by Judith Terzi
after “What people are saying about ‘burkinis’ in France”
—L.A. Times, August 18, 2016
Zipporah. She is covered from head to toe
with an apron & layers of cloth.
There is the idea that . . . women are
immodest, impure, that they
should therefore be completely
covered. Wool scarves swirl around her
hidden neck in the black & white
photo. A headscarf, or a tichel, hides
every strand of great-grandmother's
hair. [This] is not compatible
with the values of France and
the republic. Zipporah––a bird in Hebrew.
She flew from Russia to a brownstone
in Baltimore. She sits on a stoop. Even her
hands are invisible; we see only her
withered face. She is over a hundred.
I issued this order . . . to ensure the safety
of my city . . . am only prohibiting
a uniform that is the symbol of Islamist
extremism. Zipporah––a bird who
flew to the heavens before I was born. She
sits next to my great-grandfather
in the black & white photo. Hasidic white
beard, a yarmulke between him and
his God. It is the soul of France that is
in question . . . France does not hide half
of its population under the . . . odious
pretext that the other half would be
afraid of temptation. An oversized wool suit
envelops his body & his fringes.
In the 32mm film, he blesses my mother
& her sisters. His body rocks. Back
& forth, back & forth, as he recites prayer.
Pious great-grandfather who gave me
my name. The beaches, like any
public space, must be preserved
from religious demands. Great-grandparents
covered in faith & fabric.
Author’s Note: Italics indicate direct quotes from French governmental officials, including the Prime Minister, the Minister for women's rights, and the Mayor of Cannes.
Judith Terzi's poetry has appeared in a wide variety of journals and anthologies including Caesura, Malala: Poems for Malala Yousafzai, Raintown Review, Spillway, Unsplendid, and Wide Awake: The Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond. If You Spot Your Brother Floating By is her most recent chapbook from Kattywompus Press. Her poems have been nominated for Best of the Net and Web.