Alice Walker, currently at sea on the Audacity of Hope, bound for Gaza
come hell or high water
with a brief intro by Michael R. Burch,
and publisher of Holocaust and Nakba poetry
I find myself writing this introduction, ironically, just in time for
Independence Day. (What, I wonder, about equal rights, freedom and democracy for
Palestinian children?) Alice Walker is a poet and the author of The Color Purple, for which she won
the Pulitzer Prize. She is currently grounded in Greece, waiting for permission to board
the Audacity of Hope and sail for Gaza. But Israel has already sabotaged two of
the ships in the second Gaza Freedom Flotilla, and the captain of the Audacity
of Hope has been arrested for leaving harbor to avoid a similar fate. (It seems Israel
and/or its proxies have been using underwater divers and explosives to damage
the propellers of the peace ships, endangering the lives of the humanitarians on
board. These are far from pleasure cruises, as last year Israeli commandos
boarded a Turkish ship bound for Gaza and murdered nine peace activists, one of
them an American citizen.) The Hedy mentioned the letter is Hedy Epstein, an 87-year-young Holocaust survivor and peace activist who opposes
the racist policies and actions of Israel’s government. Alice Walker has also
experienced racial injustices "up close and personal," as she and her
husband, a Jewish lawyer, were the first interracial married couple to live in
Mississippi, incurring the wrath of the KKK. Now here, without further ado, is
Alice Walker’s letter, followed by her poem ...
Today is, I think, the 31st of June (Friday?) or is it the1st of July?
We have been in Athens since the 21st—trying to get to Gaza. Many
impediments orchestrated by the Israeli government. But what a wonderful group
Therefore: We've won. We're in Gaza. To be in Gaza is to feel this love. To
know there is always a part of humanity that is awake even though the
overburdened or the bewitched remain sleeping.
My throat is sore from breathing the tear gas that drifted into our hotel
windows, as Greeks, mostly young, battle police, their brothers and sisters who
are paid to keep them in line. This is the tragedy. I feel so much compassion
for both sides my eyes tear and not only from the gas.
It was hard to breathe. My lungs were fighting hard to protect me. How I
adore them, my lungs. And so many of our group tried to protect us, my lungs and
me, too. A lovely young man named Steve gave me his own gas mask and someone
else, a beautiful young woman with straw-colored hair and blue gray eyes gave me
the benefit of her knowledge of how to wear it.
I do not like calling such angels "blonde" as I feel the word is so loaded
now and it sets them outside of Nature and somehow diminishes them.
I spent a blissful hour yesterday massaging Hedy's feet. She has the most
wonderful gray eyes—full of humor and light. She'd never had a foot massage
before, she said. And she is eighty-seven! Hard to imagine.
Hedy, I said—when she told everyone who passed by us: "I'm being spoiled"—I have a full body massage at least once a week!
This was a high point for me, as it is well established by now in myself and
among my friends, that I like to massage the feet of anyone who stands up for
us. Humanity, I mean.
Or the other animals.
Hedy, holocaust survivor, inhaling the gas in Greece, but even more poignant,
anticipating being tear-gassed by the Israelis who are doing everything they can
to threaten our boat.
I have no computer—they said not to bring one on the boat because it would
likely by destroyed or confiscated—only this small notebook in which I have
been avoiding writing the poem that starts and stops in my head:
Sailing the Hot Streets of Athens, Greece
©2011 by Alice Walker
It has been so
Is it hot
where you are?
in a destroyed
The whole world
by its weathers
still is watching
as we yearn
towards each other.
Trying to embrace
to give each
The whole world
& it is
They are making
for us to move
but I remind
of all people
They know this place
we are in
being able to move.
They know it
This place of stalemate
& stagnation, so unbearable
to any heart
is where they
They will forgive
if we do not
having left our
with all my heart
in the magic
and the power
The women & men
& our frustrations.
most of them are
& we are glad
We want them
to see their
& their elders
attempting to make
We pray they
are of good heart
they may never
That a boat
with love letters
is a threat
I have given
my word that I would
and so I do—if not
on our boat
that is not so far
allowed to go
the air sending
thoughts and feelings
We all sail.
We sail the hot, sticky
of Athens, Greece
longing to see
to the people
Written on our beautiful boat whose canopy is a giant peaceful American flag,
as we sail the waters off the coast of Greece and are intercepted by the Greek