Listicle, a / portmanteau (French) of list & article.
My mother / (Israeli) is one of / 10. I have 27 first cousins.
One of them: / an Iron Dome engineer / & gentle / with me when I confess / to wondering if / it is, in fact, / a metallic mound, tactile, a body’s / wart, perfect / roundness. A phrenologist’s dream, but / that isn’t / right.
Another cousin was born / the same day / I was—he is / my doppelgänger / (German) but a little darker-skinned / than I. We built / Lego pagodas (Japanese) / when I was young. Acted out / war. I teased him / for his unibrow, since mine / separated.
Zionist relatives / hate him!
The first cousin tells / me, Not like when we built / forts as children, / a silver bedsheet / draped over posts. The dome, the iron / stay invisible. Like borders, I say, to build / his anger.
I do usually say half-Israeli, when / asked, / yes.
A third cousin grows / impatient with how / slowly I read / Hebrew when the vowels are dustpanned / from the page. Read, / he yells. I say, I’m reading / between the lines—searching / for vowels. He screams, / Read. I say, It’s not Jewish / humor per se (Latin) / but if Natalie Portman & Jacques Cousteau got married they’d change / their last name to Portmanteau. From / right to left, he bellows. / I say, Natalie Portman, praise be unto her, is a great admirer of / Israel. / We are done for / today, he whispers.
In this video, watch him win / over his swarthy cousins with this one / simple trick!
The engineer helps / meet mortar shell / with larger missile / midair. You have to / meet your cousin. Halfway / through his army service, my mother / says, & he is already / a / genius, like you. You will / have so much / in common, when you speak.
I show the second cousin / footage of the Palestinian / boys throwing stones at the prison / in the West Bank, then shot / by a sniper’s gun. Edited, / he says. You can trust / only what you touch, / not what you see. In the mirror, / with the right / shadow, I look like / him, exactly.
The engineer doesn’t help / with how many bullet / points I should write / for my article, / or whether / to number them. One for / each child killed during Operation / Protective Edge? / One for each year / since the Nakba,/ (Arabic) meaning / disaster? / One for each / cousin?
An engineer, an architect, & a rabbi / walk into a bar / as airstrikes / are preceded by leaflets / of warning, falling / from the sky. Like prayers folded in / cracks of the Western Wall, / the domed atmosphere cracked / open with words (Hebrew) / then bombs (American).
I tease / my cousin teaching me / Hebrew: the Iron Curtain, / I say, figures / in the Babylonian Talmud. / Read, he / mouths, silent. I say, / Mechitza shel barzel. Left / to write, he says, & I explain.
Even / an iron barrier / cannot separate Israelis / from their heavenly father / indefinitely, /it means. Heaven / to earth, he says. / I say, Listen, the dome / is pelted, right, / by hailstones from G-d, like pebbles / tossed to lovers’ / windows. Earth / to me, he says, / I don’t have forever. / I say, G-d sweeps / his hand on this land, / feels the Iron Dome as a dot / of Braille, skipping / stone—a single dot / in Braille meaning / A. / A vowel, or the indefinite / article (English). Read, / he screams, his neck / vein raised & bloody / like a border. But Natalie Portman, I offer, / & he chases me across / the house. / Read, he yells. / Between / the lines, I scream. It was accidental— / he stepped / on the Lego pagoda I built / with the second cousin (my / doppelgänger), / raised dots from red brick tattooing vowels / on his feet. He screams, / Out. / I’m sorry, I say. / Even Jews / like you / he screams, belong here. / The Lego house is in / a hundred shards. With any / luck, / the third cousin says, one day / you’ll learn / to count your blessings.
Natan Last is a founding member of the International Rescue Committee’s innovation lab and a researcher and advocate for refugee resettlement and humanitarian aid. In September he will start a master’s degree in public policy at Columbia University. He also writes crossword puzzles for The New York Times and The New Yorker. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The American Journal of Poetry, Futures Trading, and The Seattle Star.