Tribute and Desideratum

Gershom Gorenberg

Strange as the memory is for me now, the first words I ever got published were poetry. In the last few years, poetry has been a very sporadic pursuit. Yesterday, though, looking for an entirely different file, I happened on a poem I wrote nearly eight years ago, early in 2001, apparently after returning to the wellspring of Ferlinghetti, and that I’d since forgotten.

Watching a videocast from Washington last night, it seemed to me that half of what seemed impossible when I wrote this has come true:  Across the ocean, where hope was written off like a bad debt, it has been reborn.

Here, in Jerusalem, one still has to dream of the very possibility of dreaming. The pseudonymous and very wise Jeremiah Haber chides for even considering the possibility. But I know of no biological difference that allows Americans to imagine a better future and prevents us from doing so. With some trepidation at daring poetry in a blog, I’m posting this.


I am hoping for the rebirth of hope
I am waiting for the beat of wheels on steel, the railroad drumbeat rhythm,
I am waiting for the long-distance heaven express.
I believe its time to lay tracks up to heaven
I am waiting for Jimi Hendrix to rise and climb on, for Phil Ochs to declare he’s retracted his resignation,
to rise all bones and anger banging a guitar and climb on,
I am waiting for the kids in the high schools to lay down their guns and climb on
I believe the generation born dead, raised dead, schooled dead in the malls’ mausoleum marble will pass
I believe with an imperfect faith, cracked but still serviceable, that a generation will be born that knows how to hope.

I am waiting for new songs unto the Lord.
I am waiting for new psalms,
I am waiting for a pied saxophonist to march through suburbs outside Jerusalem, leading away the houses with red tile roofs and the grownups, and leave children and rats on green lawns
I am waiting for heavenly choruses to lean down, lean down, and with each note the guns in the hands of the green boys on the streetcorners of Jerusalem will grow wings and fly off, long grey dragonflies, toward the sun setting in white foam off Ashkelon
I am certain the stillborn generation can come alive
I believe with imperfect faith, used, dented, two cylinders skipping, low on brake fluid but still driving, that a generation can be born that knows how to sing.

I believe that Moses, Blake, Abe Heschel and Reb Nahman are not dead, they are tuning their guitars in a back room and will be back on stage for an encore any moment, for the real show,
when the rabbis will shed their black coats like old snakeskins, the monks and the sheikhs of jerusalem’s alleys will dance half-nude on Jaffa Road, roaring the choruses, reaching up drunk and trying to pull heaven down,
I believe a seven year old girl with umm kalthoum’s reborn voice, voice of clouds and fire, is even now singing in a room without chairs without schoolbooks in south Jerusalem, there are no lights in the staircase, there is broken glass in the street, there are skeletons on the park benches, bones without number, dead men in the buses, dead women whispering next to the empty notice boards next to the empty storefronts
her song will reach out the windows, it will seize the bones, they will grow flesh, they will fold up the housing projects like card tables, they will dance in the fields, they will build a new jerusalem out of clouds and fire,
they will be a generation that knows how to hope.

I believe dreams sleep but do not die
I believe songs are hiding in the wind
I believe that the drumbeats of hope are curled up in the couches of our hearts and will awaken, must awaken
I believe the tanks will turn into hippopotamuses and lumber out of their bases looking for rivers
I believe we are only waiting, only pausing to take a breath, before a generation is reborn that knows how to hope.

10 thoughts on “Tribute and Desideratum”

  1. That’s beautiful, Gershom, and I’m not even a great connoisseur of poetry. And I agree, a reassertion of humanity is needed to make the multicoloured forces of wanting ourselves prevail against the grey forces of wanting things.

  2. If you were the norm in parenting, I would have no doubt of a good future but for most the cycle is repeated beginning with mother’s milk or with the desire to lash out from the pain of loss.

    If every generation were truly open to all possibility and could through off the blanket of indoctrination, ah, what then?

  3. There are some beautiful turns of phrase here: I am waiting for the long-distance heaven express and I believe with an imperfect faith, cracked but still serviceable and I believe with imperfect faith, used, dented, two cylinders skipping, low on brake fluid but still driving and most especially the whole stanza which begins with umm kalthoum’s reborn voice.

    Thank you for this. I needed this today.

  4. Gandhi once said something like this: “people say only violence and its threat matter. I say that without the silent working of love force humanity would already be dead. Love force is always out there, and has kept us going.”

    So you.

