Along the dust track insects jump, whirr,
make resentful way for the trundling cart,
an overweighted crate on uneven wheels.
The hungry donkey puts one foot in front of another,
ears flicking and drooping alternately;
he pulls resolutely, steadily, fulfilling
his destiny without pause, swishing
his tail across thin flanks,
loyal to his burden, to his fellow load.
Tied atop the crate-cart, lurching uneasily,
stands a square-hipped, brindled cow,
her chipped hooves braced against the planks
as her carriage bumps over stones, cans,
the emptying shells of ammunition.
The whites of her eyes are large with fear.
Her tail whips back and forth in concert
with the donkey’s, scourging parasites uselessly.
Out of the cow’s reach, hung over the tailgate
swings a small cage above the dust.
Inside, tiny claws clutch at an idea
of safety, the rust metal bars,
the perch, the empty water-cup.
Its bright feathers stretch, settle, stretch in panic.
But these are not the trappings of fairytales.
These are the treasures of one family,
their livelihood, companionship, their milk.
They’re on the road in the Strip, droned out of house,
the daughter already an old woman at eight,
her parents sweat-ridden, laden, bowed down.
The small boy reaches up to the donkey’s halter,
leans his head on its grizzled shoulder
whose muscles move tiredly beneath his cheek;
he closes his eyes against the night’s terrors,
against the future without home, without, without.
The swaying song-bird hears his sob, opens its beak,
attempts two notes: Gaza; Gaza!
Montage: Claire Palmer