Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Israel EXPANDING settlements

Al Jazeera just announced that Israel plans on expanding settlements in East Jerusalem by building some 900 new homes.

The last time I checked, settlements were supposed to be illegal. Shows how much I know.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Palestinians Denied Water

The shortage of water in the West Bank and Gaza is a very old story, but it is still disturbingly true.

Israelis have swimming pools and gardens; Palestinians have barely enough for subsistence survival.

For an update on the situation (and information from Amnesty International's new report on the issue), see BBC's October 27th article, Report: Palestinians denied water.

While sad, Israel's attempts to keep "their" water for themselves is unsurprising. What I find truly sickening is the wanton destruction of Palestinian water reserves by the Israeli military. One soldier reports that Palestinian water tanks make good target practice.

This needless, pointless waste -- the loss of water in a desert country, the theft of life from a people who love to grow green things -- strikes me as evil. To take something away from someone, not to use it, but simply to prove that one has the power to destroy . . . every bully, from Hitler to Stalin, has done the same.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Slaughter-House Five

This is another reflection I wrote almost two years ago, for my Modern Novel class.

The book, Slaughterhouse-Five, is rather indescribable. It's part autobiography (based on Vonnegut's experiences in WWII, particularly during the Dresden firebombing), and part fantastical science fiction. The book's main character, Billy Pilgrim, is unstuck in time and abducted by aliens. Juxtaposed with these events, however, is the more intense absurdity of humans' actions against each other - death marches, death camps, and cities boiled in flame.

Slaughterhouse-Five, or the Children’s Crusade: a Duty-Dance with Death, by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., is less of a novel than a parable. A parable marked by its dreamlike attention to detail, and complete absence of any traditional plot. A parable that is not story, but interwoven bursts of history, nonsense, and character study. Bursts that are strung together into an overarching commentary on the presence, or absence, of meaning.

And that, it seems, is the book’s ultimate question, for itself and for the world — is there a point, or isn’t there? Is Slaughterhouse-Five a commentary on the deep significance of life, or the ultimate absurdity of it all? Is Vonnegut combining these fragments of truth and fantasy into a collage that celebrates meaning, even amidst the madness, or a shattered mural that undermines it? He tells us that the Trafalmadores believe that individual moments, seen all at one time, can “produce an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep” (84). Is this what Slaughterhouse-Five accomplishes (or attempts), or does Vonnegut intentionally fall short? Is the moral of the parable that meaning can be wrested from the ashes, or simply that it cannot? — and no amount of artful deception will ever turn the Dresden firebombing beautiful. This is a question for which there are no simple answers.

Slaughterhouse-Five is heavy with its recognition of humanity’s attempts to trivialize life and death. To minimize atrocity by building walls between “us” and “them". The good guys and the bad. Those who deserve to die, and those who don’t. But as Vonnegut writes in his preface, “the corpses could have been anybody, including me” (xii). His book cuts through the lines of separation, and presents humans as simply that, human. In all of their odd frailty. Creatures, who, if shown in the right light, make less sense than Billy Pilgrim’s aliens from Tralfamadore. Aliens who understand that death is irrelevant, not because people are irrelevant, but because time is. And in this way, the book is laced with irony. A calm, self-aware absurdity (in the form of flying saucers, time travel, and other fantastical non-events) that calls the reader’s attention to the more hysterical absurdity of actual reality. Firebombings. Girls boiled to death in water towers. Candles made from human fat. A man shot for stealing a teapot. British POWs performing Cinderella. Billy crying for a horse in pain, amidst the wreckage that once was Dresden. All so much more unbelievably ridiculous than time travel, and green Martians. Vonnegut writes (once again, in his preface) that Slaughterhouse-Five is meant to be a “nonjudgmental expression of astonishment” at what he experienced in Dresden (xii). And that it is. An astonishment that is mirrored through science fiction and the recounting of the fantastical.

