Bearing Witness

for Sandra Tamari

Yet it was plain to us that by reckoning with Taha’s exceptional personality and poems, many of these American audiences were also reckoning for the first time with a Palestinian—not as a menacing or pitiable abstract concept but as a complex individual human being and a genuine artist who was, of all things, directly speaking to their hearts.

–Adina Hoffman, My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness, 387

I know what you are going to say.
“I’m not even a poet!”
And you may be right (on one level)
But I am also right (on another level)
And I think Adina Hoffman would agree with me:
If she had had the pleasure of hearing you speak to the senior citizens
Or had lunch with you amid hundreds of SIUE students
Or witnessed you stand up to that moral fraud Elie Wiesel
Or inspected the photos of you exuberant and steadfast in Cairo
Or sat with us at any of those planning meetings of our fledgling group of concerned citizens for all the peoples of historic Palestine
Or saw you attending to your children
Adina would say—
“Yes, Sandra can do in her own way what Taha has done in his own way!”

I can see the men in suits and overalls, the students who slouch and study, the housewives who care and question—
I can see them meet your simplicity and complexity head- and heart-on.

I can see you telling your stories over and over, with jazz improvisation inspired in another church basement by that one set of fixed eyes in the second row, it’s worthwhile to speak to and for her alone.
I can see middle Americans (of class and region and awareness) witness
A radiant /gentle/determined/down-to-earth
—Foam-rubber dynamite—
Who bears witness to that which should make us squirm

And by the manner of your telling
You allow the seed of the (on-going) Nakba named
And the seed of the Resistance embodied
To find their home somewhere in our inner moral landscape.

Fifty years ago, one of the students in the civil rights movement said that
To be a revolutionary meant learning how to act out of the deepest silence.
I can see you telling the poem of your life that intersects with a thousand other poems/lives of the Palestinian people.
Maybe it would even be your own unique American-inflected shi’r hurr.
And I can imagine Taha Muhammad Ali listening, wryly smiling, and even wiping away a single tear.


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