An excerpt of ‘Moons and Donkeys’ for the people of Gaza

The following are segments from a longer poem — “Moons and Donkeys" — which I wrote after I spent a summer in Gaza in 1997. I dedicate them to the people of Gaza who are currently suffering and resisting yet another massive Israeli assault.


Gaza is a cage,

barb-wired on the inland sides;

the sea mostly off limits.

No mountains, no valleys,

the place is flat.

Forget about movies, books and bars.

The war is said to be over, the price paid,

and will be paid further.

A torpid peace is settling in.

What were the Prophets smitten by?


I am told

The yellow finches

perch on the fence,


smell the rampant sewers

then wing back to the desert.


I go around,

like an ancient Chinese poet,

watching moons and donkeys.


A man who lived for many years in Norway,

told me that on the first day back here

he went out for a walk

when, a few blocks from his parent’s house,

two old men and two middle-aged women

sitting in a row on low chairs on the curb,

caught in boredom’s web,

unleashed their eight eyes on him,

with such penetrating, persistent stares

he began to scan his shirt and pants,

and feel his face with his agitated hand

to find out what was wrong with him,

until he almost stumbled.


After a few weeks

the spirit corrugated,

like the rooftops in the refugee camps.

My feet walked backward,

like the feet of the shoeless children.


At dawn

the muezzins’ megaphones

clash, overlap,

each spurred on

to call us, louder,

and louder — for prayer,

to amplify to God

our impotence.


The ash-colored donkey

was pregnant and flaunting it —

belly full, hanging low

like the night’s moon.

She stepped into the road,

slowly, deliberately,

then balked. Turned

her head this way and that.

All the honking fell on deaf ears.

I watched from my stopped car

this mock checkpoint

this street theater.


I want to cross borders


like salmon

like contaminated wind.


Scores of fishing boats

spread out

of the meager port.

In the depth of the night

their kerosene lamps

an oasis of lights,

soft, yellow —

a beauty

hard to conquer

or resist.


The fishermen doze off,

then row again.


A crescent moon gleamed,

rocked, like a gondola. 

The orthodox clouds

marched on, and covered it.


A daily summer ritual.

A wedding motorcade

in the late afternoon:

A few cars (for the lucky ones),

a bus, and a pickup truck or two

packed with young boys

who laugh and dance,

clap and sing,

like birds singing

to make themselves visible

in the cage.


“Moons and Donkeys” appeared in Elmusa’s book, “Flawed Landscape,” Interlink Books, 2008.

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