March 14, 2018KR BlogBlogChatsCurrent EventsEnthusiamsEthicsLiteratureRemembrancesWriting

Poeta, You Resist

Author’s Note: The following was read at the Women of Resistance book launch last night, March 13th, 2018, at Strand Bookstore in NYC. I wanted to write a piece that incorporated the words of my fellow contributors with whom I read that night– Denice Frohman, Mahogany L. Browne, Dorothea Lasky and Maureen McLane– and ended up writing this essay (be sure to click on the links and read their poems in full). They are all poets I’ve read and reread, and their poems have kept my heart beating in some really trying times. Special thanks to the amazing bookstore staff, to OR Books, and all the gratitude in the world to editors Danielle Barnhart and Iris Mahan whose dedication and generosity have made and are going to continue to make wonderful things happen in poetry and beyond. –Rosebud Ben-Oni


Poeta, you resist.

You resist by creating your own work.

And you resist by sharing the work of others.

You resist by showing up, under two suns, if you wish.

Days so short it seems the earth is/Zooming unto its longsought anonymous abyss.” — that’s Maureen McLane in her poem, “Poem.”

And so there are two suns in bomb cyclone, on bold day, in urban maze of scaffolds forever falling this city.

A city that resists the little collectibles polished, faceless and easily sold— a city, like you, poeta, that resists the grand commemorative plaques of tradition— no, this is a living, sanctuary city, and you resist those who prefer the empty façades and dead ends of gilded canons. You resist those who persist in their desire for flat-lined, bulldozed speech that sound nothing like you, poeta.

You, who often collides with this very city which resists everyone and everything and even you too, poeta, who sometimes wears headphones in which no song plays, because while others admonish with be careful on these streets, you keep them in. Because still. You. Resist. You keep them in. Even with sound off. And you sing the lyrics. As you wish them to sound.

My mom holds her accent like a shotgun” — that’s Denice Frohman in her poem, “Accents.”

On the border, your mama taught you nothing but resistance. She showed you how her name Esperanza— which means “hope”— can be a form of resistance. When on your Bat Mitzvah she sat on the pulpit and refused to take the name Esther, when the rabbi refused and called her Esther anyway, when she interrupted him and said in a voice loud enough, her name, a voice of resistance in a sanctuary in which she rarely found sanctuary with the people in it, when she said her name, Esperanza, your mother, a convert to Judaism, resisted with only her name. When your Mexican family filled the benches, your Catholic uncles donned kippahs, when your father introduced them to fellow worshippers on the Oneg Shabbat, “these men are my brothers,” this was all your mother showing you how to resist racism, intolerance, unkindness.

Still. Her hope is her kind. Her kind of hope is rarely a kindness.

The death of a new day is never kind” — that’s Mahogany L. Browne in her poem “Marigold.”

Many years later, that same rabbi who would never say your mother’s name will read your work on Jewish mysticism, your commentary on the Minhat Yehuda, and he will tell you that a woman– and someone like you— has no business handling such sacred text.

Poeta, you resist with your no business. You resist this man from your past who’s stuck in a past that’s an incomplete text. Broken record with his broken records.

Even in your dreams you resist. In a dream once you defeated a demon and entirely in Hebrew, your language, one of your languages of resistance.  You and a horse you once knew for less than a week in Iceland resisted and defeated a demon. It became a poem. It became a prayer. For others to resist demons.

You mean it as a prayer for others to resist demons. When their lives collapse into themselves and they think they do not have the words. Anymore. You know this well. When you need to leave. When you’re done. When this, the last time. Yet still you resist.

In stasis, in spiritual paralysis, hands thrown up, throat full of Godful silence, your resistance as poeta is in motion. In doubt. When all you can do is question. Why the world wants to name you, and why it wants you to be one thing, easily locatable in some topographic misery made by borders and blame and fear.

To be the name uttered, but not to have the burden to be” — that’s Dorothea Lasky in her poem, “To be the thing.”

Poeta, you resisted when you had nothing to show. When your life fit into a tumbledown suitcase, which opened spontaneously coming off the conveyor belt at JFK, spilling out the contains of your failures to make a life in Jerusalem, a life that resisted you as much as you resisted what borders and politics it dictates. You resisted when hoards of people stared at you as you gathered your things, stepping over you, sighing at the space you didn’t even mean at the time to take.

You resist by remembering this moment now, that moment when you failed to make a life for yourself. You resist by not forgetting it.

You aren’t one to take deep breaths, count to five, recite a mantra you once believed.

No, you still show up for that moment and remember this is what your mother meant. What she never said outright but lived. You resist with a kind of hope that is rarely a kindness and you resist by creating endless suns for a world that you’d give your life for. A world of poetas. Poetry— this, you believe the furthest language has ever gone.

To write a single word meant as poetry is to leave something more eternal than your own life. It is to resist death and hopelessness, though one or the other might seem to be so close.

To write as poeta among poetas: this, the most you’ve ever received, and the most you have to give.