"If You Look at the City Above and Below…"

This is part of Jewschool’s poetry series on Lamentations for our modern cities and urban justice. You can find here Adam Gottlieb’s piece on chapter 2 and here Stephanie Friedman’s piece on chapter 5.
Last night, about 100 people gathered on Chicago’s South Side, in the Chicago Theological Seminary‘s chapel, on the seam-line between resourced Hyde Park and under-resourced Woodlawn, to bring in Tisha B’Av, reading the full, Hebrew book of Eikha (Lamentations), interspersed with original elegies by local poets, unpacking the potent imagery of Eikha to the displacement, bloodshed, desolation, and abandonment, in our own city of Chicago, especially for its largely poor and largely Black and Brown South Side.
This was the second year of such a service and learn-in here, with original grassroots, Jewish South Siders joined in organization this year by Mishkan Chicago, the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, Moishe House Rogers Park, and our hosts, CTS’s Center for Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Studies.
Here is local poet, actor, and playwright Harold Jaffe’s piece, an adaptation of the fourth chapter of Eikha, which emphasizes the financial ruin and exploitation of the desolate City.
Lamentations 4
by Harold Jaffe
If you’re way up above in the sky looking down
Like a bird, or a really rich person, or G-d,
The city shines bright just like jewels in a crown,
Every inch of it brilliant, not one corner flawed.
If you’re down on the street, though, and looking way up,
The difference in your perspective is strange.
What you see is the same; what you hear is a cup
Full of coins and a homeless guy asking for change,
And we walk right on by–you and I, everyone–
And we say that he’d spend it on drugs or on booze,
And the city keeps shining as bright as the sun
While some kids beg for food and some grown-ups refuse,
And the hungry keep starving, the well-fed get fat,
And the streets are stained red with the blood of the just.
We are burning alive in the alchemist’s vat.
We are breaking down gold into ashes and dust.
All the money that should have built shelters and schools
Has been siphoned to slush funds and plush hidey-holes
Where it’s used to build palaces gaudy as jewels
Till we’re bankrupt in credit, in cash, in our souls,
And the vultures will keep tearing meat from our bones
Till there’s nothing and nobody left to exploit
And the creditors call in the last of their loans
And G-d smites us like Sodom, Gomorrah, Detroit.
Even students just walking to school and back home
Have to cross battlegrounds filled with danger and risk.
In this land of the free, all are not free to roam
When their steps are beset by the threat of stop and frisk.
When we let our own children get slandered and slain
By the very ones sworn to protect and to serve,
Is it any wonder G-d blasts us with pain?
Is a city in ashes not what we deserve?
For our leaders, who cover up when kids get shot,
Who throw teachers and school staff under the bus,
They have brought down G-d’s wrath like a fire blazing hot,
But we still reelect them again–it’s on us.
We appeal to our priests and our prophets for aid,
To our tribes and our nation to fend off our fears,
But our nation can’t help us, our prophets have strayed,
And our cries to the L-rd seem to fall on deaf ears.
If you look at the city above and below–
All the blight, all the opulence–skyscraper, slum–
Though the pathway to justice be painfully slow,
We must work for the day when redemption may come.

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