Jo-Ann Mort

February 24, 2021 Mort Jo-Ann



Why is it that the memory my mind chose
to find today is of a time
when the flights to Israel
were invisible on European destination boards?
In Paris
or London
or Amsterdam
or Frankfurt
the flight to TLV
read “see the desk.”


So I did, always to find
a number for a door that led
to a bus that stood waiting
to take the passengers
to a far end of the runway
to an El Al airliner
lonely and empty.
Its white and blue carcass
there in full blaze
on a steamy runway
with a European cityscape behind it:
read Paris
or London
or  Amsterdam
or Frankfurt.


It was like flying
without a destination,
although assuming
I would always arrive in Tel Aviv
where the old airport, too stuffed
for all the arrivals bulged with people and luggage,
with Haredi women pushing,
chasing sheidl boxes and puffed up
suitcases tied with ribbon going round
and round and round in the terminal.


When the kids were little
we would drive through pebbly fields
near the moshav, searching
for pomegranate fruit on the trees.
My cousin stopped the truck by the road
to take each child by the hand leading
her and then him, into the bushes,
a sweaty roll of toilet paper packed
into her knapsack pocket.
Later, we ate cheese and fresh lettuces
with carafes of wine
and tiny bowls of jelly and butter
at the goat farm on the ridge.
At night, the lights from the Arab villages
lit up like pearls on oyster beds,
the dark green silt of the countryside
leading us back home.


Once, I drove the length of the border
along the north, from Kiryat Shmona to Achziv.
The tanks were napping along the side of the fence.
Dust overtook the green. The road was skinny, steep, empty
of civilians. I sped, with the music of Galei Tzahal
refracting like tin bumps inside the car.
I knew where I was, in a manner of speaking.
I had only to drive a straight line
in this contained part of the universe,
on the cusp of the war, at the cusp of Hezbollah
with the tanks belching out their tiredness,
as Shabbat began for the Jews
and Sabbath ended for the Muslims
living in separate clusters along the roadside.

Jo-Ann Mort is a poet and journalist who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, though she is a frequent traveler, especially to Israel and its neighbors. A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, her poetry has recently appeared in The Atlanta Review,  UpstreetStand, and The Women’s Review of Books. Her journalism and analysis have appeared in The New Republic, Washington Post opinion,  Foreign PolicyDissent (where she is also a member of the editorial board), The American Prospect, and other publications. She is co-author of a book about the kibbutzim in Israel published by Cornell U. Press. She tweets at @ChangeCommNYC.