V’ahavta

by Aurora Levins Morales

Say these words when you lie down and when you rise up,
when you go out and when you return. In times of mourning
and in times of joy. Inscribe them on your doorposts,
embroider them on your garments, tattoo them on your shoulders,
teach them to your children, your neighbors, your enemies,
recite them in your sleep, here in the cruel shadow of empire:
Another world is possible.
 
Thus spoke the prophet Roque Dalton:
All together they have more death than we,
but all together, we have more life than they.
There is more bloody death in their hands
than we could ever wield, unless
we lay down our souls to become them,
and then we will lose everything.  So instead,
 
imagine winning.  This is your sacred task.
This is your power. Imagine
every detail of winning, the exact smell of the summer streets
in which no one has been shot, the muscles you have never
unclenched from worry, gone soft as newborn skin,
the sparkling taste of food when we know
that no one on earth is hungry, that the beggars are fed,
that the old man under the bridge and the woman
wrapping herself in thin sheets in the back seat of a car,
and the children who suck on stones,
nest under a flock of roofs that keep multiplying their shelter.
Lean with all your being towards that day
when the poor of the world shake down a rain of good fortune
out of the heavy clouds, and justice rolls down like waters.
 
Defend the world in which we win as if it were your child.
It is your child.
Defend it as if it were your lover.
It is your lover.
 
When you inhale and when you exhale
breathe the possibility of another world
into the 37.2 trillion cells of your body
until it shines with hope.
Then imagine more.  
 
Imagine rape is unimaginable. Imagine war is a scarcely credible rumor
That the crimes of our age, the grotesque inhumanities of greed,
the sheer and astounding shamelessness of it, the vast fortunes
made by stealing lives, the horrible normalcy it came to have,
is unimaginable to our heirs, the generations of the free.
 
Don’t waver. Don’t let despair sink its sharp teeth
Into the throat with which you sing.  Escalate your dreams.
Make them burn so fiercely that you can follow them down
any dark alleyway of history and not lose your way.
Make them burn clear as a starry drinking gourd
Over the grim fog of exhaustion, and keep walking.
 
Hold hands. Share water. Keep imagining.
So that we, and the children of our children’s children
may live

Instructions on Not Giving Up

Ada Limón

More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.

Red Sea: April 2002

by Aurora Levins Morales

This Passover, who reclines?
Only the dead, their cupped hands filling slowly
with the red wine of war.  We are not free.

The blood on the doorposts does not protect anyone.
They say that other country over there
dim blue in the twilight
farther than the orange stars exploding over our roofs
is called peace.

The bread of affliction snaps in our hands like bones,
is dust in our mouths. This bitterness brings tears to our eyes.
The figs and apples are sour.  We have many more
than four questions.  We dip and dip,
salt stinging our fingers.  
Unbearable griefs braided into a rope so tight
we can hardly breathe,
Whether we bless or curse,
this is captivity.
We would cross the water if we knew how.
Everyone blames everyone else for barring the way.

Listen, they say there is honey swelling in golden combs, over there,
dates as sweet and brown as lovers’ cheekbones,
bread as fragrant as rest,
but the turbulent water will not part for us.
We’ve lost the trick of it.

Back then, one man’s faith opened the way.
He stepped in, we were released, our enemies drowned.

This time we’re tied at the ankles.
We cannot cross until we carry each other,
all of us refugees, all of us prophets.
No more taking turns on history’s wheel,
trying to collect old debts no-one can pay.
The sea will not open that way. 

This time that country
is what we promise each other,
our rage pressed cheek to cheek
until tears flood the space between,
until there are no enemies left,
because this time no one will be left to drown
and all of us must be chosen. 
This time it’s all of us or none. 

Imagine the Angels of Bread

Martín Espada

This is the year that squatters evict landlords,
gazing like admirals from the rail
of the roofdeck
or levitating hands in praise
of steam in the shower;
this is the year
that shawled refugees deport judges,
who stare at the floor
and their swollen feet
as files are stamped
with their destination;
this is the year that police revolvers,
stove-hot, blister the fingers
of raging cops,
and nightsticks splinter
in their palms;
this is the year
that darkskinned men
lynched a century ago
return to sip coffee quietly
with the apologizing descendants
of their executioners.
This is the year that those
who swim the border’s undertow
and shiver in boxcars
are greeted with trumpets and drums
at the first railroad crossing
on the other side;
this is the year that the hands
pulling tomatoes from the vine
uproot the deed to the earth that sprouts the vine,
the hands canning tomatoes
are named in the will
that owns the bedlam of the cannery;

this is the year that the eyes
stinging from the poison that purifies toilets
awaken at last to the sight
of a rooster-loud hillside,
pilgrimage of immigrant birth;
this is the year that cockroaches
become extinct, that no doctor
finds a roach embedded
in the ear of an infant;
this is the year that the food stamps
of adolescent mothers
are auctioned like gold doubloons,
and no coin is given to buy machetes
for the next bouquet of severed heads
in coffee plantation country.
If the abolition of slave-manacles
began as a vision of hands without manacles,
then this is the year;
if the shutdown of extermination camps
began as imagination of a land
without barbed wire or the crematorium,
then this is the year;
if every rebellion begins with the idea
that conquerors on horseback
are not many-legged gods, that they too drown
if plunged in the river,
then this is the year.
So may every humiliated mouth,
teeth like desecrated headstones,
fill with the angels of bread.

