets land in Akko, where my mother’s sisters
Live. Israel strikes back with bombs. I want to go to Tyre today
to be part of a wall to shield my mother and her grandchildren.
It’s crazy, because I’m not an atom forming part of a crystal structure
Impenetrable by other atoms.
It is July 23 and I wake up from a dream: My mother visits me
In Pittsburgh. She’s down the way, by the river, with one of her grandchildren.
As I look closer, it’s not them, I just want it to be.
— Judy Meiksin
Waterfowl paddle in a pond’s bucolic waters,
Unaware of the beaver, who gnawed the trees
To build the dam that tamed a wild forest stream.
Deer browse on tender shoots in the underbrush
Growing in once-dead matter, transformed to soil,
Thanks to bugs and microscopic life.
Doves coo in nests on branches
While raucous woodpeckers dine below,
Controlling insects thriving in the bark.
We share those gentle creatures’ world
With pollenators, predators, scavengers,
All responding to this call to do their part:
That is your call, too.
How will your life answer it?
— Fred Bortz
A butterfly with its beautiful wings oPeNiNg and cLoSiNg while the rain falls around you.
The sunlight hitting those orange and brown leaves makes them sparkle in the breeze.
This is what makes you at peace.
The beach with the waves lapping against
shore with the seagulls flying in the sky.
The children in the water without a care in the world.
Now picture this:
Bombs dropping from the sky shattering houses and sending debris flying.
Guns going off and the children screaming as they run for cover.
The parents now crying as their child is no longer with them.
The silence of the empty-
ness in their hearts and houses.
Their child’s laughter that plays on repeat in their head.
They’re finally at peace, their own type of peace, knowing that they aren’t alone.
They tell themselves that I’m not the only one dealing with these despicable acts.
There were promises made to fix these problems but yet still, still everyday you see another mass shooting, another bombing, another act of violence carried out on a group of people.
When will it end? When can we just be each other’s friend?
When will we learn that paper beats rock and words beat violence?
A meeting of groups doesn’t require the troops to teach that there are other ways to get your point across.
Another loss, another step back.
How long does it take to get back on track?
Try to help others but help yourself too. Come at the problems together and then maybe we will be able to find peace. Instead of arguing about who is right or who is wrong, accept both opinions and find common ground that both parties can agree on.
Whether there is a world with no violence or a world with no hate, the only thing I know is we’re far away.
— Jordan Poller-Prince