Back from the Dead

The Ancients Who Hadn’t The Fridge Get Hungry, Try To Discover Unique Ways To Preserve Food

No, I am not praying, I’m trying to preserve
last night’s dinner.

Prayers won’t help. This death
is a sunlit death, opulent warmth
doing us in. Truth of trying–

On my knees first
I take the berries, pears into the shade
gain maybe a day, the birds
eat the berries. This violence only
is natural: keep what’s best

forgotten. Sunlight softening the stones.
My hands scarred with ground dirt, I can’t
get deep enough for this cold I imagine
will do the work for me, my hands scarred.

These leftovers, why keep them?
To love taste is to be human, long past expiration.
We taste, we live. The sun again moves past
the field of bobbing trees.

We build, understand, we barter, a small revival
the dead for a few more days.

Why do I resuscitate this pear, it’s had
a good life on its tree, why doesn’t it release?
Like it clings you cling, so I
for your sake resurrect. Touch
my knees, the markings
crescent indentations, the grass
stamped me.

Truth of the lie, barter, the pear
would it sweeten just one day longer, truth
of this skin–

The longer you are human, the longer
you understand our careful violence:
you have loved, so smally
you have died.

By Farryl Last

 

The Arab-Israeli Conflict, Back from the Dead

Like a zombie that simply refuses to be laid to rest, war in the Gaza strip is back from the dead. Hamas’ launch of rockets into Israel, and Israel’s retaliatory air strikes and ground invasion in Gaza are playing out almost like a carbon copy of the recent fighting in 2008/09 and 2012. Each time, as Hillary Clinton negotiated a cease fire in 2012 and John Kerry shuttled from Israel to the West Bank to Gaza trying to restart negotiations, a tiny bit of hope that the sides might be able to negotiate a permanent, two-state agreement was reinvigorated. Yet once again, Hamas rockets rained down on Israel, the IDF retaliated leaving thousands of Gazans dead, tragically killed in their homes, and Israelis living in anticipatory fear of the next barrage of rockets that might fall. All the while, the humanitarian situation in Gaza, which has restricted the flow of medical supplies and services amongst other crucial things, has continued to fester, leaving nearly 50% of youth unemployed. At the same time, the blockade has kept people from leaving in search of a better life.

Yet when you look under the political surface, the conflict—and the region—has become significantly more complicated, even just since the Arab Spring. Prior to Mohamed Bouzazi’s self-immolation in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia in 2011, the Arab-Israeli conflict remained deadlocked not only because of the difficulty of the issues and the domestic politics of Israel and the PLO, but also because of the intransigence of Arab leaders in the region. Despite their vocal rhetorical support for the Palestinian people, the authoritarian regimes of the region had a big interest in maintaining of the status quo. As it was, they were able to use statements in favor of the Palestinians to shore up domestic support. A peaceful resolution would have been bad news from their perspective, because it would rob them of this source of domestic political support.

However, the rapid changes in the region have complicated the picture significantly. The rise of the regimes brought about by the Arab Spring, particularly in Egypt, and of ISIS and other militant non-state actors in the region, have produced cross-cutting cleavages that make it much more difficult to understand what’s going on right now, let alone to predict the outcome or engage in productive diplomatic talks.

In 2012, Egypt’s President Morsi played a key role in ceasefire talks, acting as a go-between for Hamas and Israel. As the leader of a country that has signed a peace agreement with Israel, and as a leader of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, a close political relative to Hamas, he was an acceptable figure for both sides. However, the 2013 coup left General Sisi in charge, and his leanings tend to mirror that of the old-school Middle Eastern autocrats in his distrust towards Hamas and other Islamist parties that are seen as destabilizing forces. In fact, Sisi’s moved to close the tunnels between Egypt and Gaza that had facilitated the transportation of both humanitarian assistance and weapons for Hamas. The closure of the tunnels stoked the tension in Gaza by increasing Hamas’ desperation, which some say may have contributed to the recent violence.

