In the summer of 2012 a man set himself on fire in Tel Aviv.
The flames spun out of control and reached a bus in Bulgaria, where people go on vacation when they can’t afford something nicer.
Known to live in fear of such things, I kept my tradition of sitting near the emergency exit in the back, writing down the names of the dead and recognizing something about them no one would say aloud.
I begin a new tradition to calm myself: if that seat is taken, I imagine that the person there needs it more than I do.
Meanwhile I live at the foot of a hill in Oakland. Sometimes it feels like Haifa, but it’s no Wadi Salib.
When I learned that the flaming man had spent the last of his days there, I wondered
if he had caught a spark from the past.
In my early childhood I learned that my ancestors died in ovens. It didn’t matter where my ancestors were really from, or how they actually lived and died.
I thought of this when my mother made bread,
and when my pale skin became brown from the sun, I imagined it to be like bread. My skin baking and browning and dying like my imagined ancestors.
In summer 2012 I am not used to the grey skies. When the sun comes out, I wear as little as possible and stand outside, praying for its rays to catch me, so that I am no longer mistaken for white.
I think of California, this place that is prone to wildfires. I think of the hood burning to the west of me and far to the east of me and everywhere inbetween.
I think of what happens to people when their agency is taken away from them, trapped in by borders and barbed wire. Projects and prisons and gendered bodies. What is left to do?
I pray, and I sit near the emergency exit in the back.