Three Poems by Marcela Sulak
By Marcela Sulak
Silence : Siren ::
November 2012 my daughter grasps the soap,
Castilian peppermint, and starts to yell,
first soft, then growing louder as I grope
for the door handle in the dark. She tells
me when it’s done (she’s sun, I’m heliotrope)
and the black paint lines from her arms dispelled,
It was a soap siren! And then she laughs.
And I laugh, too. We laugh and laugh and laugh.
We had no siren yesterday, but today
a bus exploded near the hospital.
I’d taken my girl to kindergarten—Wednesday—
as I did every day, on a bicycle.
“Oh yes, please save yourself for poetry,”
said a Libyan friend to my “I don’t want to be political--
I’m just alive” fb note. So as he asked I’ll note: in Gaza
it’s worse. It’s also worse in Syria.
And as children we were required to eat,
for the starving children of Cambodia,
without complaining, everything on our plate.
Why couldn’t we just send them our lasagna;
we said, surely our eating didn’t alleviate
their hunger. Two years and a second war,
my child intact, I’ve understood
the point is gratitude and not the food.
Dead baby, dead baby, dead baby, dead
teenager, some blood faked, some photos borrowed
from other wars, numbers inflated
for sure. And yet, a single photo
of a dead child—after that, what can be said?
My daughter asks me if the big bad wolf
is the “bad guy” in this bedtime story.
At the risk of damaging her cognitive
development, which needs clear-cut categories,
I tell her it’s his nature to behave
this way; he isn’t bad so much as hungry.
Of course it’s easier if you aren’t the swine
on which the hungry wolf prefers to dine.
(Man passes me on a bike with a 12-rung ladder,
a broom, two brushes , two big green plastic pails,
and a cigarette between his lips--Metaphor
for something, I say) (Israel’s too technological
ly advanced, says Paul, for such a metaphor,
But I’m not so sure.) We’re on the brink of all-
out war or peace. This silence that’s endured
thirty-six hours has me unnerved—
My daughter and I stop outside Ha-Bima
coming home from school to watch jugglers throw
sticks. The silence presses, oppresses. I mean—
the missile siren’s late today, and no one knows
what time our daily missile will appear. All this time
we can’t relax, we’re scanning the public square for holes
to hide in, children play within ninety
seconds of them. Still we can’t resist pretense of normalcy.
Garden, with jawbones
Marcela Sulak’s fourth poetry collections, City of Sky Papers, is forthcoming, as is her first memoir, Mouth Full of Seeds. She’s co-edited Family Resemblance: An Anthology and Exploration of 8 Hybrid Literary Genres. Her fourth book-length poetry translation, Twenty Girls to Envy Me. The Selected Poems of Orit Gidali, was longlisted for the 2017 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation, and her sixth received a 2019 NEA fellowship.
The above image “Landscape of the Ella Valley” was taken at the location where the poem "Garden, with Jawbones" is set. From the author’s personal collection. Used with permission.
The following has been provided by the poet
Each of these poems addresses the tension between the self and other, on an individual level, and a national level; each seeks to name or trouble a border or boundary, between lovers, between heaven and earth, between time and eternity, and between human beings who are on different, perhaps arbitrary, sides of a border between warring territories. It often feels that which side we are on is a sheer accident of birth that we spend our lives creating a narrative about.