Morsi’s Egypt also facilitated Qatar’s funding of Hamas, helping to transfer funds. Qatar is a fascinating case: the richest country in the world in per capita terms because of its oil wealth, Qatar’s monarchs have been intent on building a strong relationship with the west, hosting campuses of several major US universities in Doha’s Education City. As a monarchy, its interest in stability aligns closely with the other Gulf monarchies. Yet like the other Gulf Monarchies, Qatar engages in a dual strategy of building ties with both the west and radical Islamist groups in order to shore up stability. In Qatar’s case, the government continues to be a supporter of Hamas, both rhetorically and financially.

Although Hamas used to count Syria and Iran amongst its close supporters, their numbers have now been winnowed down to 2: Qatar and Turkey. Just a few years ago, Turkey’s relationship with Israel was warming, strategic and military ties, as well as levels of trade between the two countries, were growing. However, the relationship has deteriorated entirely, beginning with the term of Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is often described as a “moderate Islamist” and whose anti-Israel rhetoric was also intended to garner domestic support. The relationship took a turn for the worse after the 2008/09 war in Gaza, and the 2010 flotilla raid that left nine Turkish activists dead. As a democracy (albeit one that may be sliding back towards authoritarianism), Turkey’s alliance-by-proxy with Qatar seems unlikely.

Furthermore, until the outbreak of the civil war in Syria, Hamas was part of a close alliance with Iran and Syria. However, Hamas’ refusal to support the Assad regime during the civil war broke up that relationship (although maybe not for good—Tehran and Hamas may have begun to rebuild those ties at the beginning of this year). The civil war in Syria has pit the Assad regime against a variety of rebel groups, including secular as well as more radical-leaning Islamist groups like ISIS that have more in common with Hamas.

With the civil war in Syria staggering forwards, and ISIS’ recent triumphant takeover of parts of Iraq, it is unclear how this kaleidoscope of alliances will continue to evolve—or how they will impact the dormant peace negotiations. In some cases, these changes have opened up new space for positive developments, including President Morsi’s role in negotiating the 2012 Gaza ceasefire. Other changes, however, have the potential to change things for the worse by diverting US attention back to Iraq, for example, ISIS’ rise could distract from any potential negotiations. At the least, the quickly evolving relationships and cleavages will be problematic because they complicate the picture. The US or any other party that wants to serve as an intermediary will have to figure out who is even sitting on each side of the table, a process that could confuse the situation and be de-stabilizing if parties switch sides suddenly. It seems clear that after the Gaza war, restarting peace negotiations is one step further away. The rapidly evolving political situation in the region only makes such negotiations that much more complex and difficult. Nevertheless, if the changing political landscape shakes the regimes out of their old-school mode of intransigence into taking action, there may be hope as well.

This conflict is tragic for countless reasons. It has pitted two groups of civilians, who both feel that they are acting on the defensive and living in fear, against each other. Yet as Hillary Clinton recently pointed out, there are extremists on all sides, in a tinderbox conflict in which one radically violent action—the abduction and killing of three Israeli teenagers, the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin—can plunge even the more moderate sides back into fear culminating in violence.

There’s also another major tragedy: that the governments of the region have used the conflict as a political pawn to bolster their own domestic support, at the expense of the people of Palestine and Israel. The rapidly evolving political situation brings complexity with it, and makes it difficult to understand the quickly shifting alliances in the region, let alone to predict what may happen next. But like the Arab Spring, the rapidly changing state of affairs may also bring hope.

By Alexandra Stark

 

We Look for the Resurrection of the Dead

Men carry entire families out of burning buildings on their backs. Single mothers still buck-lipped in their braces go without a new pair of stockings for twenty years just to send their babies to colleges with grassy knolls. That English king with the stutter.  We call it the “right thing” and people do it everyday.

