The Walls Are Too High

The walls are too high
Broken finger-nail talk
Runs down the well
And Jacob’s children are so thin
They hardly matter.

Flyers stuffed in mailboxes
Even note paper is thicker, lasts longer
Than children scrawled from blocks of the ghetto.

Cinders shave the well’s dry wall.

Nothing rises.

Joseph has taken in his brothers.
He can read the writing-on-the-wall in his sleep.
But, he cannot get to Pharoah;
He cannot even get to the corner stores; nothing is saved.

So, the dream’s gain grows against him,
Against the ribbed oesophagus to the well.
Against the saucers of his brothers’ dried bellies.
There is nothing to eat.
Hate sets the table at the bottom of the well.

Questions and Answers

What inspired “The Walls Are Too High”?

I have been fascinated with biblical stories and how they travel throughout history to embody ongoing situations that challenge and concern us. I had been doing some writing about the Holocaust and this poem was one in a series I’d developed for a specific issue of Children’s Literature. I cannot comprehend our willingness to destroy one another. I wanted to re-enter the places of desolation and extermination that haunt peoples who have been brought to the brink of extinction.

What poetic techniques did you use in “The Walls Are Too High”?

I wanted an interior point of view that could construct the physical dimensions of the well itself and release a series of contradictions such that well and ghetto would collude to translate what might be a source of life into a site of death. The images released in this way contain the pivotal seeds of stories in which humans are discarded, even as they persist as remnants/remainders/reminders of our capacity to harm and extinguish.

This poem “The Walls Are Too High” originally appeared in New Directions. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 158 (Autumn 1998): 89.

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