Tall Lyric for Palestine (Or, The Harder Thinking; Or, Essay of the Jordan Border Passage, in Notes)

What doesn’t resemble me is more beautiful.

                —Mahmoud Darwish, “To a Young Poet”

Because I should’ve wrote
this years ago, I’m trifling crying.
So what my slow failure pass the
  & make me be crying.
[Tears were real.] So what in

Bethlehem I tried to push so
much against [what?] where the
Wall is checkpoint and weird. So
  My lonelier, sadder
blackeraches kept from me a
heard resonance true?] with the
land thought against my body, so
  I arrived.l

  And have known some

  And have seen some
freedom [what?]

  I mean, I told myself
No, you shouldn’t compare
it—myself [Young Black America] 
to Palestine—no, I—


  But I compared it, drew
that wound, leaned into a kind of
pity so new to me who—

  —was so used to being all
base & bottom of the world; I
tried, but felt that distant,
thieving love dilate my eyes.

  And I cried, softly.

  So what I had not asked
for, did not want this. So what. I
thought Tears cheapened it,
sissy’d it. So what.
    But was a new privilege I
met as salt Slipped, downed and
furthered my face, an

                And then Black4
  privilege began to describe
  me. Imagine that! I was
  some doubler consciousness
  me watching four boys
swing their joy on an old
  Before that Wall’s
forestalling future, so who
greeted them first was my tears;
they’re playing a game.

  A song: Palestine keeps a
divided home, where Blackness
only roams.5

  The tears! But panic I
could call a film for this frame
that’s guilt, the next is
friendship—Am I what in
  Or is it my “voice”
insisting the story, by certain
marks, in whisperings6—What do I
  by Spirit?—of warring,
intifada, blood like Dew in the
fields ...
  The story is true.

—Killings are thrilling, the
Wall said, and casual:
  (1) little infant trying—;
  (2) women in their—;
  (3) dogs sleeping;
  (4) boys.
  —What do I mean by
Spirit?— The birth of a nation
means alway the death of a
former one.7

Sitting here near ole Bayou
Road, again all spleen. The
Palestinian men I try with my
eyes stare back half-meanly; they
don’t know I know they know I’m
trans—but I am the lady, herself,
within. Fiercely her walk pierces
a New Orleans’ slick night.8

  But I was saying the birth
of a nation means always the
death of a second one.
Israel is real, trifling, in
someone’s mind.

14. I felt that. I was
persuaded. The film pealing
across my eyes, only one
  Made protest against this
fact untenable, as if myself I
could see in those fields,
  Saw too the theft
and strangle of myself.

  What’s solid in
solidarity—All I know is still
nooses, crosses; still thorns—then
it was white phosphorus forming
the quick shadow of a boy called
Freedom—in whispering, in
curtains mark—I’m somehow a
distance from.
  Admission is a later
knowledge, I think. A right of

  A slower knowledge. To know
it was my want to see
myself as that boy I was seeing,
that ache again and in myself to
be, blackerache, the one most

Admission is a graver knowledge, I think,
trick  privilege, instance when, tonight
Maryam reminds me,
  Recalled to just-that-where White
phosphorus is made.

“Arkansas, baby! oh, yeah—”
  I wonder if Palestine can be Black? A
Nigga be Filinistina?
  And creole twain.
“And it pass right thru”—peculiar—“that
Port of New Orleans.”

  —they keep a divided
home, where how Blackness only

  Light slides across the face of a body.
Dark does.

  The next shot is familiar:
  rows of cotton dipped in
historical red; burnt cork; crows11;
rows of bullets ripped into some
resembling, slum skin, ache—

  —Try again: they are
soldiers I am
seeing, Israeli, only
the present tense but I should’ve
said this years ago.
  I should’ve made this
article confession, spelled out
between poem and novel years
ago: tall lyric, a space of briar
ambition and its mess of all the
violences witnessed—

  —and the beauty.
  I should loathe this
gravity, of those violences, these
easy collisions I make from item
to idea or like to like.
  But I love to like, to raise
the lyric analogy and have you
consume: the way an eye carries
down the page; down the shallow
energy of my head voice now;
because I bid it do, to the hilt