But none of this really answers the question of meaning. Of hope. Billy recounts that the Tralfamadorians believe every moment to always exist — in the past, present, and future. And if every moment exists, always, then there is no potential for change. Billy sees his death, but never tries to stop it, just as the Tralfamadorians will never try to stop destroying the universe. It has already happened, always has happened, and always will happen. This fatalistic attitude is hardly heartwarming. Hardly conducive to transformation. So the question becomes, is Vonnegut’s work a tribute to that view (at least its power, if not its morality), or a violent mockery of it? Far from condoning this attitude of detached acceptance, Slaughterhouse-Five may be placing judgment on all who embrace it by viewing war as a necessary evil. Something that is hardly worth striving to abolish. Or Vonnegut may simply be recounting what he saw. What he experienced. And what, realistically, the world may always be — the absurd process of destruction. Us, against them. A truly “nonjudgmental” account (xii).

Monday, October 19, 2009

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

I wrote this reflection for my Modern Novel class in university. The book was highly engrossing, thought provoking, and — perhaps — profound.

The story is about Oskar, a precocious child who lost his father in the Twin Towers. The message, however, is about unity, healing, and the possibility of a wholeness that transcends hate.


Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is a beautiful book. It is a book to be experienced, rather than just read. Blank space, color, photos, and small black words all combine to create a holistic picture that is greater than the sum of its parts. A metaphor for life. It is a book about pain, and loss, and the distance between people. But it is also a book about hope, and the journey back to wholeness. Back together.

By combining the story of 9-11 with Hiroshima and Dresden, Foer takes an American event and makes it universal. Rather than allowing his story to become a political or national commentary, he writes about the human experience. And by so doing, he demonstrates the power of art to bring healing. I would argue that Foer, by writing this book, allows us to see the events of September 11th with a new clarity. Perhaps not the clarity George Bush would have us posses. Not "us" versus "them". Not division. Not enmity. But unity. Pain and loss and death. The great levelers. The horrible monster under the bed that leaves us all equal. All human. All broken.

And in this way, I think that Foer’s book is truly profound. He has written about something horrible and real. A turning point in American history. A tragedy. A landmark. A rallying cry. But he has done so in a way that brings cosmos out of chaos (as Madeleine L’Engle might put it). A way that helps us be more human. Helps us feel more. Helps us see more. Replaces destruction with creativity. Focuses on love, rather than hate.

I love that Oskar’s journey passes through so many people’s lives. As he struggles to stay connected to his father, to feel and not feel, to make some sense out of anything at all, he touches and touches and touches. All the Blacks with all of their individual pains and joys. His grandmother. His grandfather. His doorman. The cab driver. The limo driver. His mother. The child, with all of his quirky habits, brilliance, and pain, is so very much alive. And without knowing he is doing it—without really trying to do it—he brings that life to others.

And this is why Foer’s narrator must be a child. For the overabundance of life. Of feeling. For the honesty of pain. Oskar’s “heavy boots.” Foer contrasts this perspective, and the new pain, with Oskar’s grandparents, and their old pain. Oskar believes the world can somehow be alright again if he can just find a lock that matches a key. Or dig up an empty grave. For his grandparents, life is more complex. They live in a world where nothing will every be alright again. Where words have run out. Or the space in which to write them. And without the words, how can gaps be bridged? And yet, they too journey with Oskar towards hope. Towards healing. Towards each other.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The War Horse

by Eavan Boland

This dry night, nothing unusual
About the clip, clop, casual

Iron of his shoes as he stamps death
Like a mint on the innocent coinage of earth.

I lift the window, watch the ambling feather
Of hock and fetlock, loosed from its daily tether

In the tinker camp on the Enniskerry Road,
Pass, his breath hissing, his snuffling head

Down. He is gone. No great harm is done.
Only a leaf of our laurel hedge is torn—

Of distant interest like a maimed limb,
Only a rose which now will never climb

The stone of our house, expendable, a mere
Line of defence against him, a volunteer

You might say, only a crocus, its bulbous head
Blown from growth, one of the screamless dead.

But we, we are safe, our unformed fear
Of fierce commitment gone; why should we care

If a rose, a hedge, a crocus are uprooted
Like corpses, remote, crushed, mutilated?