Entering Saint Patrick’s Cathedral

by Malachi Black

I have carried in my coat, black wet 
with rain. I stand. I clear my throat.

My coat drips. The carved door closes
on its slow brass hinge. City noises— 

car horns, bicycle bells, the respiration
truck engines, the whimpering 

steel in midtown taxi brakes—bend
in through the doorjamb with the wind 

then drop away. The door shuts plumb: it seals
the world out like a coffin lid. A chill, 

dampened and dense with the spent breath
of old Hail Marys, lifts from the smoothed

stone of the nave. I am here to pay
my own respects, but I will wait: 

my eyes must grow accustomed
to church light, watery and dim.

I step in. Dark forms hunch forward
in the pews. Whispering, their heads 

are bowed, their mouths pressed
to the hollows of clasped hands. 

High overhead, a gathering of shades
glows in stained glass: the resurrected 

mingle with the dead and martyred
in panes of blue, green, yellow, red. 

Beneath them lies the golden holy 
altar, holding its silence like a bell,

and there, brightly skeletal beside it,
the organ pipes: cold, chrome, quiet 

but alive with a vibration tolling
out from the incarnate 

source of holy sound. I turn, shivering
back into my coat. The vaulted ceiling 

bends above me like an ear. It waits:
I hold my tongue. My body is my prayer.

Amidah: On Our Feet We Speak To You

by Marge Piercy

We rise to speak
a web of bodies aligned like notes of music.

Bless what brought us through
the sea and the fire; we are caught
in history like whales in polar ice.

Yet you have taught us to push against the walls,
to reach out and pull each other along,
to strive to find the way through
if there is no way around, to go on.
To utter ourselves with every breath
against the constriction of fear,
to know ourselves as the body born from Abraham
and Sarah, born out of rock and desert.

We reach back through two hundred arches of hips
long dust, carrying their memories inside us
to live again in our life, Isaac and Rebecca,
Rachel, Jacob, and Leah. We say words shaped
by ancient use like steps worn into rock.

Bless the quiet of sleep
easing over the ravaged body, who quiets
the troubled waters of the mind to a pool
in which shines the placid broad face of the moon.

Bless the teaching of how to open
in love so all the doors and windows of the body
swing wide on their rusty hinges
and we give ourselves with both hands.

Bless what stirs in us compassion
for the hunger of the chickadee in the storm
starving for seeds we can carry out,
the wounded cat wailing in the alley,
what shows us our face in a stranger,
who teaches us what we clutch shrivels
but what we give goes off in the world
carrying bread to people not yet born.

Bless the gift of memory
that breaks unbidden, released
from a flower or a cup of tea
so the dead move like rain through the room.

Bless what forces us to invent
goodness every morning and what never frees
us from the cost of knowledge, which is
to act on what we know again and again.

All living are one and holy, let us remember
As we eat, as we work, as we walk and drive.
All living are one and holy, we must
make ourselves worthy.

We must act out justice and mercy and healing
as the sun rises and as the sun sets,
as the moon rises and the stars wheel above us,
we must repair goodness…

We will try to be holy,
We will try to repair the world given us to hand on.
Precious is this treasure of words and knowledge and deeds that moves inside us,
Holy is the hand that works for peace and for justice,
Holy is the mouth that speaks for goodness
holy is the foot that walks toward mercy.

Let us lift each other on our shoulders and carry each
other along.
Let holiness move in us.
Let us pay attention to its small voice,
Let us see the light in others and honor that light.

Remember the dead who paid our way here dearly, dearly
and remember the unborn for whom we build our houses.

Praise the light that shines before us, through us, after us, Amen.

Mira pushes aside the mountain you are climbing

by Purvi Shah

Desire is never one way. Black
          snakes crawl through your throat. The divine longs

for human proximity to divinity. The divine longs
            for touch. You have not wanted

a body. And you have
            wanted. A careless
tongue can make chatter
but unrequited love
          can make an avalanche.
Your teeth chatter and you know

            somewhere a funeral parade is moving, one ant
after another marching. Your snake shed its skins as the curve of a               pilgrimage
          awaiting dawn. Heaven is too much a metaphor

to be of use to a lover weeping for
a false love. Every shaman needs a healer
and every God a devotee they can admire.

When God comes back from the pilgrimage, you are more
          plump. Everyone can see your wisdoms
sprouting. This time — dangerous. Even women

          will cast stones. Watch the people’s hands: they carry
shards of their half-spoken dreams. But you have

                          invented an embrace. In the first worship,
you make the one devoted to devotion devoted to you.

You bring the mountain
into your lips. Without

prayer, your mouth blooms.