Gaza On My Mind

Wikipedia has an entry about Professor Ammiel Alcalay.

How cool is that?

It says that he is ‘…an American, scholar, critic, translator, and prose stylist. Born and raised in Boston, he is a first-generation American, son of Sephardic Jews from São Tomé and Príncipe. His work often examines how poetry and politics affect the way we see ourselves and the way Americans think about the Middle East.’

He is also the author of one of the most amazing books I have read in the last decade – Memories of Our Future.

The Midwest Book Review said that it was “An outstanding anthology of essays surveying the complexities of Mediterranean cultures; the diverse, changing space of the Balkans, Middle East, and North Africa-areas of diasporas, dislocations, and genocidal exterminations provoked by nationalism and religious fanaticism. Of special interest are his observations and analysis of the Israeli/Palestinian confrontation, Arab/Jewish poetics, and Jewish identity in America.”

Professor Alcalay (he is a Professor at the City University of New York), recently sent me a poem he wrote while thinking about Gaza and the horrors being unleashed there.  I was in Gaza when I first read it, and I asked that he allow me to share it with the rest of you.  So I am reprinting here.

The poem recently in the appeared in the CUNY Graduate Center Advocate magazine’s February 2009 issue (


(after Mahmoud Darwish & Yehezkel Kedmi)

Skin can be torn to shreds and melted anywhere, houses dissolve and earth ripped apart below your very feet. But can the sea itself sustain a wound?

The name of these talks cannot be Madrid or Oslo but only Gaza because politics are politics and Washington and Tel Aviv propose velocity can drown out consciousness, extinguish the memory of life and the meaning of home.

Home is where the sea goes but there is no sea in Gaza.

How long can the fishermen mend their nets?

How many nets are even left when walls descend from a sky with no
horizon and the beach is only one more part of the prison yard?

How many trees are left in the minds of the wise and caring elders,
how many intricate hems left in the battered fingers of loving mothers,
searching for water day after day, or another cup of flour or rice to keep
their meager tables grand and sate the groaning chasm in the bellies of their beloved? How many more unborn can suffocate waiting to get across an imaginary line the earth still refuses to recognize? Why do madmen keep sending boys to do the job they thought they’d done for generations, extinguishing the very breath of their souls as they keep the great illusion
alive, the great illusion that this is war and not just slaughter, plain and simple?

There is no sea in Gaza and the only waves left signal a final light, the flash
of burning flesh in white phosphorus. Once I saw some men in Gaza waiting patiently by the side of the road, waiting and hoping. Waiting to work, hoping
to feed their children. Some still wait and others don’t. But the olive trees
and orange groves and fishing nets grow upside down in an endless sea
of blood about the sky above our heads and on some truly clear nights
you can hear them flow within the veins behind your eyes.

Ammiel Alcalay
January, 2009

My most recent work from Gaza is now also online. I am very pleased and honored to present it alongside Professor Alcalay’s work.  That the poem was released to me just as my images were ready to be shown was a beautiful coincidence.

This work was funded by a generous grant from the Pulitzer Center On Crisis Reporting in Washington D.C.

You can see the main gallery of images here: Gaza Undone

And a series of portraits I made of some victims of the recent conflict here: Portraits of Loss

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