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Archive for July, 2008

Stone cries to stone,
Heart to heart, heart to stone,
And the interrogation will not die
For there is no eternal city
And there is no pity
And there is nothing underneath the sky
No rainbow and no guarantee –
There is no covenant between your God and me.
2
It is superb in the air.
Suffering is everywhere
And each man wears his suffering like a skin.
My history is proud.
Mine is not allowed.
This is the cistern where all wars begin,
The laughter from the armoured car.
This is the man who won’t believe you’re what you are.
3
This is your fault.
This is a crusader vault.
The Brook of Kidron flows from Mea She’arim.
I will pray for you.
I will tell you what to do.
I’ll stone you. I shall break your every limb.
Oh, I am not afraid of you,
But maybe I should fear the things you make me do.
4
This is not Golgotha.
This is the Holy Sepulchre,
The Emperor Hadrian’s temple to a love
Which he did not much share.
Golgotha could be anywhere.
Jerusalem itself is on the move.
It leaps and leaps from hill to hill
And as it makes its way it also makes its will.
5
The city was sacked.
Jordan was driven back.
The pious Christians burned the Jews alive.
This is a minaret.
I’m not finished yet.
We’re waiting for reinforcements to arrive.
What was your mother’s real name?
Would it be safe today to go to Bethlehem?
6
This is the Garden Tomb.
No, this is the Garden Tomb.
I’m an Armenian. I am a Copt.
This is Utopia.
I came here from Ethiopia.
This hole is where the flying carpet dropped
The Prophet off to pray one night
And from here one hour later he resumed his flight.
7
Who packed your bag?
I packed my bag.
Where was your uncle’s mother’s sister born?
Have you ever met an Arab?
Yes, I am a scarab.
I am a worm. I am a thing of scorn.
I cry Impure from street to street
And see my degradation in the eyes I meet.
8
I am your enemy.
This is Gethsemane.
The broken graves look to the Temple Mount.
Tell me now, tell me when
When shall we all rise again?
Shall I be first in that great body count?
When shall the tribes be gathered in?
When, tell me, when shall the Last Things begin?
9
You are in error.
This is terror.
This is your banishment. This land is mine.
This is what you earn.
This is the Law of No Return.
This is the sour dough, this the sweet wine.
This is my history, this my race
And this unhappy man threw acid in my face.
10
Stone cries to stone,
Heart to heart, heart to stone.
These are the warrior archaeologists.
This is us and that is them.
This is Jerusalem.
These are dying men with tattooed wrists.
Do this and I’ll destroy your home.
I have destroyed your home.  You have destroyed my home.

 
James Fenton
New Selected Poems (2006)

Commentary:  Tomorrow, I am going to Jerusalem.  I first heard of Jerusalem when I was in my mother’s womb, listening to charismatic sermons in my amniotic sack and dreaming dreams about Jesus before I was even born.  There has never been a day in my entire life when I was not aware of the city of Jerusalem.  I have imagined it.  It has become a metaphor for my heart, for the the center of my soul.  But it is a real place.  I have no idea what it will really be like for me to walk on the walls and the streets of Jerusalem.

I have read other people’s gospels and stories and poems about Jerusalem.  I have imagined what they were imagining.  I have sung songs about Jerusalem.  I have studied medieval maps that place Jerusalem in the center and call it the umbilicus terrae, the navel of the world.  I have translated the word, Jerusalem, from Spanish, French, Latin, and Hebrew into English in dozens of translation exercises over the past twelve years or more. 

It is impossible to go to Jerusalem without preconceived notions, without ideas and pictures, other voices, other languages, other words.  I read James Fenton’s poem, and that is one vision.  There are other visions.

Claudia told me what it was like to drive up from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem at sunset.  Onnaca told me she hated the pressing of the mob of tourists at the holy sites … and she took a day just to look at the sky over Jerusalem … and the experience was more deeply spiritual for her than kissing any reliquaries.  I have listened to testimonials from other tourists on radio programs, in pulpits and classrooms, at the dinner table and on the internet.     