  —to the silt. These built
up semicolons, the top dot like
the soldier’s rifle target, the comma
dangling for how the
dead do give pause, I should hate
  I should spit, I should—

23. WANT
  —need the harder thinking12
which is rigor gammed
with care, the possibility of that,
that’s all, unmannered, uneven—
  Like some New Orleanian
unique South, that occupies the
psychot of my brain’s desire,
words I worry into

  Let’s say the freedom of
poetry can be the danger of it,
could be the draw? So what?
  Tried in Jerusalem; tried in
  But I saw everything I
needed to see in the labored
chain-work of the overhanging
canopy that keeps—those
whisperings, certain marks—rocks
from falling on the shopkeepers’
  Took a video of the Palestinian
man who said, “Go
back. Tell it.”13

25. Who wants a pacifying
gospel delivered knows I cannot
please them, knows I cannot
sincerely stop these telling tears.

  Yet I walk, eyes like a

lady’s reminded to my purpose
with truth. Palestine cries a divided
home, where Blackness
bedamned to roam, and we share a
  Friend, look in my eyes.
To have no home is yet a
difference from the denial of
return, and don’t we both have
no home?
  Slavery is true; as
Occupation remains true; as a
sky cross-stitched and beaded
with turning danger is true:
Together our nights sing out 
their moan.14

  I mean, I have not stopped
this ego rolled down my cheeks
and who asked for witness?15

  I first saw myself as the
shame I took fully for myself,
those years ago—
  But was written away from

  A free world, I think, is
possible. I am persuaded.
  I saw it in the
still-for-singing beauty of the
land, how Palestine makes a gold
hum in my mouth. Saw it in the
not-now-warring, rolling hills of
Ramallah my feet at least tried to
walk frankly in and felt—

  —yes, a resonance. What
could I imagine now?

  What new eyes could I

  What must you admit,
really, to be free?18

That I tried my complete
body landing it in that place,

And was I wrong?

End Notes:

I first arrived in Palestine, thru the Jordan corridor, with the Palestine Festival of Literature in 2016, accompanied by such elites as J. M. Coetzee and Saidiya Hartman. Though Hartman, the only other Black American on the caravan, passed through easily, I was barred for an hour at the first checkpoint. How come?

Where I mention “doubler consciousness” I refer to W. E. B. Du Bois’s theory of Black persons’ double consciousness, which keeps divided interests between Blackness and what he called “Americanness” (or whiteness) ever within the confines of Black life. Can there be more

Where I mention “slum,” see the aforementioned Saidiya Hartman and her expansive theory on the afterlives of slavery and their impact on what she calls the “Fungible body.” The slum, she theorizes, is where we find such marked bodies. But is that the only place?

I want to thank Sharif Abdul Koddous and all the organizers of the Palestine Festival of Literature; and Ru Freeman, John Hennessy, and Emily Everett for all their various help in (re)shaping and shepherding this poem toward its present form. But is it done?

And I thank the reader. Courage's is rarest Industry, it seems, if protest ...

1They made us hide our books up in scattered bags and come thru the Jordan passage, where passage is no guarantee for apparently Palestinians, even bronzed-skinned Black U.S.-born me: where once I noticed the change of Clerk accounted for my Queue I knew I had chosen the wrong Queue. They have you line up in such before Passport deals with me without the gated glass partition, I can recall, tall behind each other, heavy in a line, await your turn; and who awaited me was a more-tanner Israeli woman, because Israel control the border and there is not two-stateliness in the West Bank as much as occupied territory controlled by an Enemy, or a Rival at least; she was much my elder and gave a Look of the Crone over a beaky nose, which immediately supported my Anxieties. Instead of the younger, cuter, whiter man Border officer I originally hand-picked back of the Queues, intuitively, she exited from a Door to the back and quickly replaced his seat, and hardly could I change lines before I stood: Next for interview.

2A nervous, electric, ridiculous privilege pushed me forward in the queue that, if it were any where else, would feel tedious; there’d be no cause for any poem, any introspection. Still I expected to pass inevitably thru the Border; wasn’t I American after all? if shy? who those presenting organizers of the Palestine Festival of Literature had invited to Palestine? I was 27 years then, shuffling alongside impressive company—the Nobel laureate JM Coetzee, the poetic theorist Saidiya Hartman, among others in our caravan, the bookseller Sarah McNally, all of us differently ‘citizened,’ few of us Palestinian.

