Isaac Pickell

We are the stories we tell

My whole life I was taught to say we
when referring to Israel, a deference
to belonging that was born of fear
but curated in power, glorified as a zero-

sum game we were always winning
and somehow losing at the same time.
Of the other side, there was nothing
but silence, for when you know who us is

there’s no need to clarify who’s them.
That silence is nearly the best of us now,
with so many Jewish voices unsatisfied
by mere victory, slavering over a world

where they can be reduced
to pure abstraction, a menace
untainted by the physical body,
the tangible name, a monster

persisting under the bed and nowhere else.
Occasionally it still slips, like we have
bombed a hospital, like we are
at the doorstep of genocide, like

the instincts where pronouns live
miss the comfort of knowing
what side I’m on.
                               Everyone knows

that famous poem about a daughter
and a spider and a bicycle, how Fady’s kid
didn’t want to destroy another home,
make another refugee—I’m trying to say

I was told I was the spider while we razed
web after web, warned of our own
precarious futures while we swept them away.
Like Fady’s daughter made a fuss, if you know

who we are, at least you can choose to shout
before another web gets torn down.



Some things are left unsaid

You were once told that Palestine
was never and nowhere, yet it exists
in your mind as the open-air

prison that’s closing in on five million
people. You pat yourself on the back
for this construction and pick a fight

with your in-laws and use the word
apartheid several times. You think
you have done something. You try

to remember Palestinians do not need
your imagination or your arguments
to be real. You try to evoke just how real

they are, like restaurant owners who know
the name of every regular or bicycle riders
arriving right on time, just before sunset.

You start to say they are just like us but choke
on the word: you cannot tell if your throat’s
caught on the Jew of you or the American, but

you know they are nothing like Americans.
You let this guilt drive you instead of justice,
and so you never know what to say without

centering yourself. And here you are,
doing it again. You try your hand at
metaphor, but olive trees feel awkward

in your mouth, and you do not know
the Arabic word for butterfly. You look it up,
say farasha out loud. Say farasha again.

You do not look up the Arabic word
for silence.



Isaac Pickell is a Black and Jewish poet, PhD candidate, and adjunct instructor in Detroit, and a graduate of Miami University's Master of Fine Arts program in Creative Writing. He is the author of two collections of poetry, everything saved will be last (Black Lawrence Press, 2021) and It’s not over once you figure it out (Black Ocean, 2023). Isaac’s taken a seat in all fifty states and has so much to look forward to.