For fifty-four years I waited for my chance to lurch out of the cesspool of life, to rise to the occasion.  On that day I’d link arms with my kin of gentle warriors and walk in sacred procession, taking my place in the laureled pantheon of people who do right.  Perhaps rays of light would strike out about me in a nimbus of goodness. Yes, then carapace of hardened days would fall away, revealing the noble prince I’d been harboring inside myself for nearly six decades.  I would look thirty years younger. Then when it came time for me to die, no matter how soon, I might go easily to my grave, my heart pooled with a man’s blood, and I’d slumber peacefully for the eons. People would place flowers on my grave, like Jim Morrison, like Oscar freaking Wilde.  My headstone would be on the cemetery tour. I’d be so loved.

That’s how I got into this trouble. Tell me, have you ever watched from the shore for the that break in the tide, a chance to swim out beyond the churn? I know you’ve felt it – that itch, that want. I couldn’t squelch my need of it. None of it. And in the end, the yearning got the better of me.

Now, before the handcuffs and the clicking cameras and the cinder block walls of this cell, my days were given to the slack-jawed imagining of scenarios. I was a pretty boring guy. I worked a lot in those days. All that kept me plastered to my seat was a fantasy of life-altering events. Over a cup of cheap coffee, I would go over the possible routes to my apotheosis, one by one, holding them up in different lights like gems and marveling at their brilliant facets.

In one case, City Hall was attacked by terrorists. Here I’d rise up from my desk, placing budgets aside, slowly loosen my tie, and efficiently but calmly direct my co-workers out of windows and fire escapes and down narrow staircases, never trying to be a hero, just an excellent flight attendant. Turning down a wrong corridor, destiny would find me and really sock it to me. I’d come face to face with some dodgy bastard in a hallway. His eternal eyes would blaze with a zealous, maniacal glare like a rabid dog. But he would be in my territory and finally my decades long wandering through vaulted City Hall hallways would find significance.  Through several acrobatic encounters of ducking, kicking and throttling, I would get the terrorist in a choke hold with my tie.

Leon often jumped in as a co-star in these scenes, grabbing a perpetrator by the straps of his meaty shoulders as though wrestling a hog.  Leon is my best friend. He works in the accounting department.  Come to think of it, you’ve probably heard about dear old Leon, in the newspapers perhaps. He was my getaway driver, an accessory to my fraud. Oh Leon, he is true blue. When Andy died, Leon would come across the office, hypnotized almost, and put his hand on my shoulder. He’d let it rest there until I came back, and had the semblance to rejoin the living. During a long August happy hour, when my plan was fairly plotted and pointed, I let Leon know he wouldn’t be seeing me after the long weekend. I don’t know why I felt the need to tell him, but with another pitcher of beer, Leon was driving me down to the Carolinas, near his grandma’s home. No one would be the wiser to find me there, he told me.

When the news vans pulled up to his door after my arrest,  Leon seemed quite genuine standing in in his doorway in his boxer shorts, blinking in the early light, and saying he’d just given me a ride, which is all he had done. Hadn’t he heard that everyone thought I was drowned and dead, the journalists pushed? Hadn’t he seen the hullabaloo at the office? No, he hadn’t Leon said flatly, he had troubles of his own to keep him busy. I have to say I believed him. Leon had taken it naturally, this impulse hit the road, the way I did. When I told him I needed out, he nodded and glugged a bit more of the Coors. He got it all right.  He couldn’t stand a life filled with history either.

Oh Leon. He visits me more than anyone now and when I hug him he smells sweetly, hauntingly of whisky. Swimming under that sea of booze, his wet eyes sparkle like two electric jellyfish, submerged in a amoebic, warping sorrow. His look is that of a man who will never come up to breathe life’s air, and who has his reasons not to.

One particularly inebriated night not long after Andy’s funeral Leon told me he had seen his father shot dead in the streets of Newark. Leon watched from the dirtied living room window of their apartment as the blood leaked out of his father. It reminded him, he said, of ink seeping out of a popped pen.  His father was a horrible guy, a junkie who owed somebody something, but still his dad and Leon was twelve, so those details mattered very little.  So it goes, I tell Leon. So it goes, Leon responds. Rarely does the ephemera of history account for the love and hate that exist in spite of the strictures of reality.  Now Leon sticks to pencils.

