Passing As Whites
i. Mea Culpas, Mea Shearim
Beginning to understand I began writing to understand
what wasn’t understood, wouldn’t it make sense
that I should keep cajoling the same handful of subjects
like the deadwood cliché which didn’t seem to apply but does?
My first experience composing those without homes
occurred after months observing a man with a shopping cart
whom passersby spit on as he shat in the street then rummaged
a dumpster — I saw through him as being bipolar, alternately a hippo
slinging a thing with weights then reborn a whooper swan flying high
in a one-person Conga line — having human disease just like you and me.
Next there was the Halong Bay old bag lady who lugied chewing tobacco
on my sandals — a guide outside the War Museum reluctantly translated
her babble, something about payback for Americans killing her husband
and sons and brother, leaving her a widow with nowhere to live.
That night my daughter and I attended a banquet thrown by ex-GIs
for Cong families whom they had Agent Oranged
and worse. We were very touched when gifts were exchanged:
girls and boys – a few with missing toes — peddle their new bikes.
And here I am again in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim,
epicenter of today’s eighteenth-century Hassidism:
Souls quake as mirror-image brothers and sisters appear/ disappear,
as Brylcreamed jellyroll volk blues are rechronicled, homeless
from their land of Abraham through my Burning Man desert.
Once acting out paternal disputes as if seventeen
(though twice that age and a family man), I flaunted medieval
wall broadside warnings for aliens to dress modestly
— they spat on my shorts and bare head — or better yet split.
Now covered on top and camouflage bland, I voyeur patriarchs
of many colors, some in velvet and furs, others bedecked
and bejeweled in sapphired satin shawls. Feathered birdmen
clutch erog* and lulav* branches after taking flight
back to Sukkot* nests before twilight of Shabbes.
Poseurs playing Holy Land messianic roles to the hilt
travel in like-minded packs: Knowing nah Yiddish,
Orange County kids mouth off in lazy-voweled English
alongside emigrants from Antwerp, London, Montreal
and The Big Apple’s Borough Park.
Der Stürmeroid cartoons ridicule rat boys who flee yeshivas,
scurry toward the army or well-paying secular grief.
Beyond the last car, deep into narrows that accommodate wood carts
but not satellite dishes, TV antennae or cable guy trucks;
for the moment not seeing fanatics,
slipping further into six thousand years’ brotherhood
while my brothers barely notice me as a forward-sliding apostate,
I witness an old lady fall on the cobble, pass out.
Briefest glance making contact with her son, I mouth, “I’m a doc…”
He starts to nod, Yes, but can’t make sense of it — abruptly turns away.
* accoutrements of the Jewish harvest festival
ii. Skidel Is Now Part Of Belarus
It took too much time trying to camcord
the just right shot of Tel Aviv’s Polish Consulate.
A heavily armed guard finally came out
from behind a barricade. I explained, “My Bubbe and Zeyde
fled their shtetl there (the exact name changed up and back
from Poland to Russia or Deutschland) before the next pogrom
and before you and maybe your father were born —
so I’m not holding anyone directly responsible
for what happened during the war.”
TMI as it was, I held back the fact my family considers our heritage
to be purely Jewish and not by any stretch Polish.
My garrulous English evidently left no impression:
his bayonet prodded me from the entrance
somewhat more gently than expected,
though the German shepherd’s taut leash
didn’t seem to have gotten a conciliatory memo.
Gerard Sarnat won the Poetry in the Arts First Place Award plus the Dorfman Prize, has been nominated for Pushcarts and authored four collections: HOMELESS CHRONICLES (2010), Disputes (2012), 17s (2014) and Melting The Ice King (2016) which included work published by Oberlin, Brown, Columbia, Johns Hopkins and in Gargoyle, American Journal of Poetry (Margie), Main Street Rag, MiPOesias, New Delta Review, Brooklyn Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, Voices Israel, Tishman Review, Suisun Valley Review, Burningwood Review, Fiction Southeast, Junto, Tiferet plus featured in New Verse News, Eretz, Avocet, LEVELER, tNY, StepAway, Bywords, Floor Plan, Good-Man-Project, Anti-Heroin-Chic, Poetry Circle, Fiction Southeast, Walt Whitman Tribute Anthology and Tipton Review. “Amber Of Memory” was the single poem chosen for my 50th college reunion symposium on Bob Dylan. Mount Analogue selected Sarnat’s sequence, KADDISH FOR THE COUNTRY, for pamphlet distribution on Inauguration Day 2017 as part of the Washington DC and nationwide Women’s Marches. For Huffington Post/other reviews, readings, publications, interviews; visit GerardSarnat.com. Harvard/Stanford educated, Gerry’s worked in jails, built/staffed clinics for the marginalized, been a CEO and Stanford Med professor. Married for a half century, Gerry has three kids and four grandkids so far.
"...first of all, Cathexis has a good eye for carefully written poetry: not claiming too much for the poems you accepted, but often these days I don’t put time in to burnish.
Secondly, taking your magazine’s name seriously, I “cathexted” on Otherness, originally that of people without homes I didn’t notice till I set up a clinic to care for them; then my Otherness to a Halong Bay woman widowed by the American War. The Vietnam stanzas end with soldiers of both sides reconciled. As Mea Culpas, Mea Shearim moves along, ultra-religious fellow Jews act like I’m a dangerous alien – not unlike how Nazis felt about our Holocaust brethren. In concluding In Skidel Is Now Part Of Belarus, I show how my Warsaw ancestors were Other to in turn Polish/Russian/ German Christian. There is a touch of irony that the only hint of kindness to me (bayonetted “somewhat more gently than expected”) comes from a non-English speaking guard at Poland’s Embassy in Tel Aviv."