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Passing As Whites

Gerard Sarnat

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."