Letter to my sister


Philip Metres


Katherine, when you came back,
I fought your words. How could I
believe what's impossible to see
past the camera jarred by gunfire?

In our oak and maple suburb,
unreal, occupied, you caressed an olive tree
necklace, talked of ancestral homes
bulldozed for settler roads, olive groves

torn from the ground, your Palestinian love
unable to leave, his passport denied
at the airport. He'd never tell what he did
to be detained. He didn't want

to give you words that could be taken
against your will. Instead, he gave you
this olive tree to hang around your neck,
said a country is more important

than one person. I don't know--
I've read emails of the new torture
(an overhead projector behind a prisoner,
turned on, until he feels his head

will catch fire.) Last week, over baklava and tea,
pounding rain outside, "Ashraf"
spoke of barbed wire, boycotts and curfews--
how his dozen siblings split

into sides. Israeli soldiers
hurt you, and we wanted them to hurt.
We couldn't imagine any other way.
When I wrote this story down, we met

once again. He said I still didn't understand.
He said write me out, keep only
the general outline, not how I slipped
through checkpoints or where I hid

when they came for us. What I wrote or said,
each revealing detail, could spell
someone's end. When the story appeared
in the Voice, he only ghosted its margins, shadow

to a place not fully his. But there's no story
without particulars. What resistance could live
on the stale bread of statistics, the drought
of broken accords? It almost requires

bloodstained walls of a mosque,
prostrate backs shot through--a visible sign
of an invisible disgrace. Today, I open
the newspaper, try to peer between the grain

of a photo: a staggering crowd, arms entwined
and straining, as if to hold something back.
It could be us, facing a danger constantly
off-screen. No, we were born here.

On the stove, potatoes boil.
NPR segues labor strike
and missile strike, with witty violin.
Twilight, I'm looking out the window,

trying to strike a few words
into flame. The dark lowers its wet sack,
then hoods the whole house. Outside,
something is falling. I strain to see it

past the glare of the kitchen light.


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