One of my best friends, and favorite poets, recently visited me in Amman, Jordan, gathering research for a Richter's Grant on poetry and peace. During her six-week stay we traveled extensively in Jordan, as well as visiting Bethlehem and Jerusalem (the inspiration for much of my recent blogging). She is keeping a record of some of her thoughts on the experience (as well as her musings on poetry and poets) on one of her blogsites: From Here to There and (Maybe) Back Again. Her other site, devoted entirely to her poetry, is Poems From a Small Place, which I would highly recommend. As I've mentioned before, she tends to focus on the small details of peace and life -- of being and becoming.
This poem is one of her recent ones -- a reflection on her time in the Middle East -- and is posted on From Here to There. Please don't let the length deter you (especially if you don't tend to be a huge fan of poetry); I assure you it is well worth the read.
A Letter to the President of the United States
To the President of the United States:
I am not a politician, or an official diplomat.
I am a university student, a philosopher, a poet,
a theologian, a woman, a novice world traveler,
a feminist, a peacemaker.
I love God, most of the time, and at others, do not know
how to love God, but like any honest
theologian, I must admit I often do not understand
what she/he has in mind for this world,
a world that is both beautiful and broken.
People do many things in the name of “God”
that I also do not understand. Contradiction
is everywhere. And Jesus, let’s not get started
on the things people say about Jesus. I believe
he was God and human, but schizophrenic? Well,
it’s possible. I find it dangerous to talk about
what Jesus could or could not be.
But enough about theology and those confusions.
I recently traveled to the Middle East. My goal
was to speak with women, hear their stories, see
their faces. And from that, write poems about their lives
in their voices, about their homes, their families, their
thoughts, their struggles, their power. Some of these women
were of Jordanian heritage, one an Iraqi, a couple more
Lebanese, most were Palestinian, forced from their homes
and welcomed by Jordan, but Jordan is a small country.
For five and a half weeks, I was based in Amman, and traveled
for too short a time to Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Do you want to know why? Because of peace.
I am sure, Mr. President, that you know Jerusalem
is in Israel, and Bethlehem is in the West Bank.
I am sure you also know the United States gives a disproportionate
amount of funds to the Israeli government to use to their “benefit.”
I think it’s great to live in a country that helps others.
A country that makes friends of other countries.
But true friends hold each other accountable.
True friends do not let each other do harm.
True friends stay close, and ask questions.
True friends treat each other as equals, not spoiled children.
And I mean no disrespect,
but after my visit, I am sure you do not know these women’s
stories. You do not know their land or their voices,
their struggles, their thoughts, their homes,
their families, their power. You do not know Palestinians.
You do not know hot tea with mint, directions from a kind stranger,
breakfast and lunch that could make you pop—all daily
occurrences, not rare kind Arabs. Normal kind Arabs, who are pained
by their rare, violent cousins.
You do not know the empty streets of Bethlehem,
fresh plums—a gift—from a woman in the market whose land
has been taken from her. I am sure, though, you know who
took it. You do not know the horror of a checkpoint gate, the wall,
or how long six hours waiting at the Israel border for wanting to
visit Bethlehem feels. You do not know the humiliation
human beings suffer every day. You do not know the inequity.
You do not know how closely refugee camps resemble the ghettos
of Eastern Europe during the Holocaust of WWII,
how much hurt the Israelis are still facing, and how much healing
I wish I could bring them. You do not know how they remind me
of children who grew up with abusive parents, vowing to never
be like that, but who bruise and batter their children. When they are old,
they cry themselves to sleep, and whisper prayers of regret.
Their children cry too.
Mr. President, do you want to know why I believe you
do not know these things?
Because if you did, if you knew them, they would be different.
You would be different.
Knowing details makes peace possible. Our enemies become
neighbors. People have faces that cannot be blown up.
I do not know your reasons for aiding Israel with such gusto.
Perhaps you wish to help God’s “chosen” people. But aren’t we all?
Perhaps you want to make up for America’s late entry into WWII,
and the masses of human beings with families and wishes who
should not have been treated as they were. But is this the way to do that?
Won’t our next generation have a debt to pay the Palestinians?
Perhaps you want Americans to feel safe from Arabs. But aren’t we
Again, I do not know, and I am sure it is complicated.
Perhaps we should make it simple again.
I will make a few things
simple for you.
I do not support any violence Palestinians inflict, on anyone.
I do not support any violence Israelis inflict, on anyone.
I do not support any violence Americans inflict, on anyone.
I do not support any violence any humans inflict, on anyone.
I do support the kindness of Israelis. The kindness of Arabs.
The kindness of Americans. The kindness of humanity.
I do not want tax money that comes from my paycheck, that I
have earned in peaceable ways, to go toward the systematic
destruction of lives, those of Arabs or Israelis or Americans.
When we are no longer inspired by the humanity of our neighbors,
something has been destroyed. Many Israelis have been destroyed,
as they destroy Palestinians. And the United States pays for this.
Is that being a good friend?
This is the United States’ conflict. We are involved.
This, quite simply, must stop.
Mr. President, what have you done this week to bring peace
among Israel, Palestine, and the United States?
I will ask again next week. And the week after that. Like the mother
in Bethlehem who will wait 500 years for her son’s prison sentence to end,
I will keep asking, until we are free. Until we have peace.
Salaam, Peace, Shalom.
Respectfully and with great hope,