The American in Us

by Steven Sher (October 2019)

Woman Committing Suicide, George Cruikshank





From the start, our body posture and manner of speech

seem odd to the native eye and ear. We are easy to pick out:

how we pitch our points and stretch our words,

slur the syllables of our new tongue, butchering

clotted consonants, paralyzing lungs. Our thinking

gives us away if one probes a bit more: how we navigate

crowds inside the shuk, darting around carts, slipping through

a seam between shoppers. Sure we are vigilant

regarding noise and won’t hesitate to hurl our complaints

at the late night offenders milling about like moths

drawn to lamplight, taking over the small park on our block—

every word amplified by the late hour, punctuated by bursts

of shouting and laughter you can’t let pass—acting like Americans.



Weeks of heat like raw emotion simmer beneath

these steep hills, mold this holy city. On the hottest of days

despair breaks loose. We hear about the neighbor’s

daughter who always sat alone smoking,

nursing a beer in the courtyard, ignoring our greetings

when we passed through to our apartment—

how she jumped from a roof to her death.

If you ignore the desperate measures, if you try to deny

the source of pain, this is the end you can expect—

except in America one is equally likely to pick up a gun

and start shooting up a school or mall as to kill himself

for the despair growing there wants to wade into the crowd,

striving to be democratic, taking random aim.

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Brooklyn-born Steven Sher has lived in Jerusalem since 2012. His latest (16th) book is Contestable Truths, Incontestable Lies (Dos Madres Press, 2019). His work has appeared widely since the 1970s. Recent appearances range from Veils, Halos & Shackles: International Poetry on the Oppression and Empowerment of Women to Mizmor Anthology to the forthcoming New Voices: Contemporary Writers Confronting The Holocaust. Last year he received the Glenna Luschei Distinguished Poet Award, headlining the 35th annual San Luis Obispo Poetry Festival. Visit him on his website.

Follow NER on Twitter @NERIconoclast


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