Anyhow I digress, as I tend to do. There’s not much to do in this joint, but go around  and round the carousel of hopes and regrets reaching out to grab that ring, the elusive one, the one we can never get a pinky on. There were of course other ways to reveal my innermost spirit, with or without Leon, including rescuing car accident victims before a car explodes or after a crash into a river, nearly drowning myself in the process. On occasion there are bullets, and sometimes I am caught in the spray, taking one in the leg or arm.  Sometimes I forgive whatever punk or perpetrator or thug. Sometimes the pope calls me to Rome and we convene. I use the high school Spanish and Italian I remember to impress the heck of him.  The pope asks me why I left the church and I fill him in on my mother, a little bit of a looney tune in the religious department. He winks at me, I kid you not, and he says that such severity was not the nature of our good Lord Jesus.  We share a look full of mutual, Christian understanding.

Now, don’t count me a fool. The simpler ways, I overlooked or denied or couldn’t meet.  I’m not the most observant man. But you want to know how I got myself into this predicament, the arrest, my fifteen minutes of criminal fame, my two years in the slammer? Our problems had become radical. There is no other way to phrase it. I had to take some kind of stand, to be a man on his two feet on his two legs, standing against what I knew to be wrong

The police found me in North Carolina, painting houses, and sleeping on a mattress of the second floor of a house not far from the beach.  I’d been gone for two and a half months. On the shore of Long Island, I’d left my wallet, soft brown leather with a few soggy dollar bills inside like wet leaves, I left my seersucker shorts, my boat shoes, my grandfather’s watch (the coup de gras) glinting gold and winking to the face of God. On the underside of its face rested the the engraved date of his release from the army, which was the day he’d bought the watch. No one could believe I had left that behind, unless they knew how much I had already lost. I drove out to the beach whenever I could. I always had. After work, or early when the sky was pink and wicked and innocent. The ocean would growl at me, and frighten me and lick me with its striking tongues. Lorraine, my wife, my estranged wife, whatever you want to call her,  she’d scold me saying that I swam out too far, that I wasn’t the young buck I had been, that’d I’d give myself a heartache and drown without so much as a struggle.  So when it came to it, a drowning seemed truthful, or at least, not so much like a lie.

Maybe faking my own death doesn’t make a heck of a lot of sense to you. Maybe it doesn’t seem like taking a stand.  Hell, it wasn’t a flawless plan that’s for sure, but it seemed like that chance, that brief glimmering opening into another life and I ran to it.

Lorraine and I had racked up a hell of a lot of debt, as I’m sure you already know from the nightly news, the local papers.  On the kitchen counter,  a white avalanche of statements and bills, our debtor’s deeds piled higher and higher. How the hell was I going to get us out of it? The words were right there taunting me. Splamo: number 1 cause for the cancellation of debt is the death of the debt holder.  They write it out like the bastards are doing you a favor by not following your ghost down to Hades and collecting a toll. Upon the passing of the debt holder, the debt would impossibly disperse and dissolve. For the love of all that is good and holy,  it would disappear into that hallowed notebook of our national loss, along with the deaths of soldiers and the crushed party favor dreams on prom night.

Lorraine, God love her, has tried to keep her mouth shut since, but a little birdie tells me that my gambling has been presented as an issue. A major issue, even. My one weekend of a month spent in in Atlantic City and my win-4 lottery tickets, these small and shitty decisions were spadefuls deeper into a ditch they say. People like to talk a lot of about logic. My bad logic. People, all right, I say, all right. Let’s look at the facts: I worked a 50 hour week. I got my 15 days of vacation after 20 years in the same job. And what did I have to show for it? A dumpy house, nearly paid for, and debt, the dirty secret ones you have the same as I. Those three college educations for Claudia and Tommy and Andy.  I gambled with chump change is the truth. It was less than a pack of cigarettes every other day. What was the logic to the weights strapped around our ankles? Riddle me that.

