Strangers in the Desert: In Gratitude on Passover

Before Guatemala, I had only observed Passover once in my life. I was a child at my grandparent's Seder. The memories I have are of soggy and salty matzo ball soup, drinking my glass of so sweet wine too quickly and the disappointed look thereafter on Nana's face. In Guatemala I met a Jewish family who took me in every year for this holiday. I believe this is why the connection reappeared to me in this poem. The intersection of these two important identity experiences in my life reemerged this month as I discovered the PBS documentary, "A Long Journey: The Hidden Jews of the Southwest". In gratitude on Passover, and on all the days for those in diaspora, the following is an excerpt from the young adult novel in verse, "Save the Elephants".



Waiting room.

I hold the bilingual biology book like a Bible.

Waiting room.

In Chiapas, the library kept books, locked

Behind desks and shelves

Waiting room.

In Chiapas the government kept land, locked

Behind men and guns.


I inhale

My lungs wait

The air is stale

Not sharp

Like the refrigerated trailer.


In Chiapas, the Proyecto attempted

To unlock shelves

To open books

Magazines on racks and tables.

Even if they could not

Unlock cells

Open opportunities.


Gloria disappears in a wheelchair.

I close my eyes

I exhale.

My body waits

For her body to say as much

To the vet

As bones said

To the woman with the elephant necklace.


“Why are you doing this?” I had asked.

“Because others think death is too late

To tell a story that matters.”

“But why are you doing this?

For strangers?”


“Because,”

She fingers her necklace.

“We, were strangers in the desert.”

“We?”

“My people.”


“Asylum. Too late. Couldn’t find legal help.”

Galilea often talked to herself.

“Fifty years ago,

It could have been me.”

“We” are not strangers.


Somehow I notice for the first time

The darker brush across eyelids

The thick, blackness of hair.

“Why are you doing this?” I ask the vet.


“Too young. Once a mother. Beaten.”

Somewhere behind me someone is crying.

“I’m here to register.”

Bickering pops to my left.


“Because slavery is still happening.”

Should I, could I name the vet

So that Gloria and I

Are less alone

In our orphan band.


The vet returns with Gloria.

Gloria returns with the first disease we recognize.

Diabetes.

And orders to do the one thing

She can never do.

Rest.

--


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