by Angele Ellis
I enter through security as taxpayer,
the needle’s eye of censorship. Bag on the table,
keys in a plastic container that could hold mail
or explosives. The only way in and out.
I remember with strained nostalgia
the protests of the eighties—
South Africa, Nicaragua, El Salvador,
the sit-ins at congressional offices,
the time we rode up and down the elevators
with our leaflets until the guards nabbed us
and threw us out. And that last time,
the sit-in during Desert Storm,
suspended between freedom and arrest,
swimming in ether like exotic fish
while our friends pressed against the aquarium glass
with hopeful signs
as if we could change history, levitate the building
like Abbie Hoffman tried with the Pentagon.
Now we are lucky to stand unmolested
on the public sidewalk,
the thin edge of the wedge of democracy.
"Federal Building," like a number of my poems, springs from my long engagement in the peace movement and from my concerns--as an American citizen and as a global citizen--about the nature of modern democracy, its means and its ends, particularly as practiced by the nation that is the world's superpower. I have shared the poem--originally published in the Arab-American cultural journal Mizna, and included in my book Arab on Radar as well as in the anthology Come Together: Imagine Peace--at readings and with friends. The devastation of Gaza, the desperation of a people squeezed beyond endurance, makes the final line of this poem--"the thin edge of the wedge of democracy"--ring ironically and tragically in my mind as I write these words. (January 2009)