He stumbles on like a rumour of war, huge
Threatening. Neighbours use the subterfuge

Of curtains. He stumbles down our short street
Thankfully passing us. I pause, wait,

Then to breathe relief lean on the sill
And for a second only my blood is still

With atavism. That rose he smashed frays
Ribboned across our hedge, recalling days

Of burned countryside, illicit braid:
A cause ruined before, a world betrayed.

Friday, September 4, 2009

"If we read one another, we won't kill one another."

That is one of my favorite quotes from Naomi Shihab Nye. But though I steal it from her, the words were originally those of a different Arab scholar, Dr. Salma Jayyusi.

What do they mean? I don't pretend to know. I am not a politician or a world leader, and I have never tested the theory of reading poetry to end our wars.

Does the Israeli Prime Minster read the poetry of his Palestinian enemies? Would it make a difference if he did? Do the Palestinians, in turn, read the poetry of his people?

Could we change the world with words?

But then, what is "the world" anyway? Do I mean yours, or mine, or the place where they intersect?

Intersecting worlds is something that I do know something of. I stand in the strange and empty space where Arab and American collide. Where Muslims and Christians break bread together. And where a small Tunisian girl, with dark brown eyes, once smiled at her Western friend with golden curls.

And I know this is no more (or less) a miracle than a moment of connection, one Sunday over tea, in the tiny college town of Newberg, Oregon.

On a Given Sunday
by Kohleun Seo

Newberg, Oregon, February 2009

Nothing extraordinary or epic happens on Sunday afternoons. A small group of students meets in a campus apartment with blue mismatched furniture. We sip hot tea—steeped extra strong—and eat the benefits of my domestic skills. This week a tray of Scottish shortbread serves as our centerpiece on the coffee table with a bowl of almonds. Beside the table sits a stack of poetry, including an anthology titled Very Bad Poetry. We have no philosophical revelations. We pass around the volumes of verse. Pour the tea, stir in sugar and milk. And in that space we meet each other through metaphor and stanza.

Julia snatches up the Very Bad Poetry, and reads an ode to cheese, the elegy of a little blond girl who dies after eating her beefsteak supper, and the utter tragedy of a flopping dead man, who, upon his death, gives a resounding “Plop!”

“That was tragic,” I say.

“Kohleun, read ‘The Shirt’ in a ‘sexy’ voice,” Amberle says as I flip through Jane Kenyon’s collection, Otherwise.

“I don’t think I can do a ‘sexy’ voice without laughing, and I don’t have a ‘sexy’ laugh,” I reply.

“Just do it,” Arianne demands with her legs flung over the arm of a once-puffy chair that could easily fit two average-sized adults in its embrace. Four other voices echo Arianne’s sentiments, and I begin to read (and laugh). As I deepen my voice, we retrace the path of “the shirt” as it caresses a man’s neck and “slides down his side.” Karith and Alicia begin to laugh uncontrollably—one croaks and the other squeaks—both sound like they are hyperventilating as they try to hide flaming faces in each other’s sweatshirts, failing miserably. Meanwhile, Heidi is laughing at Karith, and Julia is straining to maintain a ‘serious’ demeanor, holding a smile down with her hands; but at the closing line, “Lucky shirt,” everyone rocks back in her seat and cheers.

“This is definitely going on Facebook,” Amberle says, turning off her digital camera, which has video capabilities, apparently.

“More! More!” Alicia chants and wipes her eyes.

Julia continues to thumb through Very Bad Poetry. “’Only One Eye’ by Lillian Curtis,” she reads then clears her throat, “I love the gentle girl, But oh! I heaved a sigh, When first she told me she could see Out of only one eye.” Groans and various other ‘verbal responses’ escape our lips.

“The appropriate title, “Arianne asserts, “should be ‘The Two-eyed Idiot.’”

Amberle looks to Arianne and says, “I’ve found the poem of your life!” and hands her Mary Karr’s Sinners Welcome, opened to page thirty-two.

“’Miss Flame, Apartment Bound, as Undiscovered Porn Star’?”


“Read it in a ‘sexy’ voice,” I tease.

And she does.

