This city is choking
on millions of inhabitants
Nothing grows here.
Give me one real thing,
Help me unlearn what I’ve been taught
My mother country’s children squabble among each other.
No one has ever taught us what a fair share looks like.
As full as the plate is,
there is always room for more, isn’t there?
Everyone here seems to be starving,
In one way or another.
Every stereotype about us,
every real or imagined slight
is just a hunger pang.
We feed our souls on scraps
Of lies, half-truths, fantasy, pride
We claim the successes
of our distant brothers and sisters
Like someone trying to live
on only the smell of baking bread.
There are moments,
soaring on the flyover
above the settlements –
visiting my parents’ hometowns – some story in the papers –
when I feel compassion
such uncomfortable compassion, squeezing me
Like a dress I’ve outgrown
But these are the ones
who suffer politely
whom I can leave easily.
Much more difficult to love
are the ones I live with every day
Children who terrorize people on the sidewalk
Leaping out from alleyways, falling out of trees
Teenage mothers hauling their naked broods,
the crazy guy in front of the gate
covered in layers of dirt, and little else.
They defy narrative –
Are they the victims, or do they victimize themselves?
In a world where justice is equated with punishment,
Where people think that goodness is proven
By destroying the evildoers
Where is the satisfaction in revealing
That the prisoners in this war
Helped to put the shackles on their own wrists,
and walked knowingly into the traps?
We need a story:
A pure victim to rescue
And an irredeemable villain to hang.
Despite the absence of such a story, I feel compassion
Such bewildering compassion –
For the sparkle of a smile –
For the dirt under their nails –
For the sweat of a day’s honest work –
For the desperate thieves with mouths to feed –
Images I cannot weave into an arc,
Lives that do not conclude triumphantly
Or even tragically
But simply sputter out
Like a flame that leaves no trace
After the wind has blown the smoke away.
Give me one real thing
Give me one thing I can save
I would be content to live on
Nowhere but in someone’s memories,
In days I made as beautiful as I could.
Give me one real thing
Give me just one dream
That I could see come true
In the only life I get