Written and read by Chicago poet Kevin Coval as the Haftarah for Tzedek Chicago’s Yom Kippur service yesterday:
atoning for the neo-liberal in all or rahm emmanuel as the chicken on Kapparot
written on the eve and day of Yom Kippur
Do you call that a fast,
A day when the Lord is favorable?
No, this is the fast I desire:
To unlock the fetters of wickedness,
And untie the cords of the yoke
To let the oppressed go free;
Isaiah 58: 5-6
you are the first jewish mayor of Chicago
but have not yet lit one yahrzeit candle
for constituents murdered by the police.
you vacation in montana with the governor
bring your family to Chile on a whim
and never worry about crossing borders
or encountering their patrolmen
or the rent upon return.
your grandparents sought refuge here.
escaping those trying to end them.
they came, worked, learned, created
a life that enabled your parents to raise you
in the suburbs: the immigrant face of the american dream.
when your parents took you
to visit sick children in Israel
you cried. now you clothe
feed, care and ensure
your children’s safe passage
and university of Chicago
lab school tuition, $30000
per year, but you have closed
over fifty public schools
in neighborhoods your family
used to live in. neighborhoods
you no longer live in or love
or allow your children to visit.
neighborhoods bustling with Black
and Brown bodies, whose children
must cross borders called gang lines
you are well aware of, yet wonder
why the murder rates rises.
you dismantle the same system in which your family benefited:
union pay, livable wages, park space safe enough to play outside
arts funding to take ballet, a decent well-rounded public education.
the same ladder your family climbed
you kick the rungs from.
if the schools, housing, health care
trauma centers and corners that cause trauma
are fair across this flat, segregated land-
then eat today. every day there is a harvest
on the carcass of this city for sale. the satiated
carve at a distance, plan and map and redistrict
with careless indifference. how many times
have you been to Kenwood, Woodlawn
Lawndale. what are the names of the people
you know there. what homes have you sat in.
how can you fast
this week, when food
was refused by grandmothers
and educators and organizers
in your back yard, in the front
lawn of a school Chief Keef attended
in a neighborhood you militarize;
more guns and police your solution
to poverty or an extermination strategy.
how can you fast
when those on hunger
strike you couldn’t stand
with in the same room
in a public forum
which is your job by the way:
to listen. you are the antithetical
this not the city he loved
to listen to, not the city
your grandparents were promised
where is your apology
for sending so many jobs elsewhere
for privileging your childrens’ future
and pillaging others’
what do you know of labor
and no savings account and counting
pennies for a pass, for permission to move
or see a movie or museum in this city
of no access and grand canyons of inequity.
your middle name is Israel
it’s come to mean apartheid
in the city, you are mayor
and in Palestine, the city
your family colonized.
there is no safety
said my G-d
for the wicked (1)
for the divvier of cities
for the divider of nations
for the ignorer of horror
for the builder of walls
atone for the smug assuredness
atone for the maintenance of two cities
stratified and unrecognizable to the other
atone for the bounty of the north side
the scarcity of the south
the want of the west
atone for the erasure of the public
school, space, housing, parking
atone for the centrism, the move right
the cow-tow to corporations
atone for the inconceivable income disparity
between those funding your campaign
and those over which you reign
atone for the city’s change
it’s white wash and removable
workers who used to make it
work by working
in jobs with pensions
atone for the benefits we have
by merely being white
on the north side of the city
country where that is enough
to make you safe and not think
about driving a car or going
for a jog or walk outside
atone for the rite to the city
that’s for some, not for all
not for real
israel means may G-d prevail
and we pray that’s real, for real
Isaiah 57:21 (1)
yes, Amen for real. Thank you Kevin for your poetry your truth and for being part of our community.
1) “Israel means may G-d prevail” – really?
2) The original (Isaiah) does not name the target of its scorn – and wisely so, so that each of us must look into our own behaviour to see if the show fits. By putting this all on Rahm Emanuel, this poem makes it too easy to hear.
Amen, Kevin Coval!
Are not we all somewhat like Rahm Emmanuel.
. Are you throwing stones at a glass house?