A Passover poem by Daniel A. Olivas
Do you know me, Adonai?
A latecomer to your Seder table?
A visitor waiting for Elijah?
Vermin, Wild Beasts…You blessed the Moabite,
Ruth, with an honored place
in Ketuvim, so there must be
hope for me.
Pestilence, Boils…My people have suffered, too,
though nothing like the Inquisition
or the Holocaust. But the Aztecs
were fooled and then slaughtered,
raped and oppressed by
the Spaniards who rode proud horses
roughshod over meso-America
creating a mixed gente,
the Mestizos. And then discrimination,
a glass ceiling we hit, in this great
country, as we scratch towards
the American dream.
But here I sit, a Jew for only
twelve years, looking at the
matzo, bitter herbs, shank bone,
amidst other symbols of oppression
and subsequent Exodus, Diaspora.
My wife’s family (and even my son!)
easy and familiar with it all, as much
a second nature as my Chicanismo
is to me. But each year, I
recognize more and more,
mouthing the Hebrew faster and
faster. Is there hope for this old dog?
Darkness, Slaying of the First Born…
I took the name of Ysrael when
I converted because Jacob wrestled
with the angel and saw the face
of G-d, before he, too, became a
Jew and took a new name.
I wrestled, struggled (did I see
the face of G-d, too?), for over
six years before making the choice.
It is a choice I do not regret, but, at times,
when my ten-year-old son breezes through
the Four Questions in Hebrew (not English!),
I am a stranger searching in bewilderment’s
twilight for my soul. Can an outsider
take on another people’s traditions,
burdens and history while maintaining
his own proud history?
Can an outsider ever stop wandering?
Will I ever be at home?
[“Blood, Frogs” first appeared in RealPoetik and is featured in Daniel’s debut poetry collection, Crossing the Border (Pact Press, winter 2017).]