Sabbath Night in Al-Zaytun


Men scooped through the rubble, unroofed
a mess of mashed strawberry and bone.
A woman screamed. She’d glimpsed
a shred of cloth, recognized her grandson.
Keening rose and fell, a wordless ululation
thick like heart’s blood with animal agony.

Men scrabbled harder, seeking the mother.
Found her in an air pocket, still breathing.
Loaded her in a donkey cart, careened
to one of the few hospitals still open.
The doctors’ eyes were like grave pits,
hollow with horror and fatigue.

They operated by cell phone light
without anesthetic, those awaiting
surgery hearing the screams.
Washed out wounds with vinegar,
sutured with sewing needles.
Wrapped burns in dead men’s clothes.

The last generator ran out of fuel.
Incubators chilled; blood clotted
in dialysis machines. Ventilators
wheezed to a halt. Shrouds ran short,
but soon they’d need
so many more.

About the Poem

I am a retired physician, so sometimes my way into disaster or war is to imagine what’s happening to people in hospitals during the event. Unfortunately, I imagined little in this poem about what was happening to people in Gaza; most of the details here I heard or read about in the news, and my decisions were mostly about what language to use to describe them.

About the Author

Jan Steckel’s debut fiction collection Ghosts and Oceans just came out from Zeitgeist Press. Her poetry book The Horizontal Poet (Zeitgeist Press, 2011) won a 2012 Lambda Literary Award. Her poetry book Like Flesh Covers Bone (Zeitgeist Press, 2018) won two Rainbow Awards. Her fiction chapbook Mixing Tracks (Gertrude Press, 2009) and poetry chapbook The Underwater Hospital (Zeitgeist Press, 2006) also won awards. Her creative prose and poetry have appeared in Scholastic Magazine, Yale Medicine, Bellevue Literary Review, Canary, Assaracus, and elsewhere. She lives in Oakland, California.

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