    The Arab Israelis. Find it there. I truely believe that.

    day breaks
    no one knows why
    there we all stand

    benjamin suzuki

  5. Ferlinghetti. Haven’t thought of him for decades. Fun memory. A dual citizen (USA-Israel), I laughed, cried, high-fived with fellows at our vigil yesterday in front of the tube during The Inauguration. What a day. What a guy. What a nation. Since the campaign, up to the nomination, through the election, and up to the inauguration, my emails from Israel are running 99 percent cynical, negative, and trashing of the clearly newly transformed USA. What’s up with my fellow Israelis? Constitutionally incapable of re-imagining another way (out)? Excuse me. African Americans deviously brought to the USA in chains, worked as slaves, and “upgraded” to sharecropper status post the Civil War, and so on, have survived/endured/overcome a rugged time in this country that now boasts a multiracial president — elected for competence (an understatement), not by dint of a quota. History can be overcome. What is it with Israelis?

  6. Not “what is it,” Tamar: people died to bring Civil Rights in America, and I actually don’t think that battle is yet done; perhaps it never can be done. My mother comes from the deep South, and remains racist (although very old). To look at others once racial categories have been imprinted is very hard. I can feel bigotry in my sometimes. But I live such that I know it may come, and watch for it. I wonder what I would be like if born during her time (she is over 90 now). Or if she had stayed in the South to raise me there.

    Israel, and the Palestinians, have a difficult road ahead. Israelis have a difficult road ahead with Israelis: Arab and Jew; Jew and Jew; Arab and Arab. What has happened in America is marvelous, but it was won over 100 years.

    But Israel has not that kind of time. It cannot do what America did, ignore what America ignored for so long.

    Or so I think.

  7. Tamar, I’ll tell you why this Israeli is very skeptical about Obama and more so, about the people around him. I see a lot of media hype went into pushing this man, who has very little experience , into the role of national savior. I see that the big donors who financed his campaign (and the serious money comes from the rich, not $10 donations from poor blacks) come from the world of high finance who also donated generously to the Clinton AND Bush (yes, Bush!) campaigns, and it was these people who were all part of the culture of greed and corruption that helped drive the US to its current economic crisis. I see a Palestinian living in Chicago who calls himself “Electronic Intifada” write that in the 1990’s when Obama was getting started in politics, he was “very friendly” to the Palestinian cause, but then Mr “Intifada” noted that Obama became aware of the power of the Jews in Chicago so he started backpeddling on his support for the Arabs and started talking nice about Israel. Mr “Intifada” now views Obama as “an opportunist” (his words).
    I hear Obama say that America’s strength comes from being in the “right”, but we Jews saw in the period 1939-1945 that it is not enough to be “right”, one must be militarily strong.
    Obama doesn’t have a clue about the Middle East , the culture here, and they are now saying that his new envoy, George Mitchell, believes, with American certainty “there is no conflict that can not be solved” but he is going to find out that is not the case.

    Gershon, our national anthem is HaTikva “the hope”. You don’t need to look to America to get hope, the miraculous rebirth of the Jewish People in Eretz Israel in spite of the enormous odds and the hostility of our neighbors should give you enough.

  8. Y I see your at it again. As a member of the ACLU and if you lived here I would defend your right to be an absolute jackass.I would even defend you to the death to shoot your big ,uninformed mouth off. It is you who is clueless not our President.You and the neo-cons are just mad that a half -black man whipped the Establishment man ( white-anglo-saxon military background who sold his soul) George Mitchell comes from a Lebanese family and this assignment is not unfamiliar to him and he is an excellent choice.Quit patting Israel on the back . The country wouldn’t be sh-t without American technology and financial assistance from the American jewish community and the taxpayers here in the U.S.I question whether the IDF is the military organization they once were or has Hamas and the Lebanese group of thugs just got their number.

    Furthermore it was George Michell that got the Catholic-Protestant situation on the right track in Northern Ireland eventhough he was a Roman Catholic he won the confidence of the rabib leader of the Ulster Union party Ian Paisley. Most of the pundits thought this was impossible.We are all G-d’s children but people like you think you have a lock on G-d’s favor and therefore only your cause and views are favored by G-d and as long you stick to that view there will no peace. The Greeks ,Romans,Persians,Turks,and the Nazi’s all had great military strenght but what happens when it is gone. Israel has only one hope as far as the future is concerned(not past military success) and it will have to be integrated into a comprehensive Middle East with a federated system of government and laws Absent that someday Israel may cease to exist as an identifiable country .Right now the Palestinians in your own country outnumber you and it’s only going to get worse no matter how many walls you build.

  9. George-
    I suggest you calm down. Your repeated use of profanities shows that you are losing it. Stop replacing religion with politics, you’ll be a happier person for it.

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