Lisa Suhair Majaj: “Practicing Loving Kindness”

This poem is reprinted by permission from Lisa Suhair Majaj’s Geographies of Light, which won the 2008 Del Sol Press Poetry Prize. These poems give a voice to the Palestinian people, bearing witness to brutal loss, as well as the joy.

The title is a phrase that’s familiar to me from Buddhist teachings. Nonviolence and compassion for enemies are central to Buddhism and Christianity. Both religions also share an emphasis on justice. Whether you call it natural law, or karma, moral and immoral actions have consequences on a cosmic scale. The psychological challenge is how to have compassion for the oppressor without whitewashing oppression. I like the way Majaj’s poem balances both of these imperatives, the naming of the world’s evils and the aspiration to look for reconciliation instead of revenge. Gentle humor is an important tool for the peacemaker.

Practicing Loving Kindness

Bless the maniac
barreling down the one-way street
the wrong way,
who shakes his fist when I honk.
May he live long enough
to take driving lessons.

Bless the postman
puffing under the no-smoking sign.
(When I complain, my mail
goes mysteriously missing
for months.) Bless all those
who debauch the air,
the mother wafting fumes
across her baby’s carriage,
the man whose glowing stub
accosts a pregnant woman’s face.
May they unlearn how to exhale.

Bless the politicians
who both give and receive
bribes and favors.
Bless the constituents
seeking personal gain,
the thieves, the liars, the sharks.
And bless the fools
who make corruption easy.
May they be spared
both wealth and penury.

Bless the soldiers guarding checkpoints
where women labor and give birth
in the dirt. Bless the settlers
swinging clubs into teenager’s faces,
the boys shooting boys with bullets
aimed to kill, the men driving bulldozers
that flatten lives to rubble.
May they wake from the dream of power,
drenched in the cold sweat
of understanding. May they learn
the body’s frailty, the immensity of the soul.

Bless the destroyers of Falluja,
the wreckers of Babylon,
the torturers of Abu Ghraib
and Guantanamo Bay.
May they understand desolation,
may they comprehend despair.

Bless the peace makers,
the teachers, the word-workers;
the wavers of flags
and the makers of fighter jets.
May they know the ends of their labor,
and the means. May they make
reparations. May they rebuild.

Bless this planet, so cudgeled,
so bounteous: the rain forests,
the tundra, the ozone layer.
May it persevere beyond
our human follies. May it bloom.

Bless cynicism. Bless hope.
Bless the fingers that type,
the computer that processes,
the printer that prints.
Bless email and snail mail.
Bless poetry books that cross oceans
in battered envelopes,
bearing small flames of words.

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