We learn things about Arianne we had never imagined.

I am on my third cup of tea. Julia runs into the kitchen to put another kettle of water on the hob to boil, and rushes back to recline on the large pillow beside me. While cold rain hits the roof and windows, inside, the heater creates a hum of its own as it floods warmth into the room.

From her corner on the couch, Karith moves her body forward, as if immerging from a secret cavern. She has been cradling Naomi Shihab Nye’s You & Yours for the past fifteen minutes. “I want to read a serious poem. It’s one of my favorites, but first, are there any staunch Bush supporters?”

If there are, no one admits it.

We chuckle a bit when Karith reads from “He Said EYE-RACK”: “On St. Patrick’s Day 2003, President Bush wore a blue tie” But we go silent when she reads:
. . . He said, “We are
against the lawless men who
rule your country, not you.” Tell that
to the mother, the sister, the bride. . .
the librarian careful with her shelves.

“Hmm,” we buzz in our throats, surrounded with books of our own. I straighten a dog-eared corner; Karith closes the book and smoothes its golden cover with her fingers. Alicia twists her wedding ring around its freckled finger. We are all sisters. Some of us are married. We have witnessed our own personal ruinations, though missiles have not exploded our markets and neighborhoods. Heidi, who recently lived in Cairo, leans closer to Karith. Amberle collapses her chin into her hands. And I remember the Palestinian mothers I met in Bethlehem. We chew our almonds quietly.

In this quiet moment, I turn to Ted Kooser and “The Jar of Buttons.” The poem begins like an epic tale on the high sea: “This is a core sample from the floor of the Sea of Mending,” a circle of women that spans generations. I look around the room at friends—some of whom have never met each other before this Sunday—this gathering around tea and shortbread, and I continue reading:
generations of women set forth,
under the sails of gingham curtains,
and, seated side by side
on decks sometimes salted by tears,
made small but important repairs.

After a few more rounds of tea, and we are all more than sufficiently caffeinated and smell of butter and nuttiness, each woman rises to leave. We say our good-byes for the day, maybe even the week, and embrace or kiss air by the cheek.

I stand at the door as rain continues to pour over the eaves, watching my friends walk away, and I squeeze Karith’s shoulder. The almond bowl is almost empty, and the striped fabric napkin, which played the role of tablecloth, is covered in crumbs. I know we have done nothing grand here, nor have we mended shirts or curtains, but we swabbed the decks of other generations with our tea, and rinsed them in the splash of our laughter.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Darwish's State of Seige

I've already posted a version of Mahmoud Darwish's "Under Seige," and a link to a different translation, but reading Nye inspired me again. It's such a long poem that I decided not to post its entirety, so this is just a small portion. Go here for the rest.

State of Seige

Here, where the hills slope before the sunset and the chasm of time

near gardens whose shades have been cast aside
we do what prisoners do
we do what the jobless do
we sow hope

In a land where the dawn sears
we have become more doltish
and we stare at the moments of victory
there is no starry night in our nights of explosions
our enemies stay up late, they switch on the lights
in the intense darkness of this tunnel

Here after the poems of Job, we wait no more

This siege will persist until we teach our enemies
models of our finest poetry

* * *

here, not “I”
Here, Adam remembers the clay of which he was born

He says, on the verge of death, he says,
“I have no more earth to lose”
Free am I, close to my ultimate freedom, I hold my fortune in my own hands
In a few moments, I will begin my life
born free of father and mother
I will chose letters of sky blue for my name

Under siege, life is the moment between remembrance
of the first moment, and forgetfulness of the last

here, under the mountains of smoke, on the threshold of my home,
time has no measure

* * *

There is no Homeric echo here
Myths come knocking on our door when we need them
There is no Homeric echo here… only a general
looking through the rubble for the awakening state
concealed within the galloping horse from Troy

The soldiers measure the space between being and nothingness
with field-glasses behind a tank’s armoury

We measure the space between our bodies and the coming rockets
with our sixth sense alone

You there, by the threshold of our door
Come in, and sip with us our Arabic coffee
[you may even feel that you are human, just as we are]
you there, by the threshold of our door
take your rockets away from our mornings
we may then feel secure
[and almost human]

