Thursday, March 26, 2009

Notes from the Greenhouse

Notes from the Greenhouse, Tel Aviv
October, 1991

Cheng was a student from Beijing who had gotten out just in time and had no intentions of going back in the near future. The blood hadn't washed off of Tiananmen Square and never will, but if things ever ease up and people aren't just picked up and beaten, humiliated, and incarcerated for speaking their minds, then maybe she'll return and pick up the pieces of her life, see her family again, and yes, dream and strive for a democratic China.

Dimitri had been living in Israel for two years now, spoke fluently in Hebrew, English, and his natural Russian tongue, but as he approached his thirtieth birthday he was still unable to find a niche in the fast and often rude lifestyle of Tel Aviv. He worked hard at several jobs that had no future, made friends easily, but had his eyes and heart set on moving to the States --- the place of "opportunity." Everyone wished him luck.

The several pairs and small groups of South Africans that passed through the Greenhouse doors brought with them all the variations and colors of that society. Black, Dutch, English --- Christian and Jewish --- their prejudices, anxieties, and dreams found their way into our conversations around a large rectangular wooden table in the common living room. I guess we all learned something from each other.

Cynthia was a beautiful young woman from Singapore who had traveled Europe and Asia as an exchange student, was fluent in Mandarin, English, and French, and who had a character that radiated with the adventure of the remote and compassion for the dispossessed. She trekked through the length and breadth of Israel, saw the best and worst of Jewish and Muslim life, felt a particular closeness to the Christian history, and left with a smile and positive feeling about her experiences. She'll be back.

Eamon wailed away the blues each night along Dizengoff Street near the fountain with his saxophone case open and inviting to the waves of upbeat passersby. He crashed each night at the Greenhouse feeling half-empty from the few shekels he gathered, but more than half-full from the musical expression. A couple of weeks passed and he was on his way back to upstate New York, but not before a short stopover in the streets of Paris.

There was a work ethic and routine of cleanliness at the Greenhouse that made it rather unique among hostels in this part of the world. Be that as it may, it was still a transient place, a quiet place in the midst of a noisy city, a shelter from the storm, a place where you began to think of your next steps and previous steps along your unique pathway, where you thought of the people you had met and the ones you had left, but where life had a way of melting together a most unusual group of people in need of each other, if only for a short time, in a world often too busy or indifferent to feel the human touch.

There was no substitute for being there.

--- e b bortz

Notes from the Greenhouse, Part 2

about eighteen years ago
for several days in a row
the hostel staff
as kind as they were
had to tell me
to get the hell off my bed
for the well advertised five hours
of daily hostel cleanup

it was totally unlike my normal routine
to lay around
i usually got out early
sometimes looking for a temporary job
but often just leaving morning rush-hour
bicycling to the countryside
or to the library
to scribble a few words
agonizing over what israel
was not
like what was not
like the expropriation
of the cramped beaten streets
soon to be gentrified jaffa
like the dominance of military uniforms
militarism injected into the body of an entire new generation
(except the yeshiva boys of course)
like the newly arrived young ethiopian brothers and sisters
that some ashkenazi israelis swear/assault as they utter
(at the ethiopians in their fatigues)
and where palestinians ripped from their homes
and their land
bulldozed into refugee camps and ghettos
in an attempt to smash
their life color
their spirit
like an enemy
like a self-fulfilling prophesy
this was an israel
without the makeup
disco jewelry
beach life magazines

but my moping wasn't just social reckoning
sometimes it takes that personal
to unravel the entire illusion
like a french love flower
that never has a chance
to take root
you end up with
dead hollow leaves
maybe in that emptiness
a greater consciousness grows
and so it did
replacing beach facades
lost luster
haifa to ashqelon
the frame still includes
all those fucking plastic bottles
washed ashore at caesarea
and all the orange groves
of a kibbutzim

i rescheduled a return ticket
to the states
uneasy yet cognizant
of the uncertainty
yet to come

--- e b bortz

Notes from the Greenhouse, Epilogue

It's taken a fast eighteen years to write "Part 2"...even if the whole thing seems like one continuous stream...rapids and all.

