Americans at Yad Vashem

We walked the museum in a stupor, sick.
The photographs, the newspapers,
the lampshade made of sewn skin,
the auditorium, monstrous high-gloss paintings,
single faces lit.
The metal tree outside a silhouette:
naked bodies falling
up and out like branches.
Below the tree the crowd
of too-young soldiers talked. The day before
other soldiers detained a student
and his new Muslim friend.
The man had dressed him
to sneak onto the Dome of the Rock.

.   .   .

One night in Lent a representative
from the Muslim congregation came
to talk to the people of a church.
The imam said forgiveness
is not the same
as reconciliation.
I was teaching writing via immigration laws.
The students argued languages.
The candidates argued walls.
The imam asked the people:
What communities live underground?
Whom don’t we talk about or see?
Whom are we silencing?

.     .     .

At the museum we saw the names written.
We heard the names through speakers in the walls.
We saw the faces spiraling up.
For once we,
the Americans at Yad Vashem,
did not talk.
.     .     .
Khalid spoke about oppression and the Quran.
He put quotes on his PowerPoint.
He read the passage loud:
Slay them every one.
Then he reminded us: Muhammad
wrote a letter of protection
for the monks at the base of the Mountain of God.
.     .     .
I saw that mountain gray-beige—color of cremains.
There are two principle ways
to the summit. The steeper climb they call
the steps of penitence—the most direct route.
We went the other way.
A Bedouin boy led the camel train—
the beasts running in grunts,
spittle and foam strung from their mouths.
At the top a mosque.
Pads for pilgrims to sleep.
An Orthodox chapel. The usual rocks.
And the view of the mountains,
like fractals,
.     .     .
No one told us to be quiet.
We had already seen the wall
some call Geder HaHafrada,
and others jidar al-fasl al-‘unsuri.
We had bussed through the checkpoints eating dates.
The New York Times and the BBC
refer to the wall as a barrier,
West Bank barrier, or separation barrier.
We had visited the café in the new city
outside the old wall.
A week later the café was bombed.
.     .     .
The candidates stopped talking walls
and started raising fists against radical Islam.
.     .     .
Khalid said, I am a Muslim;
                                             I am not Islam.

.     .     .

He ended the Q&A thanking us for the invitation
and attention.
I did not mention the dates or the Mountain of God
or the soldiers.

I did not talk to them at all.

But to the side he told the woman with the tied-up dreads
he is afraid we believe
we will repeat history

if we allow ourselves to speak.


Copyright © 2017 Amanda Hawkins. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Fall 2017.