* * *

I wrack my head, but uselessly.
What can someone like me think of, there,
on the tip of the hillside, for the past 3 thousand years,
and in this passing moment?
My thoughts slay me
my memory awakens me

When the helicopters disappear the doves fly back
white, very white, marking the cheeks of the horizon
with liberated wings. They revive their radiance and their ownership
of the sky, and of playfulness. Higher and higher they fly,
the doves, very white. ‘O that the sky
was real’ [a man passing between two bombs cried]
A sparkling sky, a vision, lightning!
all very similar….
soon I will know if this is indeed
a revelation
or my close friends will know that the poem
has gone, and yoked its poet

* * *

The evergreen Cypresses behind the soldiers are minarets protecting
the sky from falling. Behind the barbed wire
are soldiers urinating- protected by a tank.
The Autumn day completes its golden stroll on the pavements of
a street as empty as a church after Sunday prayers

Tomorrow we will love life.
When tomorrow comes, life will be something to adore
just as it is, ordinary, or tricky
gray, or colourful…stripped of judgement day and purgatory…
and if joy is a necessity
let it be
light on the heart and the back
Once embittered by joy, twice shy

* * *

[To a killer:] If you reflected upon the face
of the victim you slew, you would have remembered your mother in the room
full of gas. You would have freed yourself
of the bullet’s wisdom,
and changed your mind: ‘I will never find myself thus.’

* * *

We are alone. We are alone to the point
of drunkenness with our own aloneness,
with the occasional rainbow visiting.

We have brothers and sisters overseas..
kind sisters, who love us..
who look our way and weep.
And secretly they say
“I wish that siege was here, so that I could…”
But they cannot finish the sentence.
Do not leave us alone. No.
Do not leave us alone.

Our losses are between two and eight a day.
And ten are wounded.
Twenty homes are gone.
Forty olive groves destroyed,
in addition to the structural damage
afflicting the veins of the poem, the play,
and the unfinished painting.

* * *

Standing here. Sitting here. Always here. Eternally here,
we have one aim and one aim only: to continue to be.
Beyond that aim we differ in all.
We differ on the form of the national flag (we would have done well if we had chosen
o living heart of mine, the symbol of a simple mule).
We differ on the words of the new anthem
(we would have done well to choose a song on the marriage of doves).
We differ on the duties of women
(we would have done well to choose a woman to run the security services).
We differ on proportions, public and private.
We differ on everything. We have one aim: to continue to be.
After fulfilling this aim, we will have time for other choices.

* * *

“I don’t love you. I don’t hate you,”
The prisoner said to the interrogator. “My heart is full
of that which is of no concern to you. My heart is full of the aroma of sage.
My heart is innocent, radiant, brimming.
There is no time in the heart for tests. No.
I do not love you. Who are you that I may give my love to you?
Are you part of my being? Are you a coffee rendezvous?
Are you the wind of the flute, and a song, that I may love you?
I hate imprisonment. But I do not hate you.”
Thus a prisoner said to the investigator. “My feelings are not your concern.
My emotions are my own private night…
my night which moves from bed to bed free of rhyme
and of double meanings!

* * *

[to a semi-orientalist] Let’s say things are the way you think they are -
that I am stupid, stupid, stupid
and that I cannot play golf
or understand high technology
nor can fly a plane!
Is that why you have ransomed my life to create yours?
If you were another - if I were another
we would have been a couple of friends who confessed our need for folly
But the fool, like Shylock the merchant,
consists of heart, and bread, and two frightened eyes

Under siege, time becomes a location
solidified eternally
Under siege, place becomes a time
abandoned by past and future

This low, high land
this holy harlot…
we do not pay much attention to the magic of these words
a cavity may become a vacuum in space
a contour in geography

* * *

Truce, truce. A time to test the teachings: can helicopters be turned into ploughshares?
We said to them: truce, truce, to examine intentions.
The flavour of peace may be absorbed by the soul.
Then we may compete for the love of life using poetic images.
They replied, “Don’t you know that peace begins with oneself,
if you wish to open the door to our citadel of truth?
So we said, “And then?”

