All My Relations


Trapped behind glass, flies buzz the morning awake
Light splits the seams of this valley
The forest shines

It was an ordinary day
when my Russian grandmother died
my mother tells the story—
A fly appeared and buzzed the family all through shiva
and no one would swat it
because it was spirit, not fly.

Feel the tug of history
in the ancient sun
Cedar, pine, oak, alder dip into the creek
murmuring waters tell a forest story
where branches, interwoven
clasp like hands across the freshened flow
This ordinary day, they are one family
Leafless alder, purple tipped
full bodied pine, fragrant cedar
and the small oaks who hold their leaves
still, in December.

I’m a dyke
on the fringe of the human wave
I circle with sisters who
reclaim Rosh Hadesh, Yum Kippur, Passover
I’m a Jewitch, trying to dig towards roots with a teaspoon
but the Goddess, Mother Earth calls  me deeper
past patriarchy’s thievings
Raised to be religious, I refused
but I wonder about my grandmothers’ faith
Separated by the rules of orthodoxy
isolated by the enmity of non-Jews
severed from the Amazon root of Lilith

I do worship, but not as a Jew
and I search the branches for pagan eyes
I love most the ancient evidence embedded
in my ancestors’ religion —
the moon, the candles burning, the trees
On ordinary days, I worship trees
Connected to earth and sky, they
hold the still center
free from the orthodoxy of separation
trees love.

Yesterday morning, womyn woke
to a chainsaw’s buzz beyond the flies
following, came upon just-killed limbs
a massacre of full-reaching trunks
cut down and left dying on the forest floor
Trees, dying, tell the story
of men who think nothing feels but them
Men making history, ignorant of history
family men, ordinary men, separated fully
who think those beings who don’t worship separateness
are less holy, don’t deserve respect, or feel pain
think they have the power to sever connection
But when the buzz moves on
trees, unlike my grandmother
sprout anew

Vines of history wind, remind us
Trapped behind mourning
we female outsiders
re-enter the generous space
of enmeshment, responsibility
a forest, fully feeling
who sleeps and bleeds and stands shining
in the light of this sun
Trees never heard of Beirut or Nicaragua
never seen photos of concentration camp survivors
or South Africa or Palestine on ordinary days
Nothing changes outside the woods, but a fashion of atrocity
but forgetfulness of history
but the weapons of orthodoxy
But a forest stands shining, sprouting
The spirit fly hovers.
Are we trapped inside
or can we join the dance out there?

So I’m crying for people
for limbs and roots and bodies green
I read a novel another womin tells
of World War II Jews in Europe
What has been one in the name of purity
is being done still
on both sides
Behind glass, I cry
for the first relations I knew
who wore the blue tattooed numbers
and so many more I never knew
and homelands I will never know

Who feels the tug of history?
Of camps, of cages, of orthodoxy?
Eastern Europe, South Africa, Central America, Palestine
Rootless hungers
Repeated betrayals
Religion, politics, the sacred earth trembles.
In The Land of the Patriarchs
images of branches & roots
buzz in the hearts of the women.
My small blood family are Zionists
all who are left, but not all my relations
Dulled with forgetfulness, nationalism, assimilation
Privilege — survivors tell the story
Zionism — the act of trees picking up chainsaws.

What is the history of wandering survivors?
The conquerors and the vanquished
of tribes that were and tribes that will be?
Barbed wire grows in the promised land
watchtowers and machine guns in Jewish hands now
The trees and I know
There have been armies of occupation
for forests of lives
tricks of fundamentalism, centuries of refugees
After a thousand pogroms
after gas chambers and mass graves under the sun
how did they outgrow the lesson of history?
Outside the landscape of time stands insensate orthodoxy
Inside a locked room, my grandmother turned into a fly.

The amputated trees you pass on ordinary days
stand shining
Deep in the forest, history reaches, rushes and tunnels
responding, fully moral, ever-changing
beyond chainsaws and the 6:00 news.
On ordinary days like this
the flies buzzing sunlight around us
I wake and walk down to the frozen creek
dip icy water and carry the buckets home to womyns’ land
feeling like a Russian peasant before the pogroms
touching living oak trees before the chainsaws

I think about surviving and the hidden costs
of ancient, steel-sharp hatreds
Of camps in Poland, Soweto, Gaza
and shining among the trees
I feel the spirit of my grandmother
Bubbeh, who I never knew
she was always beyond my touch
For her, Israel was an idea, buzzing round them
the golden reward for their suffering
It was history’s justice
creation by compassion, not barbed wire
It was planting trees of plenty
not arming them with chainsaws
This ordinary day, my grandmother, long dead
and the idea, Israel, is an armed camp.

I mourn with my sisters
for the shining world that never was
and for all my relations
For survivors and those who could not
and cannot and will not
survive this ordinary day
I mourn for green
for all women and all trees
for concentration camp survivors and their victims
for men and for chainsaws
I need to say chainsaws and barbed wire
religion and orthodoxy
Need to touch a shining above and beyond
my human family

All my relations, sprouting and connected
growing beyond touching
Beyond touching is nothing but cages
Beyond love of separation is love of life
a very green concept
that tugs back on the vine of history
The shining spirit of my Russian grandmother
continues to weave my story
Nothing changes while everything changes
the earth turns over and over
within a thin, solemn buzzing
To this turning day, Bubbeh
no one in our family will kill a fly.

back to list