Saturday, January 5, 2013

January 3rd

Apologies to All the People in Lebanon
by June Jordan

Dedicated to the 600,000 Palestinian men, women, and children who lived in Lebanon from 1948-1983.
I didn’t know and nobody told me and what   
could I do or say, anyway?

They said you shot the London Ambassador   
and when that wasn’t true   
they said so
They said you shelled their northern villages
and when U.N. forces reported that was not true
because your side of the cease-fire was holding
since more than a year before
they said so
They said they wanted simply to carve
a 25 mile buffer zone and then
they ravaged your
water supplies your electricity your
hospitals your schools your highways and byways all
the way north to Beirut because they said this
was their quest for peace
They blew up your homes and demolished the grocery
stores and blocked the Red Cross and took away doctors
to jail and they cluster-bombed girls and boys
whose bodies
swelled purple and black into twice the original size
and tore the buttocks from a four month old baby
and then
they said this was brilliant
military accomplishment and this was done
they said in the name of self-defense they said
that is the noblest concept
of mankind isn’t that obvious?
They said something about never again and then
they made close to one million human beings homeless
in less than three weeks and they killed or maimed
40,000 of your men and your women and your children

But I didn’t know and nobody told me and what
could I do or say, anyway?

They said they were victims. They said you were
They called      your apartments and gardens      guerrilla
They called      the screaming devastation   
that they created       the rubble.   
Then they told you to leave, didn’t they?

Didn’t you read the leaflets that they dropped   
from their hotshot fighter jets?   
They told you to go.   
One hundred and thirty-five thousand   
Palestinians in Beirut and why   
didn’t you take the hint?   
There was the Mediterranean: You   
could walk into the water and stay   
What was the problem?

I didn’t know and nobody told me and what   
could I do or say, anyway?

Yes, I did know it was the money I earned as a poet that   
for the bombs and the planes and the tanks   
that they used to massacre your family

But I am not an evil person   
The people of my country aren't so bad

You can expect but so much   
from those of us who have to pay taxes and watch   
American TV

You see my point;

I’m sorry.   
I really am sorry.
June Jordan, “Apologies to all the People in Lebanon” from Directed By Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan (Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2005). Copyright © 2005 by The June M. Jordan Literary Trust. Used by permission of The June M. Jordan Literary Trust,
Source: The Collected Poems of June Jordan (Copper Canyon Press, 2005)
    Right now, I'm reading a book entitled Habibi by Naomi Shihab Nye, about a young girl named Liyana who moves with her family from their home in St. Louis back to Jerusalem, her father's childhood home. I've been trying to find books that address current events, political issues, and social justice, but that talk about them from a child's/young adult's perspective. The book is very moving, and puts the Israel-Palestine conflict into very human terms. 
    This poem would be a great connector/extender to a group of older students having read Habibi in a book club. The structure is a little less accessible for the typical middle school student, but would pose a welcome challenge to advanced readers, or just students who really love poetry -- I promise they exist! 
    I've also been planning my units with a sense of showing students that writing (and yes, poetry!) has applications in the real world. This poem is a great example of a poet using her writing to express a political opinion, and to get readers to think differently about an issue. I would even use this poem in a unit on persuasion, while discussing the different tools writers and people can use when they are trying to change someone's mind. 

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