What is an American Jew?

By | 2018-10-08T07:24:49+00:00 Sep 13, 2015|

[Inspired by Enid Dame]

Our grandfathers worked as tailors,
union organizers,
or in rural communes
where anarchists and communists battled relentlessly
about ideologically-correct procedures
to slaughter chickens.

But that is history. Now,
if you tell us you visited unmet relatives
in the Old Country,
saw grandparents’ homes or ancestral temples,
we smile at your happiness
while our minds peck hopelessly to escape their shells,
searching for any kernel of kinship
while our stomachs run headless
through lifetimes bereft of kin.

If we visit a chicken farm,
we become brooding hens,
dream for months
about the view from inside a Nazi cage
eating a few pellets a day,
waiting to be plucked, sliced,
gas-roasted.

We try to forget
by refusing to forget,
by imagining Israeli relatives
who may not exist,
by sending money and weaponry
to enslave a people
whose land these relatives
now covet, now encage.

At our best, we are prophets,
Noahs in a storm of lies,
who open chickens’ cages,
who invent slogans
from ill-remembered Old-Country struggles
and the book of Moses,
who argue incessantly
but who chant loudly with the brooding chickens
“All power to those in cages!
“All power to those who make eggs!

This poem was originally published in Sensations Magazine, 2002 (Spring) and was reprinted in Home Planet News, 2004 (Spring) and in Sam Friedman’s Grief and Rage: An American Jew’s Poems on Palestine. You can obtain a copy of Grief and Rage by emailing sam4wp@netscape.net.