The social network of the Greenhouse should be a book in itself...some potent lessons particularly in light of the Israel I see has changed and so have my eyes...the war makers and racists dominate the government in Tel Aviv/Jerusalem bringing me to the embarrassing conclusion that they relish in their fears and sadism...maybe all the way to the abyss...suicide.

When I was very young my image of Israel was formed by the stories of courage of the Jewish fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising during Nazi occupation. Every molotov cocktail thrown at the shiny German uniforms had with it the cries of millions of the dead...millions of oppressed. I gave little thought to the aspirations of Palestinians who were destroyed in the land between the river and the sea when the "two states" were mandated...the hundreds of thousands of indigenous people brutally driven from their homes, schools, olive groves...and the many who died with their dreams in refugee camps.

Someday, there will be peace in the contiguous land from the river to the sea, that will live cooperatively, with "one person / one vote"...and for those that refuse to accept this simple premise...maybe they'll leave and hopefully take their fears with them.

--- e b bortz

(Notes from the Greenhouse, Tel Aviv previously published in

Golden Triangle, 1992 and Voices of a Wanderer, 1993)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

six years

and still counting
corpses lost in statistical aberations
trivial bullshit dished out
and consumed
while the larger question
of war criminal behavior
(and behaviorists)
are uncontested
if you bury the evidence deep enough
in the washington consensus
the path may go cold
but for the memories
of the millions of witnesses
too many to ignore
too many screams
that carry with it
the burden of truth telling

in a cradle of the next generation
there may be justice

--- e b bortz

Monday, March 16, 2009

earth note 123

circa 1980

hart prairie snowfall
came early november
the year we moved to flagstaff
the peaks rose with aspen
for three-fourths their vertical
we broke our ski trail
first on the prairie
then to the gradual contours
deep into the mountain spirits

my four sons were old enough to walk miles
so when we gathered up cross-country skis
from our minnesota days
and headed to the prairie
there was the anticipation of new adventure

friday after thanksgiving day
the sun had instances of being dominant
yet the cold was sufficient to keep the snow
and every swoosh had the lightest of glide
the ski almost lifted itself
for the next step

loggers had cleared whole tracts
from the lower elevations
but by the time we climbed
into the ponderosa and aspen groves
quiet took over
our own breathing
a rhythm

our ignorance deprived us
of the hopi and navajo stories
from the mountain
yet anyone who ventured there
intuitively felt the presence
of something much greater
than themselves
as we did
for ancestors all come from the same
mothers and fathers of africa

about the time we reached the tree line
voices and a few screeches
drifted over the mountain
seems we had invaded the downhill ski resort
in our not-chic guerrilla clothing
no-pay ski pass
crashing the toll gate
my sons all smiled mischief
i did nothing to discourage them

we would return many times
to the peaks over hart prairie
each season with its
unique angle
on the light
shepherded by footsteps
of the seekers
unbound in the trails
not yet followed

--- e b bortz

Saturday, March 14, 2009

earth note 122

marshall trail pittsburgh

winds left their mark this year
snapping off the tops
of the aged ones --- oak and maple
tumbled hillside limbs
barren open arms
dark rich fertile leaf bed
spreads the wealth

--- e b bortz

Monday, March 09, 2009

earth note 121

i squeezed into a tee-shirt fifteen years old
from the bottom of my clutter
that shows a bold pack of grey wolves
(aka timber wolves)
howling at the sky

they didn't ask the executive branch
of the federal government
for permission
and i'm sure there are a shit-load
of right-wingers
cool-aid drinkers
and even some left-wingers
who are cheering
(or complacent)
about the obama administration
of northern rocky grey wolves
from the endangered species list

maybe it'll bring back those raucous years
when cross-country skiers
and snowmobilers
had pitched battles over the trails
in the boundary waters of minnesota
while the grey wolves just kinda laid back
watched it all
cheered on their home team

i still think about
one very early a.m.
when grey wolf
the size of a great dane
crossed the road before me
and waved his thin majestic head upward
as to say
his habitat was not for sale
are not commodities

--- e b bortz

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

earth note 120

a bicycle wheel that's trued
doesn't guarantee
a soft or especially
free ride
but do it anyway

for all the coal parts
that break sunlight
pay-me-later fly-ash dust
a fool lung repeats
clean coal

to fuel crash of stock
the old methods aren't working
but if you can dig a garden
i'll bring you water

--- e b bortz