Reflection and Two Poems by Christopher Kempf (2006)

The functions of “resistance literature” (as produced and understood by Palestinian writers and readers) include serving as a written repository for the history and culture of the Palestinian people as well as inspiring political or social action among its (typically Palestinian) readers. It can be argued, however, that any literature accomplishes both of these purposes, reflecting not only the culture and society from which it derives but also impacting the reader on a highly intimate level. This is especially so given the private nature of the literary experience, that we read not in public settings, but in the security of our own bedrooms with no filter between ourselves and the text itself. In this way each literary piece becomes a tremendously personal experience with its own nuance and implications that vary from person to person. Poetry, perhaps more so than any other literary form, demonstrates the unique ability of the written word to impact and embody our human experience. Because of poetry’s accessibility and its tendency to capture complex ideas in a brief space, the genre has become an effective means of both embodying and engaging public opinion. Thus, every poem (regardless of subject) becomes its own form of “resistance literature,” reflecting and challenging the civilizations or societies that support it.

This is perhaps most evident in the literature we have studied regarding the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, literature that while perhaps not explicitly political nonetheless (because of its perspective and cultural attributes) captures part of what it means to call oneself a Palestinian or an Israeli. We cannot divorce poetry from the society of which it is a part; on the contrary, it is this aspect of the genre that makes it so relevant to our world, especially in the case of this conflict in which even words become a form of rebellion. Each poet offers his own personal perspective on any number of subjects, but in turn because part of a broader cultural milieu that comes to encapsulate and represent the social consciousness of a people; in this way we see the role of the poet, from Homer to Amichai to Metres, as a form of public conscience that both questions and reinforces the identity of the societies that produce them.

But to believe that poetry (especially poetry related to the conflict in the Middle East) must be grounded in personal or societal experiences of violence or war is to negate the far-reaching influence of that very poetry. So it is that a college junior from Fort Wayne, Indiana can write about the conflict in a fresh and relevant manner through his engagement with poetry from that region as well as other sources of information regarding the broader conflict there. Thus a sort of global cultural continuum is formed that bonds all of humanity in a common cause in which one society’s problems become questions of deep concern for nations across the globe; this is, perhaps, the most idealistic view of the purpose of poetry, to unite humanity in a shared consciousness that, while retaining unique individual perspectives, nonetheless exhibits a harmony of interests and ideals brought about through the written word. Perhaps it is poetry, then, that contains the answer to this enduring conflict; perhaps when the guns go silent all that will remain will be the whispered words left standing in the rubble. When all else seems to have failed to bring a lasting peace, it is at least worth the effort to let dialogue and cross-cultural engagement work among the people.

The purpose of this body of poetry, then, is to capture my own perspective on the conflict in the Middle East, a perspective that, while unable to divorce itself from its Midwestern consciousness, can nonetheless empathize with what it means to experience that conflict, to call oneself a Palestinian or an Israeli, or even to believe in a possible peace. Some of the poems reflect on characters in literary works who are themselves emblematic of certain aspects of the societies of which they are a part; several poems, for instance, meditate on the role of Khilmi of David Grossman’s “The Smile of the Lamb,” as a figure of escape from or ignorance towards the ongoing conflict. The poems examine the implications of such an attitude, as well as the particular beauty in the kind of innocence Khilmi’s behaviour seems to possess. Similarly, other poems attempt to capture particular moments of beauty in the middle of this often horrendous conflict, moments when mutual love or recognition of oneself in “the other” override the manmade antagonism that exists between these two peoples. While few of the poems are based on direct, personal experience of the conflict, they are nonetheless relevant because they offer another perspective on the problems in the Middle East, a perspective that is not usually heard but that, being a voice for at least one part of the human race, nonetheless has something to contribute to the narrative that is our shared existence. It is my hope that these poems will allow the reader to gain a greater understanding of not only my views and opinions on the conflict, but how that same conflict becomes distorted or re-interpreted depending on the perspective with which it is viewed. Further these poems are intended as their own form of “resistance,” be it against American political apathy or simply the overwhelming senselessness of this conflict in the first place. They are intended to serve as a repository for the views of myself and my generation, as well as to inspire, if nothing else, at least serious thought regarding the Palestinian/Israeli conflict and the ways in which it affects our lives as American college students half a world away.


It is a Thursday in Palestine
and the streets bleed green,
election day in a state that never was
and Hamas youth hefting weapons
into the sky like dyed fingers and flags,
a sign of dissidence and death,
democracy in the Middle East.
Across an ocean,
elected officials, Christians
condemn the violence,
the votes that are their own,
ride red glares
into a sea of green and peace
whose riotous waves of human flesh
are sighted and aligned
in the gyroscopic Sunday spin
and sin we cannot see.
In Tel Aviv a suicide dies,
sears through city streets
and sings us all to sleep,
the way a mother calls us home,
its voice rocking us
into the sweet naïve
of dreams in black and white.
And at the polls,
a Palestinian man releases
the flash bomb of his ballot
and bullets into the empty blue,
the city and the sea
smoldering somewhere far below
where even the shadows blaze,
held in the permanent peace
of annihilation.


It is the Sabbath
and you slog your solitary way
through some Jewish suburb
just north of campus,
backpack filled with words,
Middle Eastern writers
for the class you’re teaching,
Darwish, Amichai, Smilansky,
weighing heavy
even on your broad shoulders
as you shuffle like a lightning rod
freshly struck,
the flags of Palestine and Israel
on an otherwise white t-shirt,
below which burns
the word peace in two languages
I cannot read,
fabric stretched tight against
the wall of your chest
and moving with the force of bulldozers
through Jewish children
kicking soccer on the sidewalk,
wide-eyed and scattering
as if tear-gassed
when they see your sacrilege,
this blasphemy of the Sabbath
on which peace itself becomes
an unspoken defamation against identity,
some polyster-blended threat,
your humble message oblivious,
like children running home to alef mem,
to mom,
and you, returning tired
after a lonely patrol,
unholster your clothing and fall fantastic
back to a naked state
that we, your students,
have never seen.