David Karpel tells an American story of persecution and flight: a family that can’t stop running.
Cameron Conaway’s Note: David Karpel has achieved something spectacular in this poem. Within taut, muscular lines, he has traced the roots of his fight back until reality becomes blurred to where he’s from, “I come from the mythological.” Along the way we ride “crumbling,” of a sea wall and a Holocaust, of relationships and shaken faith, of histories and food and ideas and memory and even societal breakdowns that confirm prejudice. Let not the crumbling be confused for weakness. This mini-world Karpel envisions has an infinite reach and an infinite willingness to reach, and it’s all taking place in a warrior atmosphere where even the “tangy salt smell” of the Biscayne Bay “wears the pungent chainmail / of ancient crusted fish scales.” The fight here is one rooted firmly in the present and leaning toward the future, yet simultaneously weighed down and invigorated by “the from / that is now.”
Running: An Inherently Incomplete Mural Due to Requisite Blurring
By David Karpel
I am from
the barrel of a gun,
always on the run.
I am from neon lit cortaditos
of steaming Bustelo
standing on 11th and Collins.
I am from the sea wall
crumbling under the incessant
embrace of Biscayne Bay
whose tangy salt smell
wears the pungent chainmail
of ancient crusted fish scales.
I am from climbing
for sweet navel oranges,
from picking the kumquat tree—
walnut-sized cherry bombs of bitterness
we’d peg at each other
hard enough to leave ovular welts.
I’m from Cuban sandwiches
and papitas fritas and flan,
cacophonous Shabbos dinners
and persistent Juban guilt.
I’m from Babbe and Abuela
and Zeide and Abuelo
and tíos and tias and cousins everywhere;
and stores and stores
of cualquiera merchandise,
and Levis 501 button down jeans for miles.
I’m from eating too much,
from “You’re part of a long line of merchants,”
and “Is she Jewish?”
I am from a godless Holocaust Zionism
reshaped, reformulated, and reconstructed
into deep observance of true irrational faith.
I’m from antediluvian desert winds
blown far to Russia, Rumania, Poland,
across the Atlantic to Havana,
Brooklyn, Queens, and Miami Beach;
from ginger-rich chicken soup, picadillo,
platanitos, palomilla, and matzo meal latkes
you dip in refined sugar like you do
From the running from pogroms.
From the running from communism.
From the running from victimhood.
From Mom and Dad whose movie
now that divorce
in their late 60s has come
in the land of the free
markets and rights to bear arms.
From Mom running from the threat of a gun
in a Bal Harbour parking lot,
only yards between her
and two young black
assailants demanding her keys
“and get in the car”
and instead getting her purse
and confirming her prejudice.
From Dad running from the threat of a gun
across the corporate brown table
and never having stopped running
except from Mom.
From Tío Al running from the threat of a gun
and holding one of his own
moving from house to house
in a Cuba gone crazy
for those who refused.
I’m from the mythological,
from riding Dad’s bike on the Malecon,
hitching rides on buses;
and from the white suit Zeide Wolf cut
for the cigar chewing, Panama hat wearing
tough guy mayor of some Cuban town
I can’t ask him the name of anymore.
I am from banker boxes stored in a closet—
which used to also store my father’s gun—
in my mother’s out-of-state apartment
which tell me the wordless story
of where I’m supposed to be from,
but not in one is the story
explaining the from
that is now and the now
still to come.
Image credit: heather0714/Flickr