Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Things that make me feel proud

In today’s world there are many things that make me upset, embarrassed, even ashamed to be a member of the human race. Fortunately, every now and then a person steps forward and sparkles like a gem to make the rest of us breathe a huge sigh of relief that the human race just might be worthy of the name after all. It’s even better when you have a personal connection to that person, as though a bit of the sparkle rubs off.

One such person is Lisa Suhair Majaj, the author of Geographies of Light. I first met Lisa when she was a bright smiling student in my fifth grade math class in the American Community School in Amman, Jordan—way back when.

In the years that followed, Lisa and I were linked by more than long division and fractions. We both developed a political conscience that would not be denied. Palestine and the injustices perpetrated on the Palestinians that go apparently unnoticed by the world became a centerpiece of our writing.

I write novels in an attempt to show the Palestinian refugees as I know them—loving, caring, hard-working, and long-suffering.  Lisa’s poetry is more direct. It speaks from her heart to the heart of the reader. 

No one who reads Lisa's poetry can help being touched by her words and the poignant emotions behind them.  Her award-winning book Geographies of Light is a collection of poetry that expresses the Palestinian experience in a profoundly personal way yet mirrors the emotions felt by an entire nation.

Lest you think that poetry about the loss of one's homeland is dark, dank, and dreary, I have asked Lisa's permission to quote the first two stanzas of "I've Been Searching."

I’ve Been Searching

for years without success.
I’ve checked in all the obvious places:
police station, courthouse, town hall,
legislature, White House.
I’ve looked under the judge’s desk,
behind legal tomes in the law library,
in between the stitches on the flag.
More than once I’ve hunted through history,
scouring the cascade of centuries
for some shred of evidence.
But each plunge into the past
reconfirms my suspicion:
if justice is somewhere to be found,
it’s hidden well.
Once, tiring of the unending saga,
I did what any self-respecting American
would do: placed an ad in the personals.
Of course, I focused on specifics:
if you flounder in generalities
no one will pay the slightest attention:
“40-something Palestinian woman,
curly brown hair, olive skin, hazel eyes,
loves music, nature, good stories
with happy endings, deprived
of a homeland for half a century,
seeks partner (tall-dark-handsome optional)
for peace-making, nation-building,
a little activist world-shaking.
Must be equitable, funny, kind;
committed to human rights;
willing to follow international law.
Fondness for garlic and dancing (all kinds)
a plus. No photo necessary.”

Lisa’s description of the partner she seeks in “I’ve Been Searching” affected me personally.  She wrote an amazing description of the man I married long before she began her search, and long before I even knew that those characteristics were the ones I would treasure for many decades as we took our life-long journey together. 

Thank you, Lisa, for saying it so well.
*     *     *     *

The full text of the poem can be found at along with another of her poems entitled “Night Sky.

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