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Thursday, December 6, 2018

Candles




“If we all do as our kindred have done and refuse to fight for our lives and for our ordinances, they will quickly destroy us from the earth.”
- 1 Maccabees (2:40)

“I am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty, land: will never be purged away; but with Blood. I had as I now think: vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed; it might be done.”
-       John Brown

Listen,

in these cold nights,
voices ride the wind:

“Ave Marias” uttered at a bedside altar

a murmured “i love you” between a couple
in a tent under a viaduct

the prayers of a child whispered
into the carpet of a Mosque

the ululations of warriors
camped near a pipeline project

meanwhile, as the faces change,
the story stays the same:

He shed much blood,
            and spoke with great arrogance.
The people mourned deeply in every
            community…
young women and young men became
            faint…
Even the land trembled for its inhabitants…

and policemen joke about brutalities over lunch
and troops gather at the border
to unleash tear gas on children seeking asylum
from the unnatural disasters in Honduras
where U.S. troops are still stationed,
while more wait in Afghanistan, Iraq, Russia, Japan, and everywhere,
and B-52 bombers fly routinely over the waters of China,
where children make our computers
that will drive down both their wages and ours
while families around the world open empty cabinets
and perfectly good food sits on the shelves of stores
until it is thrown into dumpsters and locked there.
and the shiny shops spread through the city
while rents soar and residents move out
and the homeless gather on the corners
outside our places of worship

for the citadel became an ambush
            against the sanctuary,
an evil adversary of the people at all times.
On every side of the sanctuary they
            shed innocent blood;
Because of them the residents of
            the city fled;
she became a dwelling of strangers;
she became strange to her offspring,
and her children forsook her.
Her sanctuary became desolate like a
            desert;
            her feasts were turned into
            mourning,

and storefronts close, and factories rust,
and lead runs through our taps,
and another shelter is shuttered,
and the list of friends I add to my prayers grows longer by the day
and Lew and Diana take their adult children
and teenage grandchildren into their fourth floor apartment
while violence spreads and closes in
around everyone I know

Alas! Why was I born to see this,
            the ruin of my people, the ruin of
            the holy city,
and to live there when it was given
            over to the enemy…
Her temple has become like a person
            without honor…
Her infants have been killed in her
            streets,
            her youths by the sword of the foe…
All her adornment has been taken away;
no longer free, she has become a
            slave.
And see, our holy place, our beauty,
            and our glory have been laid waste…

See how they destroy us
de-story us
file and defile us
turn our visions into     his / story of our lives
                                    caught in their net / worth

and the star of David becomes a sign of Apartheid
and the stars and stripes stand for children in prisons
and Lady Liberty gives a Heil Hitler
as the scales of Justice become a currency exchange

and now, what does the Menorah mean?
or the million lit-up mangers?
the eagle on our currency?
Harriet Tubman on a twenty-dollar bill?
her likeness woven into the sinew
of Andrew Jackson’s on the other side?

who will remember, this December,
the midnight murder of Fred Hampton
when they light the Chanukah candles with their families?

and who will remember Wounded Knee,
and Standing Rock, and tell their children why,
at the camp of the seven council fires,
the U.S. flag was flown inverted,
how a nation is in danger
when it places its first people last
and values the deadness of oil
over the water of life?

and who will tell the story
of the veterans who went there
to kneel at the feet of hundreds of nations,

and who can explain
why the flag with the serpent is waved
by both the Zapatistas in the mountains
and the government that hunts them,
or why the rebels in Chiapas
cover their faces with masks 
and their bodies with rifles

or why John Brown ordered rifles
shipped in boxes labeled “Bibles”

or why, tonight, when we light these candles,
it is for these courageous and their deeds
so that we may never forget
the battles fought
by those who had no choice
but to learn the proper use
of both prayers and weapons,
so that one day only prayers would still remain

for these, tonight, and every year, 
we light and burn the flames:

            one
            for John Brown
           
one
            for Harriet Tubman
           
one
            for Fred Hampton
           
one
            for Standing Rock
           
one
for Palestine
           
one
for the wandering refugees everywhere
           
one
for the babies born out in the cold

            and one          
for ourselves, that we may be worthy of this prayer

            for you, and me,
            and those like us
            who rededicate ourselves

                        to the land
that gives us life

                                    who light candles
                                    in the darkest of times

                        and in the most dangerous of places.