They’d read in Ramallah, Nablus, Hebron. I’d read in Jerusalem. Back then I still presented male and my hair swept back, flat-ironed straight, was dyed so that it blew in any breeze auburnly, if cool autumn’s blonde color, and down just to my shoulders. But in queue I stand with it all pulled back and wrapped neatly in a sort of ‘boy’s bun.’ Memory begs me tell you these details as if these are the details that matter. So, the South African, the black American, the Canadian passport-holders eased their respect gates. I’m next. I await my interview.

3Let me describe one as what one encounters at a National airport’s Transport Security Administration gate with its expected Queues thru metal and infrared detectors, bag scans, and inevitable body pats, invasive as much for Cis as Trans fliers whose Body, up to hair, invite special scrutiny; this, combined with that more basic metal turnstiles and cattle prodded revolving gate New York subways are famous for, if kids sometime jump them. But imagine this theatre repeating not just at the country border you don’t operate, but between each city of your country and even between each open zones of a give militarized city, Hebron and Nablus being the most heavily patrolled my own eyes would see, patrolled by Israeli conscripted soldiers some my age or younger, some (always last in line) darker, Ethiopic-darker than me. Checkpoints ergo repeating this lyric.

4To say that I realized what American privileges I enjoyed, separate and apart from or if they including the experience of being my color my presentiom of the Black male me, is an understatement. But I forget to tell you about my treatment at the Jordan Border, which did not go to plan. Crone at the desk, she may have been anyone’s grandmother, urged her questions methodically. Who have I come to visit or what will I see? What work am I in? Why company? Oh, you have written? What have you written? Who are your publishers? What is your name again? Watch my eyes. Tell me your father’s name? But here I stutter, breaking sweat a bit despite answering each honestly. Everything not to say which Festival invited us, we were so instructed to scattered among many Queues and say nothing about Palestine. We weren’t instructed to deny our True History and, being Black, that includes having no father as parent. I’m told her so. I said, I didn’t know my father or Had none. She was done. Please step out the Line and wait to the Back, and I wasn’t alone there.

5In the Back of Queues everyone Arab and American me stand and are told wait, some of us to be further interrogated, for fact we’re suspicious and some say that meaning Brown and we do wait for hours. All this time everyone else, lighter-skinned or white, or with First World passport’s privilege, including Saidiya, await us other side the border. But Sarah McNally’s crying just for confusion about me. “I don’t get it,” she says, she can go back and forth the border, “But you have an American passport!” And I do; I wait. Whose novel is read from our last night reading in Ramallah, a Palestinian author is remaindered back; can’t cross; hasn’t the right to return to Gaza, his own home. Must go the long flight back to London or so, mourner. His name is ____.

6Suffice to say the language of the poem might be better explained for two ways; (1) reticence was my odd engine, so much so that (2) I began these thoughts following the erasure I designed over a short critical review of the very recently released film Birth of a Nation, whose top-billing star had just weeks before fallen from grace as it was not yet Dawn of the Canceling Culture; he was dragged.

7Only the women I imagined all else I saw truly, crying because I hadn’t expected the pit of my sympathy to grow more bowel. You see the floor of all horrible social treatments had always sat below what I used to call “the ghetto,” Saidiya’s calls “the slum.” I expected always is the case Abject and Most Wretched are Black Peoppe on Earth, yet what I saw there yes took that Thought. Added Palestinian to the roster, so that I could a first time see myself truly “American,” white like that.

8But the problem is I am still not American, or white like that. I come from New Orleans, where a diaspora was burst from its Dome post-Katrina and everyone black elsewhere in the country crept their grief into that ‘Refugee,’ they called us, ‘Refugee Treatment.’ But another Refugee I’d meet in the children before Aida Camp, which I can’t understand chokes between Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Jerusalem with the Wall as weird decider. And did such create the conditions where Palestinians now flood American borders, where in New Orleans, frequently, the owners and proprietors of Brothers Convenience & Deli & Gas or some Beauty Supply stores servicing Black Creoles, & land as Spores of Palestine, decades ago & so now control a middle level of industry. Vietnam has nails, China its restaurants, Palestine its convenience, but Black New Orleans work just their Culture, it appears, not a solid Industry, or Can’t find Work. So that power between these Colors is tricky but uneven, darker always Bottom.

