Robert Hirschfield is a New York City-based freelance writer.
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Targeted for Who They Are
IN HIS INTRODUCTION to American Hate, Arjun Singh Sethi warns readers: “The pages that follow are not for the faint of heart, but neither is this moment.”
The hate crime survivors he spotlights speak with the stunned, searching voices of aggrieved neighbors: Syrian Muslims, Sikhs, Lebanese Christians, African Americans, Southeast Asians, Jews, and Native Americans. Sethi, a 37-year-old Sikh lawyer from Washington, D.C., shatters the complacent notion that hate crimes in the U.S. target only Muslims or unlucky Sikhs mistaken for Muslims.
Sethi’s book is evidence of the current civic plague of top-down moral dysfunction. President Trump, he writes, while “exercising the worst form of bully pulpit,” has “emboldened, empowered, enabled, facilitated, and legitimatized the very worst in America: racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and anti-immigrant hostility.”
Fighting Back with Style
“I JUST TURNED 19 that April, the age a girl blossoms. I was attractive. I was a fashion student in Delhi. Two months later, driving my car in Lucknow, just like that, I was cooked, finished!”
Now 30, Monica Singh, throws back her head, with its reconstructed face, the product of 46 painful operations, and laughs with real gusto at this unseemly cosmic joke. I find myself, uneasily, laughing with her.
We are sitting in Gregory’s Coffee near Times Square in New York City. It is a January evening. The café is nearly empty, and the overhead lighting seems to be struggling to push back the darkness pressing in against the window. Singh is unfazed by this Hopperesque tableau.
In the weeks after her spurned suitor hired men to pour a bucket of acid over her, she was confined to a cage-like cubicle to protect her from infectious contact. “It was like being in a coffin,” she said. “People were looking at me from a distance. I felt like an animal in the zoo. But in my mind, I was already walking, going back to school, imagining that I didn’t open my car door to the men on the bicycle, that I didn’t leave the house that day.”
Lyrics and Litanies
We are the long grass and anxious wind,
the generations, speaking softly, between
the lines of history.
IN THE POEMS OF PARNESHIA JONES, 35, the lines of black history that angled north from the Deep South after the First World War empty into the bruised and tender histories of family and community.
The lines above are from “Legacy,” one of the poems from her first collection, Vessel (Milkweed Editions), dedicated to Evanston, Ill., Jones’ hometown, and the home of Shorefront, the organization that documents black lives on the North Shore of Chicago.
“I had a lot of storytellers around me growing up,” Jones tells Sojourners. “My grandmother was a storyteller, my grandpop was a storyteller. I was always the youngest of the group, so I was trained to listen. When you listen to everyone else, you carve out a space to listen to yourself. Young poets should listen more to their families, to the voices they heard growing up.”
The poet says she was raised in her grandfather’s juke joint. He migrated north from Mississippi. Her first dog came from Gypsies who hung out outside his clubs.
Jones’ voice, even when banked by the din of a mid-Manhattan restaurant, is soft, leisurely. Telling her story, she will not be hurried. Her story begins with a portentous name, the spawn of chance.
The Living and the Unforgotten
TUVIA RUEBNER HAS earned the lament he wrote for King David, Israel’s better-known sorrow bearer. The poet came into the world 91 years ago in Pressburg-Bratislava, Slovakia, under Nazism’s shadow. It is a shadow he managed to separate himself from physically, but which sticks to him philosophically and is at the core of his poetry. The parched sound of random loss is the root sound in many of his poems. The spawn of an unimaginable yesterday, Tuvia Ruebner is more than anything a poet of today.
His parents, his grandparents, and his little sister Litzi all perished at Auschwitz in 1942, a year after he immigrated to British Mandate Palestine. Forty years after their deaths, Ruebner’s first son, Moran, was sent to fight in Israel’s first Lebanese war. Moran left for South America the following year, estranged from his country and its wars, and after a few letters, was never heard from again.
In Ruebner’s poem “[My father was murdered],” one by one he enumerates his losses:
Poet and Vietnam vet Bruce Weigl writes of war and reconciliation.
Protest and Praise
Denise Levertov: A Poet's Life. University of Illinois Press.
A Poet's Revolution: The Life of Denise Levertov. University of California Press.
A Spirituality of Solitude
Marking the centennial of pacifist poet William Stafford
God 'Beneath the Ordinary'
The rabbi recognized poetry as November's calling and inveighed against his betrayal of it.
Homeless, Not Helpless
In New York City, an activist group of homeless and formerly homeless people challenges the powers that be.
Prayer, Poetry, Politics
Orange Alert: Essays on Poetry, Art, and the Architecture of Silence. And, Fasting For Ramadan: Notes from a Spiritual Practice.
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