The Agonist Journal

Note One Mile from The Border

Germany, 1973

The propaganda came in English
to us there. Our world was olive drab—
our uniforms, the tents, our vehicles
the color of woods because we thought
the next war would be fought
in those places. Night, forest dark,
dim light for a late meal. The radio:
As American and Israeli aggression
… the broadcast voice
droned English in tonalities that came
out of the East, our enemy.
We listened.
Pine trees made the night pitch black.
We formed a thin defensive line;
they sent thin signals out;
and no one slept in those lost days
of endless back-and-forth.
We camped not one mile from the fence,
the razor wire, floodlights and watchtowers
that stretched from Stettin to Trieste.
We’d seen it from a hilltop just outside
the 1-K Zone, demilitarized—saw it
far off, the Promised Land in negative,
the dark-side number line
where steel and glare argued against
the voice we heard as we ate our rations cold.

Tree Poem

Oak is too majestic (I’m not Zeus)
and pine too bending, sycamore too lush.
I’m not the kind of wood you stack and use
for fire or furniture. The fragrant blush
of blossoms does not grace my branches. I
stay low, hug earth—a desert tree, tap root
deep in the soil. I don’t climb to the sky.
I grip the ground with fibers tough as jute.

Thorns grace my branches. My leaves, bitter as
niguari gourd, turn dark green in the sun.
Each part of me—root, leaf, bark, branch, trunk—has
protection so as not to be undone.
In hostile places I have stayed alive.
I’m sheathed in armor so my life can thrive.