The day hope died a burden was lifted. Al -Yahud’s ropes were untied. A sack of golden bangles, clay tablets and unleavened Babylonian bread, khubz fatir, fell to the bottom of the river — flat bread carries no joy. This is why my grandparents are silent. Their history dumped in the river. This is why I dive in, seeking what’s at the bottom of the riverbed, find the turban of the chief rabbi, Chacham Bashi Moshe, unravelling in my DNA; gravel and clay remnants I add to my sack. Find how I have become an archaeologist of family ghosts.
Find: Barley sheaves, wheat, Farhud bodies, bodies who tried to smuggle themselves out, donkeys, field fruit fleshed out in letters we cannot read anymore, pressed into clay, dried up long ago in Babylonian heat. What became of donkeys’ bones? Of discarded date seeds? Know this, to count the bones does not bring the donkey back to life.
I lose my thread of fact. It dips its head in my coffee, lets me drink it, forgetting how empty the cup always is in the end. How I want more — and yet, to have more is to grow fat on antique longing; what is not hope or faith in my children. I don’t know when the Tigris River swallowed me, or how its tides divide in me what cannot be archived.
My acupuncturist tells me there is a ghost point — sticks a needle in my stomach — and lets the wind blow through. The main thing is not to get stuck. The main thing is to stick a needle in the bottom of your sole — the bubbling wellspring. The main thing is to move.
But the older I get the more ghosts I meet. I distance myself, walk a bit faster to dissociate the ghost of grief, but it’s closer than I’d like. A leaf’s breath away. A pecked orange. A date dislodged by a parakeet. Sometimes I think there is a graveyard in my stomach — where the ghosts visit, place a stone, and leave.
Sarah Sassoon is an Australian-born writer and poet of Iraqi-Jewish descent. Her work has appeared in the Michigan Quarterly Review, Ruminate, Lilith, The Ilanot Review, Consequence Forum, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of the Andrea Moriah Poetry Prize, and shortlisted for the Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Award. Her micro-chapbook, This is Why We Don’t Look Back was recently awarded first place in Harbor Review’s Jewish Women’s poetry prize. Sarah is also the author of the children’s picture book, Shoham’s Bangle (Kar-Ben Publishing, Fall 2022).
In the Beginning – Contamination 50
Adriano Marinazzo is a visual artist and scholar. His work focuses on the interactions between art, science, and technology, topics he taught at the University of Florence. In 2014, Adriano presented his work and research at the XIV Biennale of Architecture of Venice. Currently, he is the Curator of Special Projects of the Muscarelle Museum of Art. In 2022 Adriano was appointed as the inaugural Designer in Residence at William & Mary to create visionary video-art-science installations for the Integrated Science Center.