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child hands and legs and memory: Two Poems for Palestine by Devorah Major

Updated: Nov 18, 2023

by Devorah Major, third Poet Laureate of San Francisco


Palestinian children are writing their names on their bodies so they can be identified if they are killed. One writes, “No, I will not die.”


child hands and legs and memory

child hands and legs and memory

do you remember holding

your small child hand up to

your father’s large comforting hand

amazed at its size compared

to your vine thin fingers?


do you remember making

fingers and palms Into church and steeple

and then opening to see all the people?

do you remember drawing

eyes and mouths on fingers

creating silly finger people?

thumb folded around

pointer finger making a mouth

opening and closing-

silly games of childhood

laughter crawling down our bodies

dissolving in the air

and reappearing

as a tickle giggle

finger wiggle.

Remember?

not wanting to be one of the missing

or one of the unable to be identified killed

the little girl wrote on the inside of her

heart shaped palm between heart

and lifelines in neat Arabic script

“if my hand survived

this is my name” before she was slain.

these children do not have

numbers burned into their arms

but many have written their own

names statements and identification numbers.

pants legs rolled up reveal

the brothers inscribed legs reading

Ahmad Nateel

Jowan Nateel

Rebhan Nateel.

did the oldest write it for his younger brothers

or were they perhaps written by a trembling mother

or a father writing while damming his own tears?

now they lie next to each other

softly browned saplings chopped down

before they could bear fruit.

the whole family it seems

assassinated in what their killers

call a cleansing

a mowing of grass

a righteous final solution

arer you old enough to remember being a child

old enough to remember growing up

maybe even remember becoming old

they are not

their dead bodies

reflect the memories they will never have

one child has written on her arm

“no I will not die”

does she still live




land, settlers, and genocide:

land, settlers, and genocide:

america, australia and palestine


1.

and the land was

covered with trees

pine to oak, maple to beech

to redwoods stretching upwards for thousands of years

and the first peoples were the only ones

there to harvest the land’s bounty

they nursed reeds until they were strong enough

to be cured and woven into basket threads

they prepared for the hunt

deer to buffalo

whale to otter to caribou

every part of each animal

used and honored

they made their homes

from rain forest to desert mesa

snowed tundra to ocean shores



and they danced together

in celebration and they danced

together in mourning

and yes at times

there was discord

disagreement and conflict

but yet they flourished

until the ones who called themselves settlers

the skinless ones came from Europe

claiming destiny they manifested

calling the first peoples savage animals

less than human

and showed no mercy

in the massacres

of women of children of elders

and of the warriors who sought to protect them

they created and taught the art of scalping

Invented to prove the number of indigenous kills

and when they had cleared land

of most of the ancient trees

dammed rivers and decimated buffalo

the genocide was close to complete

leaving only 2.9 percent of the population

of the first peoples


2.

and the land was

covered with green and brown

rainforest to eucalyptus forests

woodland to savanna

and the people gathered to share

dreams and nourishment

they carved masks

tattooed skin for power

and to celebrate their

clan and calling

walked their dream walks

and they loved the land

as she loved them



and they sang in celebration

and they sang in mourning

and yes at times

there was discord

disagreement and conflict

but yet they flourished

until the ones who called themselves settlers

the skinless ones came from Europe

the poor, the criminals, the unwanted

shipped from England to clear the land

and the land’s people

claiming the right as colonizers

calling the first peoples savage animals

less than human

and they showed no mercy

massacring women, children, and elders

and the warriors who sought to protect them

aiming at genocide leaving only

3.8% of their population

to live in the smallest parts

of their ancestral lands


3.

and the land was

covered with crops

olive trees and carob trees

dates and almonds

rows of wheat and barley

and the sweetest of pomegrantes

and the people prayed

facing the rising sun

kneeling to the noonday heat

backs to the evening sunset

and the children played

and laughed with abandon



and the people sang and danced

in celebration and in mourning

and yes at times

there was discord

disagreement and conflict

but yet they flourished

until the ones who called themselves settlers

the skinless ones came from Europe

claiming that their god called them chosen

naming the land’s people

savage animals

less than human

and they showed no mercy

because jehovah gave them the right

for over 75 years to

massacre women, children, elders

and the warriors who sought to protect them

to rape, to starve, to uproot

the people brown skinned like the trees

planted and nourished

and the people resisted genocide

as they were forced

from the land they had farmed

and loved for a millennium

until they found themselves confined

in an open-air prison with bombing

as a part of life, with water that

they used to swim in and drink

wash and cook with controlled

and cut off by these colonizers

who without remorse

exploded the bodies of children

eviscerated mothers

buried still breathing elders beneath the rubble

of demolished buildings

until surviving children saw dead bodies

and splattered brains in their sleepless nights

walked over a severed hand there

a flattened skull there

a still bleeding torso around the corner

and the land’s people fought back

resisted genocide while they were taught

of terror and terrorism from those

who had learned it themselves

from the nazis those settlers had become

but the people knew that

their hope lied in the world

rising up and demanding that the

carnage stop and that Palestinians

remember their olive trees

which after fifty years

roots buried underground

beneath israeli planted pine trees

grew out and began one by one

to split the pines open and beckon to the

the palestinians to

to resist and survive

to resist and survive

so that one day they could

flourish once again

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