I kept going to the office, but day after day, the answer seemed more and more clear. Leon always seemed to be on the phone with his ex-wife Crystal talking about weekends and their two kids, brown and sweet as puppies.  I’d sit there crunching the numbers and thinking about Leon who had just wanted to make it right, you know, make his own family strong, and safe, build a moat around all those his heart encompassed. But the more I listened the more I knew that he and I could never make it right. Can we ever?  That’s the hardest realization to come by – no one can correct the wrongs of the past. We have to let the wrongs alone, moving among us like ghosts. Only then will they do us little harm. Leon seemed to be apologizing, always apologizing for something we were all guilty of and yet none of us could name.  The sound of his voice was croaky, and teetering, as though a breath or a syllable this way or that would cast him off the tightrope of his life and into the sucking mouth of hell.  It was a voice that sounded very much like my own.

Now, I couldn’t tell you why Lorraine didn’t believe the drowning. I sometimes wondered if she’d put a chip in me, or after all these years, she could feel me out there with some antennae that had long ago learned my wavelengths.  She said she found some emails between Claudia, our daughter, and me about insurance policies and where to find the keys to her grandmother’s garage or the deed to the house and it sent Lorraine’s whiskers of suspicion twitching. I had seemed too together maybe, too on top of my pile of shit to not be up to something. It was “out of character” that I had filed a new life insurance plan and made Lorraine the benefactor. And I’d taken some hundred dollar bills out of the shoes we kept tucked around the house.

Lorraine, Lorraine, I had had her all set up. She hadn’t kept a steady job since Andy died. There was a stint at the doctor’s office as a receptionist. The phones rang like wildly crying babies.  She didn’t remember to answer. What could I say? I understood.  It was Claudia, freckles speckled across her like islands on a milky sea, who stood sentinel next to me as I wrote the checks, choosing between flowers for the casket and another late payment on the mortgage.  Between the two black-clad posts of Tommy and Claudia hung the absence of their little brother,  billowing between us like a sheet on a clothesline. Their mother stood staring out the window waiting for no one.  When I had my plan, it was Claudia I told and to her I said not to tell a single living soul. She told only the dead, who are the only ones we can ever trust.

Christ knows why Lorraine cared I was gone. We aren’t speaking. Maybe she wanted me there to suffer alongside her, mourning our red-headed Andy in stiff silence like two taxidermied baboons. But I’m not there to do that now, am I?  I won’t blame her for whatever her thinking amounted to. Hating me might have been a welcome distraction. When the police knocked on my door, I opened it easily. It was like finding a friend you’d hadn’t seen in years on your doorstep. Surprising, but not unpleasant. They  took me down to the station and I laughed when they said I was under arrest. I laughed because they believed I had to stay alive. They believed they were bringing me back to my life, that that was their duty. Didn’t they know the old me was dead, I asked? And wouldn’t I be the one to know, I continued? The older cop, his hair grayed and eyes winking, paused holding the knowledge in the net of his understanding. The young cop looked at me hard, with flinty, ignorant eyes that would soon enough catch fire and be burned up into softened ash.  He took my life quite seriously. Anyhow, I thought, it was polite that they had rung the bell and that they didn’t bother with handcuffs.

The smallest gestures of politeness keep the world on its hinges, you know. Politeness is what people miss when the world has gone to seed. I can tell you we remembered how polite they were when they came to tell us about Andy. Lorraine answered the door.  She had been waiting for a new vacuum from Amazon.  The army men stood there at the threshold of our home. Their crisp uniforms were perfect and with practiced perfect words they set a scene in which the boy had died heroically. This seemed unlikely. We knew our son to be a clumsy boy, as gangly as a young giraffe. What had killed him, we parsed, was a misstep into the open, an execution for his spastic dance in the desert dirt, in Afghanistan, but what might have been Iraq or Arabia on any sandy land that lived more in my imagination as an arid open world of danger than as geography.

We had never seen the ground where he died, and had we gone there to the place where he had fallen to scour for darkened patches of his dried blood we would have learned that nothing sticks to the earth there. That the ground is a fluid commotion and that the place where he had fallen was no longer the same. It had blown away. The bloody sand had flown up and away into the nostrils of strangers, maybe even the men who had killed him and the perhaps and I hope the slender hollows of a young and beautiful girl.

