Poetry: Eighteen Ways of Looking at Property

I.
Chai (חי) is Hebrew for “life”
which is also the number 18 because it’s the sum
of chet (8) and yud (10). As a result, Jews frequently make gifts
in multiples of $18.
 
II.
A peculiarity.
The quality of being proper.
A possession.
Shares or investments in land.
 
III.
I am of three American minds, like a country
in which Arabs, Jews, and Palestinians
all want peace.
 
IV.
By thirteen years old I was invested,
a Mazel Tov bond at 4% return.
Thirty years later a letter
from the Ministry of Finance called it:
“ABANDONED PROPERTY.”
According to the State of Israel, the bonds are still available.
 
V.
“The historic preservation movement is all-too-often defined by 11th-hour reactions to impending loss. It seems to be human nature to only act when threatened.”
 
VI.
 “If statehood rests on the oppression of others,”
said the progressive educator, “we should all be ‘Diaspora Jews’.”
“But,” she said, “don’t quote me on that. If they knew how I felt
about Israel, I’d lose my Sunday school job.”
 
VII.
A Palestinian friend in the U.S. has pretended, for years,
to be married to a woman. “Arabs are stoned to death for less.”
While visiting, he posted a photo eating kunafeh and halvah.
with his twenty-year-old cousin who promised a day before,
throwing bottle rockets at Israeli soldiers,
to dance in the afterlife with dozens of women.
He’s since been shot dead.
 
VIII.
The columnist describes Israel’s military strategy
as mowing the grass: you’ll never remove all the threats,
but you keep trimming the weeds.
 
IX.
“We’re not really taught to hate like in the U.S.”—
an Israeli teen on racism.
“It’s more fighting over land. Technically,
I think the ones in the West Bank are from Jordan;
the ones from Gaza are technically from Egypt. 
It’s not like I see Palestinians, technically, anywhere.” 
 
X.
Property
-class
-holder
-interest
-lawyer
-value
-right
-less
-line
 
XI.
I don’t know which to prefer: Adhan, the Muslim call; Hazzan, the Jewish call;
church bells, the Christian call; or the birds whistling just after.
 
XII.
For years no one’s lived
in the 1902 house across the street.  The window’s
shattered; mattresses sleep on the porch. 
Oh, historic district neighbors, why
do you say, “abandoned,” yet clamor to dine
in this house: if it were mine; if only it could be mine. 
 
XIII.
If I abandon belief that Israel, no matter what, should exist;
if I abandon justification of violence,
if I say the word apartheid, and believe it to be accurate,
and a phantom prayer shawl scratches at my neck,
hissing thief, sellout, heretic, traitor, what then?
 
XIV.
A piece of land under one ownership.
The fact of owning something or being owned.
In theatre, any portable object as required by action, a “prop.”
 
XV.
“They want to exterminate us.  If you don’t see that or if you accept that, you’re a fool. Only so much of a house’s story can be retold in a fresh coat.”
 
XVI.
intellectual-
lost-
personal-
private-
abutting-
beachfront-
stolen-
 
XVII.
Palestinian resistance to violent systems of occupation and apartheid is a legal right~
statement endorsed by 22 associations and departments of anthropology in May 2021. 
 
XVIII.
It’s more expensive to rehab an old house than it is
to buy a new one.  But if the land where you want to live is occupied
by old houses, then you’re forced to reconsider old structures. 
 
There are limits to what you can change.


Poetry Editor Alicia Ostriker comments:
This sharply composed collage-poem, which plays off Wallace Stevens’ famous “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” does not take a single “side” on the idea of property, or the Israeli-Palestinian situation, or the allusions to the historic preservation movement which defends problematic traditions such as statues of confederate generals. Instead, it provokes us to perceive connections, to recognize the reality of multiple convictions in our troubled time, and to ask ourselves: What now? What then?

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