* * *

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Travelling with Hope

This is the poem mentioned in the Interview with Naomi Shihab Nye:

Wandering Around an Albuquerque Airport Terminal
by Naomi Shihab Nye
After learning my flight was detained 4 hours, I heard the announcement: If anyone in the vicinity of gate 4-A understands any Arabic, Please come to the gate immediately.
Well — one pauses these days. Gate 4-A was my own gate. I went there.
An older woman in full traditional Palestinian dress, Just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly.
Help, said the flight service person. Talk to her. What is her Problem? we told her the flight was going to be four hours late and she did this.
I put my arm around her and spoke to her haltingly.
Shu dow-a, shu- biduck habibti, stani stani schway, min fadlick, Sho bit se-wee?
The minute she heard any words she knew — however poorly used – She stopped crying.
She thought our flight had been cancelled entirely.
She needed to be in El Paso for some major medical treatment the Following day. I said no, no, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just late,
Who is picking you up? Let’s call him and tell him.
We called her son and I spoke with him in English.
I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and Would ride next to her — southwest.
She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it.
Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and Found out of course they had ten shared friends.
Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian Poets I know and let them chat with her. This all took up about 2 hours.
She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life. Answering Questions.
She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies — little powdered Sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts — out of her bag – And was offering them to all the women at the gate.
To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a Sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the traveler from California, The lovely woman from Laredo — we were all covered with the same Powdered sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookies.
And then the airline broke out the free beverages from huge coolers – Non-alcoholic — and the two little girls for our flight, one African American, one Mexican American — ran around serving us all apple juice And lemonade and they were covered with powdered sugar too.
And I noticed my new best friend — by now we were holding hands – Had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing,
With green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always Carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.
And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought, This is the world I want to live in. The shared world.
Not a single person in this gate — once the crying of confusion stopped – has seemed apprehensive about any other person.
They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too.
This can still happen anywhere.
Not everything is lost.

Interview with Naomi Shihab Nye

Melissa Tuckey | September 16, 2008

Naomi Shihab Nye was born on March 12, 1952, in St. Louis, Missouri, to a Palestinian father and an American mother. During her high school years, she lived in Ramallah in Jordan, the Old City in Jerusalem, and San Antonio, Texas. She is the author and/or editor of more than 20 volumes.

Her father, Aziz Shihab, passed away this year. His memoir Does the Land Remember Me? was published by Syracuse University Press in 2006. It traces his longing for home and his attachment to the place of his birth, through the family's forced removal from their Jerusalem home in 1948, to his immigration to the United States, and many returns home to Palestine.

At the Split This Rock Poetry Festival in Washington, DC in 2008, Naomi received a standing ovation for her poem "Wandering around an Albuquerque Terminal," a poem about a chance meeting in an airport that begins with airport security and ends with a picnic and the declaration that "not everything is lost." Among other things, her poems are resilient and full of hope.

Melissa Tuckey: Your father, like many Palestinians, was haunted by the loss of his family home in Jerusalem, which was taken by force during the Nakba of 1948. He explores this loss in his memoir Does the Land Remember Me? How did it affect you, growing up, fully American and with family in Palestine and aware of their struggles and their loss? How did this kind of "double consciousness" shape you as a person and as a writer?

Naomi Shihab Nye: One's mind was always "reaching out" to another place – with concern – and trying to figure out why the spin on that place, in the United States, didn't fit the true story. Always trying to put pieces together, figure things out. Wondering. A great thing about being the child of an immigrant is: one grows up with a very potent sense of the wider world. My father taught us to ask questions about the news. "Well, maybe," he'd often say, in response to a news story, "I'll bet there's another side to that story." Because of course, the story he was living did not fit the spin.

Melissa Tuckey: You've mentioned that writing for both you and your father was how you kept your worlds alive. Can you explain that further – both personally and politically? How does/has writing served you in this way?"

