Senator Frances Black reading "Running Orders" on the floor of the Irish Parliament.
The Poem that Spoke When I Could Not
Sometimes you search for the words to write a poem. And sometimes the words of a poem find you. In the summer of 2014, I spent many hours glued to various screens, helpless and disempowered as yet another war on Gaza began. In the beginning, I engaged. I wrote letters to editors, called my elected representatives, and shared all the information I could on social media sites. I participated in weekly protests in my city. But with each passing hour, with each attack more ferocious than the one before, I felt my words withering away. Among the many news reports that I watched, I remember an interview with a woman who described a phone call that she and her neighbors had received from the Israeli military. "They call us now" she said. The irony of a phone call announcing an impending death from which there was no chance of escape was a glowing ember inside her words. For days and nights those words played over and over in my head. And I began to write.
Running Orders was the first poem I posted on my personal Facebook page. A week later, it had traveled farther than I could ever imagine. A friend in Canada posted it to a Facebook group, and wrote to tell me that she heard people reading it at a peace rally she had attended in Toronto. Soon, my nearly inactive twitter account lit up with people tweeting the poem and translating it into many languages including Greek, Hebrew and Spanish. Another friend forwarded my poem to me in a post by the Irish Workers' Party. One friend found it published in The Tokyo Progressive. Later in the summer I would meet people from San Diego, Vancouver BC, Washington DC, and Pittsburgh who had heard it recited at peaceful protests demanding an end to the violence in Gaza.
A composer from New Mexico named Joanne Forman sent me a letter and some lines of the poem set to music in a piece she named "Gaza: Prison by the Sea." In her hand-written letter, Joanne said: "As you know, very many American Jews are horrified by the war on Gaza, and are NOT admirers of AIPAC. But I realize I have no impact on Israeli policy--but I can do this. I hope it can be of use."
I wrote Running Orders at a time when I was losing faith in words. Throughout previous wars from Palestine to Lebanon to Syria, I always found comfort in the belief that art would keep us human. Art would help us witness. Last summer, as that belief was being tested in the extreme, this little poem traveled so far and connected me with many human beings all over the world who turn to art, just as I do, in order to persevere. On this page I've included some of the most powerful ways that Running Orders has lived in the world. Every one of these links represents a moment when Running Orders was used as a prayer, a testimonial, or a rallying cry. Every one of these was done by people I have never met. I can think of nothing more satisfying than to have written words that move people to speak them out loud. This poem's journey continues to humble and inspire me.