Selected Poems


Karen Alkalay-Gut

All poetry is revolutionary

Because it demands you think of words
Not to convey information
And perhaps to lie, 
Like so many users of words
 - in commerce,
Education, statistics,
Journalism, politics.

All poetry is revolutionary
Because it takes Meaning back
To a place we all know
But perhaps have forgotten
When we were schooled to say
What has been said before
Instead what we see 
And hear. And feel.

Poets are the true revolutionaries
Whatever we write about
Because we want you
To take back the tools 
You knew 
Before you learned how
You're supposed to talk,
Read, see the world.

All poetry is revolutionary
Because it says
Take back your life
Own it
And make it 
What it should be.  

In the international food court at the hospital

The three young men and the woman 
At the table next to us
Are eating Chinese
And speaking Arabic

Four Philippine caretakers
And their Jewish patients
Chat together in English
Over their coffee and Danish

And on the other side of us
A woman insists on speaking Hebrew
To her daughter, who answers in Russian
Over Israeli-style salad.

We, sitting silently
With our Greek spinach pizza
Are the only normal ones.

Public Toilet

This is where 
The gender difference
Becomes clear.
The way a man steps in
And out and the woman
Peeks into the stall
Checks for paper,
A clean floor,
Looks around for a place
To hang her bag,
Then shuts the door
Worrying the lock
Might not hold, 
The hook may drop
The bag, the seat -
The seat - the seat -
Could it possibly be 
Clean. Will the jacket
Skim the toilet
In the crouch
Position, will
The knees 
Hold steady. 

And let us say 
The operation
Is successful,
And you have managed
To rearrange your clothes
With no paper 
Clinging to your shoes
And you gather all
Your belongings
And you ignore
The fact that
Your hands have
All you 
Hold dear
Before you exit
The booth
And clear the door
To the sink

Can you walk away
With the same look
Of satisfaction 
As a man?


Strange we don't think about those who care about us
But spend our days worrying about those who don't.
I like to imagine that on their deathbeds
Those l loved who disregarded me will remember
With terrible regret, and the forgotten ones,
those who loved me, will forgive.

Old Refrain

The patients with brain injuries
Sit in the common space 
At the end of the hall
Where they have been placed.
Even the woman who always 
Slides off her chair on purpose
Has been tied down and is docile.
The staff is on a break.
The ward is silent.

Suddenly the almost-blind man, 
The one whose head always seems 
Too heavy for his neck, 
Raises his chin and begins to sing.
"I'll be down to get you in a taxi, honey."
From the other side of the circle
A reedy voice responds 
"Better be ready by half past eight."
And then two others in unison,
"Hey, baby don't be late.
"I want to be there when the band starts playing."

By now almost everyone is singing
Except my father 
Who sees all, hears all
knows  all
But how 
To make words. 

New Orleans

The woman sitting on the top step
held her head in her hands
her tears 
ran from between her legs
down the stairs
like rain 
on Dauphine street.


The neurosurgeon who is probing 
With her ultrasound needle  
For the place in my spinal column
Where the terrible pain begins 

Chats at the same time 
With the anesthesiologist 
About the catastrophic 
Election results this morning. 

Suddenly the ditzy nurse interrupts, 
"Look at that amazing tree 
Blossoming pink outside the window.
See how beautiful it is!"

And I, immobile, 
Face down on the table,
Am grateful for that nurse,
Can only be relieved -
However temporarily -
By her injection of hope.