9Shouldn’t Katrina-survivors all these years pushed outside a city heavily replaced by the extension of colonial’s American history white inheritors we call mistakenly New Gentry have right to return to their addresses? Gentrifiers pushing Deep Gras local cultures are not yet natives, who are Creole to the City Municipal & More. Ditto, Palestine’s birthright to return, if rights mean anything; if Deed of land dated in the last century should, as I say they should, matter over Deeds founded millennia back. Duh. If you were Black you’d immediately reason that, but white or Jewish interests I see see differently. So who wins?

10New Orleans own Port is a faithfuller industry than its Pleasure Tourism is, it seems, employing Black Creoles. But at the Beauty Supply I entertain the store clerk forces Black customers charging their phone wait outside and and yet hovers here over me as if I’m their and I have to remind them better. Don’t become our Occupiers, I say before I say Shukran.

11See Footnote Five again.

12I thought I meant here rigor which I thought meant simply complex analysis with nuanced interests, sympathies of agenda. But I notice that work yet failed to win its usage and may too easily align with rigor mortis and so you are witnessed to how I phrases it, my language simplifying what in fact remains cradle of my urgent thesis. Palestine’s problem is a tricky Nakba, I’m told, to disentangle because the Holocaust, I’m told don’t forget, still in lingering century’s memory exist. Nevermind Her enemy last century was founded in Europe; German reparations and American taxes support Her, nevermind the lasting term to describe New Orleans’ conundrum dead remains Katrina.

13And this is true, see:

14Carmen risking Sentimental Collapse of Evrrything, Demonstrating its own Failure to see Nuance for what it sings together, Carmen sing for me!

15Because I was once characterized myself as the sobbing poet, but in the reading I eventually steady my voice, calm and complete the lyric tragedy. Tragedy here is the sentimentality I risk simply to revisit it, in footnote or as poetic image. Who of you believe I really cried that earnestly? Thank you. It was quiet streams and my hair in strands licked it.

16Maybe I am wrong, but sustainy delusion that some freedom can exist. Care others ...

17Not resembled, as much as I resonated my Blackness with Palestinians as the U.S. condition of anti-blackness both maps over and is found in the enduring images I made in Palestine. But I have another essay to write about the short trip to the Dead Sea before we crossed over in Jordan, where Saidiya, McNally and me and two others are met with ourselves in front of each other. A hot day that we saw the lengths of an Arab antiblackness. Quickly, Saidiya is yet with us, retreating to Water Closet to dose salt from her skin. The rest of us, who are none of us dark-skinned, tho I am black, are treated to apparently hilarious traveler’s story from our taxi driver. “An African man, darker than the Sea mud, was putting the medicinal muds on his skin,” he’s hollering and we’re all of Us too awkwardly shocked to interrupt him. Least of all me who is shocked more I am witness to it.

“He looked like monkey!” And he makes animal noises of such. Did this man know what he was implying or anyway that next to him was Black me? Or ahould I say now African-American to drive my point? I remember McNally, Canadian, eventually piped an truly graceful reply which quieted the scene and Saidiya right then walks up. The driver is confused to see her, “Who are you?” He asks this like the group of us hadn’t together traveled an hour to make short Holiday at Sea, where see some camels next to strangely minor casinos along the shore; Saidiya is more confused than him to have to explain herself and her eyes, in the wise but doe-like (such I had never seen in a black woman’s face) expreession framed in a face framed by mini-tiniest locs sprouting out her head like each an idea, try but fail to remind him.

“Oh, well! You come too, we go,” is how he concluded saying her darkness made her his mystique. At least not monkey, I probably thought; in silence we drove back to Amman none of us mentioning the story, his hollering, our womens’ confusion near the Border.

18Everything, you can only admit everything, and be honest; regret everything, repeat anything to be, it’s seeming, my Idea of Free.

Copyright © 2023 by Rickey Laurentiis. This poem was first printed in The Common, Issue 26 (November 2023). Used with the permission of the publisher.