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The Boy From Gaza by Badia Forbes, painting, 7.5 x 9 inches

Badia Forbes inspires a poem by Gayle Markow

Posted on April 14, 2015

Bay Area poet and CE volunteer, Gayle Markow, organized a poetry benefit for Creativity Explored on February 1, 2015 titled Ekphrastically yoursAll of the poems read during the event were inspired by a Creativity Explored artwork which the participating poets personally selected.

Creativity Explored artist Badia Forbes' painting The Boy from Gaza inspired following poem by Gayle Markow.

 

NO SMALL THING
(In honor of Salman Khalidi)
inspired by The Boy from Gaza, a painting by Badia Forbes

He called himself Sam Khalidi,
I suppose in the way that
Jose Zamora changed his name to Joe
in order to get a job and as a result did,
or in the same way
my own mother, at 15, had contemplated
changing her name from
Beatrice Katz to Beatrice Kay,
also in search of a job.

Mr Salman Khalidi on paper
was my patient Sam Khalidi in real life.
I was his nurse in the medical clinic at
San Francisco General Hospital.
He was a few years older than my father,
but seemed more like my grandfather, Harry Katz,
reminded me of him, gentle and soft-spoken,
except Sam was Palestinian.

I was afraid when Sam found out I was Jewish
he wouldn’t like me.
I’d wonder if he was going to find out, and when.
I was young and afraid, had grown up mostly passing
in a somewhat subtly anti-semitic community.
On occasion the subtly wore thin, and
I would be witness to, or target of, anti-semitic insult.
Dirty Jew. kike, jewed me down, the usual.
And so, I was afraid.
I don’t know how or when Sam found out.
Maybe someone told him,
or, he just sensed it, and knew.
We never talked about our respective identities.
I can’t remember how I came to know that he knew.  
At some point I just did, and knew it was ok. 

I was nice to Sam in the way I was nice to all my patients.
Sam responded in a way few others did,
though most patients did respond to one extent or another.
Yes, really, they all did,  
mostly by being gentle and kind themselves,
also by trusting and being grateful.
It seemed that kindness came as a surprise to many, and
you could tell that most people don’t get enough of it in their lives,
but they took to it like a thirsty man in the desert takes to water.
In return for kindness, they showed me their beautiful selves, undefended.

Sam also brought gifts -- trinkets and candy.
Eventually he brought a birthday cake
every single year for 13 years for my only daughter’s birthday.
I hadn’t  remembered telling him I had a daughter,
let alone her name, and when her birthday was.

As he got older, bringing the cake to the hospital
became too much for him, so
he asked me to stop by their little
mom & pop grocery store
the Star of Galilee I think it was called,
on Polk street near Union.
Every year in August, Sam would call me to say the cake was ready.  

I would go to pick it up, and sit under
the little wood-shingled faux roof over the checkout area.
On small seats, I was sandwiched between Sam and his wife,
who was in charge of the cash register and ready to help
the rare customer who came in to buy something.
Sam would summon one of their two sons
to bring treats.  What would I like? Sam asked.
I  kept my request simple. a small bottle of juice.
Please, that’s it, thank you.
We would sit and make small talk for half an hour or so.

Eventually I would say, well I’d better be going.
One of their sons would bring out the birthday cake.
Sam’s wife would extend a bouquet of flowers from her garden.
I would take the flowers and the cake and thank them profusely,
and take my leave. 

I thought of Sam as grandfatherly,
a small grocery store owner,
my gentle patient.
I knew all about his health problems,
but I knew so little about him.
Most of his life, like all of us, he was younger, vital, not sick.
I didn’t know him then; it was hard to imagine.
Somewhere along the way, later,
I heard that he,
Mr. Salman Khalidi, had been
some kind of Official in the United Nations.
A United Nations official!
I wondered about his growing up in Palestine,
how he came to work for the UN?
Why he left Palestine?
What brought him to the United States?
So many questions I didn’t ask.

A few years later Sam’s health declined.
He was no longer “my” patient;
He was seeing a doctor I didn’t work with,
though we were in the same clinic.
The doctor, Dr. Schillinger, told me that he thought
Sam would like a visit from me.
He was seeing him that day.
So, I stopped by the exam room where Sam sat alone.
I hadn’t seen him for months.
When I walked in, Sam caught his breath like he’d just seen the
oldest longest-lost friend he ever had, shook his head back and forth,
fought back tears, and took my hand.
It’s  So..  Good .. to .. see..  you,  he said.
And we sat, slowly catching up
I fought back my own tears,
until his doctor came in
and it was time for me to go.

A few months later the same doctor told me that
Sam’s health was failing, he was in the ICU,
and perhaps I’d like to visit.
I walked in a hurry down the long hallway,
caught the elevator to the 4th floor.
At the ICU desk, I lied
“I’m Mr. Khalidi’s nurse in the medical clinic,”
I said, though in fact, I no longer was.
They nodded me through. 

A few days later, as he lay dying,  I sat alone by his bedside
At one point he opened his eyes briefly,
glanced up at me,
softly whispered, my angel,
closed his eyes.
A short time later he died.

There are so many invisible lines that
connect people one to the other.
Sometimes you see it in a painting,
hear it in a song, or a poem,
a birthday cake brought year after year.
You see it in someone’s eyes,
hear it in their voice,
feel it in their touch,
and know you are connected.

I’m no longer shy and just wish I
could sit down one more time in that little shop with
Sam and his wife,
ask all my questions, and really listen.
But, then I was shy.
Still,  I got to be one person’s angel in this life.
And that is no small thing.

Gayle Markow
9/10/14

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