Joanna Chen is a British-born journalist and poet. She has published extensively in Newsweek, The Daily Beast, BBC World Service and Radio 4. She has also published world reports on women’s issues in Marie Claire that have been syndicated in the USA, Europe and Australia. Joanna Chen’s poetry has appeared in a number of literary journals both in Israel and abroad, most recently in Poet Lore. www.joannachen.com
It takes three years and I’ll tell you why:
The first year you struggle to master the
language, the unfamiliar territory that
scalds your hands, the way your heart
throbs indecently when violence smacks
you in the face, the strangeness of it all;
You’re swimming the second year, pumping
hard-earned contacts for all they’re worth,
thinking creatively, letting the mind work
harder than the emotions but still able to
catch the scent of a good story, the wicked
waft of jasmine through summer-drunk
nights, the uneasy rhythms of reporting
in the Middle East; The third year the body
becomes accustomed to the bumps and jolts
of the road to Ramallah, Gush Etzion, Jaffa.
You barely flinch when another round
of secret talks in corridors begins, when
you know it’s just a show for you
to cover with words finely ground
and digestible. So you see,
is what Ummi tells me every Friday.
She takes me with her even when it’s raining
and I’m playing with saucepans on the kitchen
floor, banging them down so hard on the tiles
they make my ears ping. She says it’s mumtaz
to walk on our land when it’s muddy and
she holds my hand very tight so it hurts and I
know she has candy in her pocket because I saw
her put it there but she won’t give it. She dresses
me up warm, zips my brown jacket right up
to my neck and I say La! and Hallas! and pull on
the zipper when she’s not looking because she’s busy
yelling into that megaphone.
Wallajeh, December 2011
There is a big black X
scrawled in the sky
above the block we live in.
It means: Bring out your dead.
But today is the Sabbath.
We cannot bring out the dead
until this day of rest is over.
We sit. We stand
at the window watching
the street below, dogs
sniffing for leftovers
from Saturday lunch,
candy wrappers drifting
onto the sidewalk,
nudged by the wind.
We could have kept you
alive, could have punched
a hole in your throat
to breathe but we let
go and now the body
cools more slowly than
we could have imagined.
So we speak in low tones,
hovering over the body