Who still has files of their old work from 1982? (Hint: not this writer.)
Imagine my surprise this morning to receive an email via my blog from The Times of Israel with the subject: “The Man on the Top of the Mountain” – being a poem written by me, of course, forty years ago. The email began with “Salamat, Deb” and came from a proud Palestinian woman with centuries-old family roots in Jerusalem and a clearly expressed desire for justice. Please, she urged, please publish the poem, a copy of which she has kept since her first reading in 2015, she said. (The poem itself was not in the message.) Intimidated by her initiative, humbled by this heart cry out of the blue, and with a dim memory of having written such a poem once upon a time, I was then even more amazed to find it online in someone’s post from 2006, with a brief biography that dates back to – yes – 1982. My own youthful passion for universal justice and the burning need to put it on paper came to mind.
Next week will mark the start of this year’s spring season of Jewish mourning.
Holocaust Remembrance Day; Memorial Day for the dead; Israel weeps. For some of us, meanwhile, perhaps for many of us, this time of grieving is anything but simple. Grief for generations of our suffering Jews from antiquity to the present is inseparable from the gnawing awareness that our own suffering is but a long tangled thread in the fabric of our common history. Other sons recount the suffering we have inflicted and still inflict on others, from Canaan to Qalandiya: because like our ancestors, we are fallible; because we are a work in progress; because we are human. This dismaying multiplex perspective lodges permanently in your consciousness once you risk the journey through the looking glass, all the way through, to experience deep in your heart what is on the other side.
So, in the spirit of resilient hope for the ultimate dawn of justice for all, in this country and in all countries – a hope that I know I share with the reader who reached out to me today hui through the mirror – here is reborn, is the poem. May our spring season of Jewish mourning walk a different path through our hearts this year – taking us ever further through the looking glass to experience the other side and do more, much more, and more urgently. and creatively, towards equal justice and an end to unnecessary suffering and death. Together, we can become the change we want.
The man on top of the mountain
A man is standing on top of a mountain, alone.
And he shouts, shouts to the sky,
in the wind, howling in the sun,
in the clouds, in the rain, even at night,
in the moonlight, in the starlight, shouting.
If you could hear it, you would hear this:
“I am a man, I am a citizen of the state,
I was born here, my father was born here,
my children were born here, I love it
earth, I will never leave it, it is
my house, I want to have a decent life,
I want to be equal, I can help build this land,
I have to build a future for my children;
where are my rights, no one will listen,
the state doesn’t want me, nobody cares,
am I not a citizen here, why no one
I hear her scream, I’m distraught,
in her cries I hear familiar echoes
agonies, agonies of my people, their pain is
mine, I have to answer, I have to
do something, I can’t turn my back,
I hear it in the wind, howling,
also at night, and at sunrise, I hear it.
What can I do, I am only one, I must
ask for help, we have to do something
about the cries of this man,
his pain is real, we know the pain,
and is he not a citizen of the state?
So I say to you, please listen, don’t you
hear this man scream, what should we do?
But you answer me:
“No, why should we do anything,
he has his rights, don’t pay attention,
and in addition he shouts in Arabic,
we don’t understand it, we talk
Hebrew, we are Jews, this is the Jewish state,
the enemies of the state speak Arabic, they plot
against us, it may be an enemy of the state,
and besides you speak english, who are you
to make such a request to us, forget it,
you must be new here, you don’t know anything
on this subject, you are misinformed, go away.
I still insist, but wait, please wait, listen –
he’s screaming now, he’s still screaming,
I will try to translate for you, there must be
something in what he says, if not why
would he shout again, can’t you hear
the pain in his voice—
– then you invoke the Holocaust, Zionism and
the PLO, and with your unholy trinity you try
shut me up and shut him up.
Here I hesitate, I hate to continue
with this, but find I have no choice:
Now I have to tell you, if that man screams
don’t move, so the six million
(including, please pay attention, miscellaneous
of my family as well as yours) died in vain;
in vain, I say. And if your Zionism makes you
deaf to the cries of this man, then the God
who dwells somewhere in this country, they say,
does not want your Zionism in his kingdom.
And if you hear the PLO in this man’s cries,
then you hear your own cries, not his.
Now you’re very angry, you turn away,
you are disgusted, you feel self-righteous,
you are indignant, you will try to forget
we’ve had this conversation before.
But high on his lonely mountain
this man still screams his pain,
And as long as he keeps screaming,
I can’t rest, and until I can rest,
your anger will not protect you.
And so I ask you to judge yourself;
I do not claim the right to judge you.
The days of judges in Israel are over.
But I say, look at your anger. I say,
if you still can’t listen to the cries of this medium,
so listen to your anger.
You wouldn’t need to be angry
if his cries meant nothing.
And I say, if your leaders have hardened their hearts,
O my people, you must find new leaders!
Is there none among you who can hear
the man on top of the mountain, shouting?
And I say, we need a new vision in Israel.
I don’t see it clearly, but the seeds are
in YOU, and also in HIM;
and you can’t water them with anger,
but only with tears of compassion.
You must weep, O Israel, for this man
screaming his pain at the top of his mountain.
God will not help a crying people
only for himself.
This is where I found online. The bio reads, in part: “The man on the Mountain top” was written in February 1982 in Kufr Qar’e, an Arab-Palestinian town in Israel – while the author was working as a community service volunteer with Interns for Peace, a grassroots Arab-Jewish cooperation program.