Naomi Shihab Nye: Writing requires paying attention, tipping the head for various perspectives, asking oneself continual questions about what one remembers or cares about – this is a rich and lively life of mindfulness – filtering through the muchness and finding some significant images or threads to hang on to. I honestly wonder, sometimes, how people live without this. I guess people do it in all sorts of different ways. My father often sat down to write when he was feeling frustrated by the unfair spin of news – always treating Palestinians as aggressors, the "bad guys" – he would heal himself by focusing on something precious he remembered, or something eccentric – particular stories and scenes. I've been reading Raja Shehadeh's amazing book Palestinian Walks recently and know how deeply these essays, about being out on the beloved land, would have meant to my dad. Everyone should read this book.

Melissa Tuckey: How important is poetry to Palestinian culture and more recently to Palestinian resistance, and in creating a new state?

Naomi Shihab Nye: With the shocking death of our beloved poet Mahmoud Darwish this past weekend (weirdly in my own current state of Texas), I think the answer is clear – a voice may also be a country of a kind. And the words of Darwish gave thousands, millions of people gravity and comfort and hope. I hope people read his poems together even twice as much as usual and find more ways life on the ground could live up to hopes in the poems. I think poetry is huge for all culture, even though sometimes it feels discreet, subtle, somewhat underground. Where are we without our voices?

Melissa Tuckey: I love this quote from you that "Darwish is the essential breath of the Palestinian people, the eloquent witness of exile and belonging." What happens to that breath now? Do you have a favorite line or stanza of his poetry or quote to share?

Naomi Shihab Nye: I hope the breath keeps billowing, like wind. I hope more people breathe it and speak it – the exchange we make with the atmosphere, as poets, as citizens concerned about the twists and turns of justice and injustice. My favorite Darwish quotes are, of course, many, but here's one from "State of Siege":

You there, by the threshold of our door
Come in and sip with us our Arabic coffee
(you may even feel that you are human, just as we are!)
you there, by the threshold of our door
take your rockets away from our mornings
we may then feel secure
(and almost human)

I loved his frequent attempts to "balance" in poetry, to call attention to what remains out-of-balance in our world...

Melissa Tuckey: Can you say something more about how it is that poetry gives balance to what's out of balance in the world?

Naomi Shihab Nye: Poetry reminds us what our hopes were, what our visions held, before clutter and complication and too much chatter distracted us. Poetry reconnects the broken pieces. Poetry refreshes the eye. And spirit.

Melissa Tuckey: Politically conscious poetry, poetry that fully engages human experience in the real world where we live, is full of challenges. What are the challenges you've faced in your own politically engaged poems?

Naomi Shihab Nye: Just to keep writing them. Never to feel they're "enough" but only the best little bit that I, as a writer, can do. How to keep listening, reading, absorbing, all the muchness there is to think about, and continue to find little handles to hold on to – images to contemplate – a way to enter the fray and think about it.

Melissa Tuckey: You wrote in an email that Barack Obama needs to evolve in his positions on Israel/Palestine. What course of action would you recommend for the future president (be he Obama or McCain)?

Naomi Shihab Nye: Balance. Respect for all human beings. All stories. All pain. Recognition of what the Palestinian people have been through in the last 60-plus years. Honest recognition that the violence has hardly been a one-way street.

Melissa Tuckey: Do you believe peace is possible? What are your hopes for Israel and for Palestine? Do you support one state in Israel/ Palestine or two?

Naomi Shihab Nye: Yes, I believe peace is possible. As my father kept saying toward the end of his life, people will have to become exhausted enough with fighting to embrace peace. From what I hear, many, on both "sides" have been exhausted enough to try something better for quite a long time. My hopes are for a one-state cooperative solution (because the territory is simply so small) in which Palestinian and Israeli citizens may share their strengths and resources in mutual respect. I don't see, at this point, how a two-state solution could work as well. The wall must go down. Don't bring it to Texas, either, we have enough problems with our own stupid wall!

Melissa Tuckey is a poet and activist involved in DC Poets Against the War. More of Melissa Tuckey poems can be found at Beltway Poetry Quarterly Wartime edition at http://washingtonart.com/beltway/tuckey.html.