Humanist Perspectives: issue 176: A Poet’s Voice

A Poet’s Voice
by Theresa Wolfwood

Theresa Wolfwood is a social activist, working with groups in Canada and abroad. Her articles and poetry have been published in books and periodicals and in translation into Spanish, French, Danish, Arabic and German. She recently returned from conferences and meetings in Palestine, Jordan and Algeria. Theresa lives in Victoria and on Hornby Island, BC. She is the director of the Barnard-Boecker Centre Foundation. Her writing, photographs, and banner art may be found at

Author’s Statement: Poetry is distilled passion. My poems are fuelled by powerful emotions that I cannot express fully in other forms of writing. Love, injustice, joy, grief – all inspire me to illuminate my experiences and feelings in poems. Poetry engages the reader immediately at a deep personal level. I hope my poems move readers to respond with their own creativity. 
Just a Job
nestled in the pristine mountains
clean air, tall green pines and firs
nice white homes garnished with
lush lawns full double garages
a town of lovingly tended gardens
it’s a great place to live.

in the crisp peace of dawn
he gets up to weed runner beans
to deadhead climbing roses
to eat ham and eggs with the family
he walks the dog    reads the paper
then he drops his son at baseball practice.

he drives through guarded gates
to his office deep in a hillside
opens many locked doors
to a secret chapel filled with
big screens and banks of blinking controls
he finds their peaceful hum soothing.

all day he presses keys moves images
studies virtual maps of a distant land
his hands command the keyboard
his drones discharge their load
he eliminates six mountain villages before
leaving to take his daughter to a birthday party.
* * *
We Are the Canaries
We are the canaries
in the mine shaft
of daily fear
of a suffocating end
that we, the world,
even unto the smallest fly,
will die snuffed by poison
emanating from crazed leaders
from profit mad media moguls
from the toxic fumes of lies
that pour
from laboratories of prevarication
silken words
false images
invisible atoms
measured into
vessels everywhere
billboards, expert sources,
surveys, sale flyers
policy papers from consultants
companies, governments
whole countries,
the miasma of conspiracy
so powerful
even the very air we breath
is threatened.

we are the canaries
smelling the methane of death
and greed
we go ahead resolute
in our rallies, our meetings, our walks
our words, our deeds become a chorus
bearing witness against prophecy
the deceit of greedy promise
we sing even in dark places
prisons without light
we sing into open skies
and empty streets
we will sing and sing
until our frail lungs exhale
our truth
that will enclose
the busy,
the apathetic,
the otherwise occupied with
golf courses or cruises
or the magic of malls
and those who have no strength
and lack bread
and those who hear only bullets
and bombs
and lack shelter
we will sing until they all hear us
sing until they lift up and join us
sing until we sing the songs together.

we will be as a host of golden birds
rising from invisible and deep places
we will banish the fear
we will transform the power
of desecration
our song will restore the earth
and the sun will rise anew
to celebrate us
on a pure and glistening morning.
The News from Gaza; Jan. 10, 2009*
In the stained and soiled operating theatre
“Take some kittens,
some tender little moggies in a box,”
said Jamal, a surgeon at Al Shifa,
Gaza’s main hospital.

The nurse holds a blood-stained cardboard box
“Seal up the box, then jump on it
with all your weight and might, until
you feel their little bones crunching,
until you hear the last muffled little mew.”

“Try to imagine what would happen
if we do this, and the images were circulated.
Hear the righteous outrage of
public opinion, the complaints
of the animal rights organisations…”

He continues, looking at the box.
“Israel trapped hundreds of civilians
inside a school as if in a box,
including many children,
crushed them with all the might of its bombs.”

“The world barely reacted… we would
have been better off to be cats rather than
Palestinians; we would be more protected.”
All eyes are on the bruised box.
He opens the box.

Inside are amputated limbs,
legs and arms, some from the knee down,
others with the entire femur attached,
amputated from the injured of
Al Fakhura school in Jabalia.

*The poem paraphrases a true report from Gaza.
Spring is a Foreign Country in Palestine
spring is a foreign country in Palestine
where grieving
women go mad for the longing
of blossoms
their throats stopped with stones
they scream
in unuttered laments
cries that stick and
lie heavy     on crumbled walls
some women keen without cease
like sand abrades membranes
screams spew out the raw edges
of pain
each agony, each wound,
rends their loss    their children
shriven in xeric desolation

full olive trees
once were saplings nurtured
and loved as family
the fruit of the future
the slow dense twisted mystery
of the bitter plum
of golden oil.

the women lean into the rubble
that metastases where once
were homes filled with children’s play
and now sons,    even daughters,
will not stay
they grieve for villages, houses

grew like sisters beside olive trees
that disappear in maws of steel
that bring hate to life
as real life vanishes
the women watch the ravens
pick through the rubble
global scavengers feast on
misery and destruction.

two hundred thousand olive trees
die in agony    limbs fractured
or disappear whole
stolen for victor’s profit
victims of war
whose crime is life

and criminals are those who
seek a homeland where
spring should come
with new growth
and the dove returns
only when the branch of peace
but now women stare into a
bleached and empty sky,
doubting life
in a landscape where
seasons, land, family
are all foreign countries.

in their madness
they build again
kneel in the dust of the past
women dig and plant once more
with work cracked hands
frail seedlings, saplings,
food for the future seasons
and lie with their men
and say: is it madness
to hope    to see
a time when
our seeds live to multiply
and our homes and orchards
resound with
the call of doves?

it is not madness
but abundance of life
the force that no army
no machine can vanquish
it is abundance of promise fulfilled
they will see, and
so will doubting youth
when spring brings them home
to see the carefree play of children
to see proud men again
take up their hoes
and peace comes
like a downy feather on the breeze
unnoticed until it lights on
a sleeping infant’s cheek
when all live in repatriated spring
in green and song scented lands.
Oh Palestine
everywhere the pale whispers of
olive blossoms
bulldozers gash the innocent earth
puffs of warm bread and snowy yogurt
cruel coils of razor wire obstruct
endless glasses of mint tea
dragon breath of tear gas
dark sweetness of cool dates
sun and sky absorbed in grey gun steel
a chair waits beside generous roses
checkpoints in noon heat emanate cold fear
hear soft laughter savour loving cheeks
insistent ambulances hurdle past

oh Palestine
your broken skin exhales the steadfast
scent of za´atar
oh Palestine
* * *
you enter my land break it
with your cruel machines
I watch you bring more soldiers
to guard your destruction
trucks arrive
disgorge relentless blocks of concrete
align them like stones
in a cemetery
you add your garden of razor wire
your trees are
high electric fences
your life is steel and cement
our life greets every dawn
in fractured villages
our trees replanted
as fearful children
still grow beautiful
your wall your brutal gift
spans the world
our cause grows
 an olive seed
in the hearts
of good people.
Take up a hammer and a chisel
break down the wall in your heart.