Poets, we are told, write from a sense of place. Their surroundings, their home, where they feel nourished, rooted, nurtured, where they flourish, where they are from or are going to. Poems deepen with the sensuous details of where they live, whether sweet or bitter. A sense of place gives us the ability to ramble and wander with them, appreciate the wild wind or sounds of the city, be filled with sunflowers turning to the light or lilac bushes bending with softness, rugged mountains that soar or lake waters churning under a storm. Poets in New Mexico will write about sunsets, poets from New England about boats, and poets from the south the scent of magnolia.
I am a poet without roots. The ones I have planted have been torn up for transplanting into a new garden, over and over again. Home was the place where I belonged and so it was once: a group of people to whom I gave my heart and my allegiance. When the group dispersed while living in Israel, the natural rhythms of sea, moonlit nights, Shabbat candles, bougainvillea and dreams of justice became my landscape, along with burnings cars, soldiers running through the street and bomb scares.
There was the day spent meandering the streets of Cordova when I fell in love and wanted to stay or the Mercado in Mexico with smells and colors that made me ache for the kitchen fire and good company around a table. And New Mexico served me best this way. I remember dinner parties where we laughed around a table set with matching tablecloth and cloth napkins, blue wine glasses and tiny plates of olives and brie.
I am really a poet without a country, now, although I feel inhabited by the plaintive passion of flamenco, the taste of olives from a bag, and bodega wine served with the gracious reserve of the Spanish; the warm humble grace of Mexican people; the complex spiky softness of Israelis. And the sea spattering on the rocks while in Puerto Vallarta, the icy taste of gelato from Italy. These all live within me.
But perhaps what inhabits me most of all are the people I met that I was changed by. The women in the village above Hezekiah’s tunnel who brought us tea while we trembled after almost being stoned by a group of young Arab boys who in their rage didn’t realize that we weren’t Israelis, or even Jews. The woman who thrilled us by breaking into song at a café below the Alhambra. The children with their soft dark eyes who called to us, “Hola Coca cola” and fled, embarrassed if we answered. The couple who took us into their hotel on the beach because we knew her sister, wouldn’t let us pay for anything, asking what we would like them to cook for us, treating us as special guests. The boys along the river throwing out their nets and laughing as they gossiped and teased each other. The taxi drivers with flash of gold teeth and the bus drivers who kissed their Virgins on their dashboards, the boys on the beach eagerly bringing us more drinks, then disappearing when it was time to return our change after we paid the bill. The human spirit, unquenchable, resilient, creative, passionate, embracing life in its terrible tragedy and mystery, weeping and praying, dancing to celebrate, drinking to forget. The village women who envied me my freedom and blue jeans, the city women who clatter by with pride but stop to give directions or a shekel when asked. Their stories thrive in me, in my blood, my brain, and I must voice them. This is home: the tender place within my heart that is so easily cracked into pieces by cruelty, unfairness, injustice, so easily healed by a smile, a song, a hug, an act of kindness. We are not strangers, then, but family. Home for the moment. Home carried like a lantern lit from within.