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refusnik songs:

Acrid Memory

Sami Shalom Chetrit

English by Ammiel Alcalay

first published 1996

At the train station a rabid crowd
Doles out yellow ribbons and flags
asking passersby to pledge their blessings
and give thanks to the boys coming home.
As for me, I put down:
miserable, pitiful souls.

And a stinging memory comes back.
Homecoming memory.
Driving through the streets of a strange city at full tilt
(the streets there weren't at all unfamiliar to us),
an old Arab stood by the side of the main road waving his cane
(now I think: that old man's grandfather once must have stood
by the side of that very road and waved that very cane).
We stopped to find the meaning of his wave.
The old man bent toward me (in his eyes I saw that he didn't get the essence of human adulation,the quality of victory or failiure), and spit a yellow
glob of saliva in my face before turning back on his way.
And on that day, I was purified.
If only for a fleeting moment was I purified.



Sami Shalom Chetrit is a teacher, poet, scholar of society and culture in Israel, and an activist for peace and justice. He currently teaches at UCLA, and UC Berkeley, and edits the Mizrahi Portal, Kedma, where this article was published on published in Hebrew on 18 Apr. 2004. A few of his poems, including "Acrid Memory" were translated by Ammiel Alcalay and were published in the anthology Keys to the Garden: New Israel Writing (City Lights Books, 1996, order directly from the publisher, order from an independent book shop in the US, order from Amazon). Chetrit's recent books in Hebrew include The Mizrahi Struggle in Israel: 1948 - 2003 (Am Oved), and Poems in Ashdodian (Andalus).