Those nice soldiers brought us his body and stood by us as we buried him in this sandy ground of ours, on this island. Lorraine asked them if they knew how his hair was brown, but in a certain light red, and they nodded because they did, which brought her comfort.

—-

In the 1700s in Massachusetts, there lived a man named Lord Timothy Dexter. He was the archetypal self-made man, but he called himself a Lord. I liked that – it seemed like something I might do, a little aspirational hubris. A book I had borrowed from the local library mentioned him. The book was supposed to be a guide to writing your novel and Dexter was an example of a man that didn’t let his shortcomings hold him back.  He’d written a book chock full of awful grammar with no punctuation to speak of. The book was a tremendous success nevertheless.

In the second edition of the book, thirteen pages of punctuation were included in addendum and Dexter instructed his readers to place the marks as they pleased. It was clever. Around this time, I thought that I might try my hand at writing and so I took a deep liking to this Lord Timothy Dexter. I had my own problems understanding where one story ended and another began.

Anyhow, soon after Andy died I read an article that mentioned Lord Dexter. It said that he had wanted so badly to know what people would say about him when he died that he faked his own death and arranged an elaborate funeral. Three thousand people attended his wake, but his wife didn’t shed a tear. According to folklore, she earned a beating for it.

I’ve often wondered about Mrs. Lord Timothy Dexter. Obviously something grave, something serious, had happened to her. I suspected it had nothing to do with Dexter.  Mrs. Dexter reminded me of Lorraine, I guess.  In dreams, I’d find Lorraine fallen in the yard, her limbs hardened and withered, like a woman of bark, a woman without moisture and humidity, without tears.  I imagined tax collectors capturing her tears in small ointment bottles, like reliquaries for the tears of the Virgin.

You know the tax collector doesn’t care about the desiccation of hearts. So we kept paying. Monthly installments were made on an education that had failed to educate Andy in self preservation, in safety. Safety is something you only know the importance of when something cannot be repaired. We knew its value once we were broken.

The night before I staged the drowning,  I drove to the ocean and watched the curve of the land dip and ebb and sparkle with streetlights and headlights. A glacier had once covered a great shelf of the Northeast. This glacier had slowly scraped bits of the mainland away. The pile of wounds became Long Island, this moraine, the scar tissue of the slow violence of centuries. Violence is as natural and painful as hunger, and takes such effort to keep at bay.  In the morning I mailed our rebates for funeral, providing evidence to the government of the cost of a coffin and a caterer. Lorraine was still sleeping her tremulous sleep.

And, I have to admit I felt no guilt as I walked out and away. I felt we owed our old selves nothing and those debts we had taken were for a life we had nothing to do with. That was the crime, being held to the cost of a life we didn’t have.

When I got into Leon’s Honda we drove straight down the coast and away from that scar across the sea. We drove down into the next morning. We went to the house his grandmother was born in and we ate fried chicken and biscuits with our fingers out on the peeling white porch. Then we drove on some more. As we drove I felt my life receding from me like the towns in the rearview mirror. In those rooms along the highway, Huck Finn came to me in my dreams. Huck Finn told me to keep running down the river.  Lord Timothy Dexter whispered in my ear, go and see the tales they tell when you’re gone, and I went and I found they had very little to say.  I knew the wholeness of my death.

That morning at the water, I did swim out  for a long time and I thought for a long time of joining Andy in the deep tears of that mystic sea. But I didn’t find him there.  He was healed into flesh of the island. And so I went, leaving no one behind, not even my shadow.

When Leon comes on Sunday, he asks me about Andy. He knows he has returned to me. I tell him that I have found Andy again, in the night. Leon smiles and asks me how it was this time. Andy waits for me in my dreams, sometimes standing in these prison halls or in an old familiar doorway, smiling in beatific silence. I reach out, anxious to put my hands on him, but he gestures like Jesus, “Noli me tangere.” I do not doubt him, and draw back my hands. For a few fluttering moments I see the life of the world to come.

By Kathleen Nora White

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