*About Blocking Highway I-5 in the Light of the 400 Iraqi Civilains Who Were Also in the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time

January 15, 1991- February 13, 1991

On the 15th of January, the slaughter
had not yet begun, so we were not yet
in mourning. I think
I have been in mourning
ever since. I think
I am not alone, though sometimes
when I talk
even to my own daughter, even to my own sister, and
my mother, I break out in tears, wetting
the telephone, futile and ridiculous. This war
is a civil war, tearing up
families, and yet
we are lucky. We
ae not dying, or hardly. I myself
bought a t.v. last month
in honor of this war. I live with it
daily. And “sortie” is such a pretty
French word. But what does it mean? My friend,
Thomas, who cheers openly
for Saddam Hussein
bends over his machine gun
in the video parlor, shooting green cartoon
soldiers in the belly -- which makes me
feel sick. “Those were terrible teachings
that happened,” he says, “back there
in ‘Nam.” My mother on the phone: “Let’s not
talk politics.” But I know she is thinking
of Hitler. We have long, awkward silences. I hang
up in tears after saying, “I love you.”
I seem to be continually in tears. I can’t figure out
who I am -- the symbolic American? I came here
a refugee child in the 40s
and America took me in. I grew up in a small
American town with white steeples. Yes, these are
my people, my friends’ sons and daughters
“doing their job” over Iraq. Also, I am a Jew. And these
are my people, my blood aunts and uncles, living
in Israel, dying of fear. But those bombs
seem so small
that are landing on Israel. I am not as angry
as I ought to be. I am glad that my father
is dead. I would not want to see the look
in his eyes if he saw the anger
that was not in mine.
I don’t know who I am most ashamed of.
And isn’t it possible that one of these years this country
America will also turn on the Jews? My personal peranoia
knows no bounds.
In January
I was still innocent. We were all innocent, I think.
We, of several generations, we of Eugene, Oregon,
who gethered in trembling desperation, trying to remember
the right words to those old songs. “It depends,”
says my brother, “which story
yu put your faith in. Is it the story of trenches
and gas masks --legacy of World War I? Or is it
the Hitler story? The Vietnam story? Hiroshima?
The story of Wounded Knee?”
We all had our own particular
story plots to contend with and some of us stood
on different sides of the street
the next day, but that night we were all in tune,
soldiers of peace, and our mutual enemy was War. We were
more than alive
that night, revelling in life
because death seemed so close, and I ask you,
is there anything, anywhere, more dead
than a highway?
A highway is pure limbo.
Nothing can live on it. Back East
they import vultures to clean the dead, disemboweled, stinking
things off of it. I am trying to talk about the human soul.
Each bloody, dismemebered,
fluid-oozing dead thing that has been bombed,
even from the vast, clean distance of the sky,
is as ugly as a road kill. We, who marchd for peace,
were at least 1000 strong, each of us sealed safely
inside our own living skins,
and we were very beautiful. And we
covered that highway with our beautiful
living bodies, with our voices, our breathing,
and our small, hopeful candles. And
we sat ourselves down
in fron of those huge, silver semi’s
because we believed in the goodness
of the drivers of trucks.
Now, those trucks did not have to stop.
They could have plowed right through us.
But back then, in January, the people of our nation
did not believe in that kind of killing.

* This poem appeared in the anthology: The Gulf War: Many Perspectives, edited by Belinda Subraman, Vergin Press, El Paso, Texas, 1992.