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".
I hold the bilingual biology book like a Bible.
In Chiapas, the library kept books, locked
Behind desks and shelves
In Chiapas the government kept land, locked
Behind men and guns.
My lungs wait
The air is stale
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
Gloria disappears in a wheelchair.
I close my eyes
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?
She fingers her necklace.
“We, were strangers in the desert.”
“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.
And orders to do the one thing
She can never do.