sweet

Rena Siegel Yechieli

you are sweet, a real honey, and looked in my eyes as he said it, in Hebrew he said it though it was seen, remembered in English, but we are here, why here, why do we look at each other the way we do, are you a matter of the flesh, of the mind?

sweet, sugar, cane, beets, reddest blandest most solid of vegetables, roots, who was it saw white grains of sugar clean and hard inside a red root dense as liver?

beets, redder than blood when cut in a kitchen, then racing along every fiber, every crack, every whorl, every petal embossed on this sheet of paper towel, how can paper bear the same name as thick cotton cloth warm to the skin from my childhood dusty bathroom radiator slathered with years of paint, chipped down from the colors of now, through then, to the then before, prewar, whose job to run the cotton gins, textile machines, whose job to name the colors, of paint, of eyes, of the sky changing every hour, every degree of latitude, whose job, whose Job, boils, welts, skin lampshades, blood, every country, every farm, how many stalks, how many, how many plantations, how much blood from the welts on the beaten backs, black, black hands, black calluses, white cotton, green sugar cane red beets?

sugar is sweet, sugar is sweat, sugar is a one-crop economy, sugar is Cuba, Cuba was green, then the white men, pink fleshed, and brown henchmen, stole black men for gold rum, for the triangle we learned in school, the geometry of blood, "Shall we dance to the sound of the profitable pound in Molasses and Rum and Slaves?" history lessons, classmates, sugar is sweet, roses are red, sugar, thorns, geometry, who measured the miles, the miles of groans and vomit and feces of the newly slaved, piles of black flesh, groaning, tens of tongues from hundreds of huts, groaning, wood creaking, seasick and airless and homeless and tongueless, here and gone, for rum, who measured them, their tears, with a sextant, a caliper, with an anvil, with a scythe, with a saw, who measured the sack on the welted back, who saw the red seep through one homespun shirt under one burlap sack laden with cane, Cain, heavy, heavy?

honey, sweetie, sugar, seep, creep, crawl, crawl back from the wooden trough where you washed yourself of blood, of eyes laid on the field where people labored and people were caned, once chained, now freed, now moved to town, nice name for a warren of slapped-up shanties, on the other side of the tracks, on the other side of a drunken night, of a room with a girl from behind with a face whose color you never knew, what was her name, where was her mother, who was her brother, whose child?

sugar, cane sugar, brown, molasses, sweetness and goodness, distilled, angel's hair on a rum-soaked cake heady, heavy, laden with knowing what cost the rum, what cost the sweetness, how heavy the mud stuck to boots on bleeding feet, feet of slaves, of black slaves, white, new world, mud, Jewish slaves, Roma slaves, men on wooden slats, here, there, old world, older world, ancient, slaves rounded up by sons of slaves, who rounded, who counted, who welted, whose eyes whitened in fear, whose in greed, whose eyes, whose sweet eyes, whose sweet sons of a mother's eyes?

Brooklyn-born Rena Siegel Yechieli has lived in Israel since 1977 in city, kibbutz, moshav and desert. She's worked in hospital, research, community and volunteer nursing. She holds an MA in creative writing from Bar Ilan, and has published poems in Israel and abroad. Rena and her husband have three children.


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