June Jordan’s Songs of Palestine and Lebanon

Theresa Saliba in The Feminist Wire:

Book I write beside the rainy sky

Tonight an unexpected an


Cease-fire to the burning day

that worked like war across my

empty throat before I thought to try

this way

to say I think we can: I think we


–June Jordan, “To Sing a Song of Palestine”

For Arab feminists of my generation, June Jordan brought us out of our invisibility. She embodied transnational feminist solidarity long before it was in vogue. This bold Black woman, this brilliant poet, never retreated from speaking unspeakable truths. She visited Palestinian refugee camps after the massacre of Sabra and Shatilla in 1982. She returned to Lebanon after Israel’s massacre of refugees at a UN camp at Qana in 1996. Jordan turned the most gruesome horrors in our world—the world of Arab isolation and unabated imperial violence–into searing poems and essays that spoke to our shared humanity across the boundaries of race, class, creed and culture, and across oceans of ignorance and incomprehensibility. She shared Arabic coffee with those in mourning, bore witness to the strangulation of Israeli occupation and the US-sponsored arsenal of death, and through her writing tied our suffering to the terrors of anti-Black racism and police violence in the US. She affirmed our collective struggle, our resistance and resilience with a resounding “I think we can” (1985, 45-6).

Jordan was one of the first African American feminists to show her solidarity by traveling to Lebanon, producing haunting poetry that trenchantly indicted the US government and its citizens for the violence there. In “Apologies to All the People in Lebanon,” she lets her own complicity, as an American taxpayer, stand for the whole people: “I didn’t know and nobody told me and what/could I do or say, anyway?” After a litany of official excuses, and gruesome details of slaughter, she concludes, “Yes I did know it was the money I earned as a poet that/paid/for the bombs and the planes and the tanks/that they used to massacre your family. . . I’m sorry. I really am sorry” (1985, 106). This scathingly satirical piece exposes the excuses, the failure of recognition and solidarity, the emptiness of apology in the face of this brutally executed invasion.

More here.