Today, I read half a dozen poems about Jerusalem.  William Blake turned Jerusalem into a metaphor for England’s religious triumphalism.  Yehuda Amichai complained, justifiably, about tourists only interested in the monuments of Jerusalem and not its citizens, its people.

My memories are full of Jerusalem, and I have never been there.

In fact, I have precious momentos from Jerusalem:  a bookmark my pastor gave me when I was in elementary school after he returned from his once-in-a-lifetime journey, a stylized print of the old city on purple cloth that my step-father gave me for Christmas one year.  

But tomorrow Jerusalem will be real to me in a way that has never been possible before.

What will Jerusalem be like for me?  I know everyone sees it differently; certainly that is what James Fenton is saying in his poem.  But even knowing my perceptions have already been shaped by the pilgrimages of other people — like Egeria and Margery Kempe and Birgitta of Sweden — my desire to see Jerusalem is still an intense passion:  a passion for Jerusalem.

 

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Out of the rolling ocean, the crowd, came a drop to me
Whispering:  I love you, before long I die,
I have travel’d a long way, merely to look on you, to touch you,
For I could not die till I once look’d on you,
For I fear’d I might afterward lose you.
*
(Now we have met, we have look’d, we are safe;
Return in peace to the ocean, my love;
I too am part of that ocean, my love — we are not so much separated;
Behold the great rondure — the cohesion of all, how perfect!
But as for me, for you, the irresistible sea is to separate us,
As for an hour, carrying us diverse — yet cannot carry us diverse for ever;
Be not impatient –a little space — Know you, I salute the air, the ocean, and the land,
Every day, at sundown, for your dear sake, my love.)
*
Walt Whitman
Leaves of Grass (1900)

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I collect library cards like some people collect key chains, shot glasses, or Hard Rock Café memorabilia. Really. I have a Reader’s Card for the Huntington Library in Pasadena, CA … the Library of Congress and the Folger in Washington, D.C. … and the British Library in London, England. Of course, I have library cards for every city I’ve ever lived in, from Vallejo, California to Alexandria, Virginia and for every university I’ve ever attended — and some I haven’t.

Library cards are like keys. They open doors to whole new worlds. But like keys, they must be placed in locks, and turned, or they’re practically useless.

The Wheaton Public Library in Wheaton, Illinois is presently issuing keys to interesting doors with their adult summer reading program: “Master the Art of Reading.” The librarians have invited everyone in town to read nine books between June 2nd and August 16th … and be entered in drawings for gift certificates to Borders Books and Music, Cantigny, or the Chicago Art Institute. Needless to say, I jumped on the bandwagon, and I’ve been reading like mad.

I started by borrowing books from my mother. Last Saturday, I went to the Benicia Library book sale here in the beautiful San Francisco Bay Area … and bought twelve books. The other night I stayed up until three in the morning to finish a novel … I’ve been known to open a door, walk through it, and never look back. What can I say? Imaginary worlds fascinate me.

These are the worlds that have been fascinating me this summer:

Biography: David Loades, Elizabeth I

Poetry: Langston Hughes, The Dream-Keeper … Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnets from the Portuguese … Gerard Manly Hopkins, Selected Poems 

Next up (or should I say, next door?): John Reeves, A Book of Hours and Marianne Moore, The Complete Poems

Hopkins says, “It is a happy thing that there is no royal road to poetry. The world should know by this time that one cannot reach Parnassus except by flying thither.”

Fiction: William P. Young, The Shack and John Grisham, The Testament

These two contrast with each other: the first allegorical, the second gritty and realistic. But both present the truth of the saving grace of Jesus. They both intrigued me … because both were about the healing and redemption of the human soul.

At one point when he is speaking to Mack in The Shack, Papa-God says: “A bird’s not defined by being grounded but by his ability to fly. Remember this, humans are not defined by their limitations, but by the intentions that I have for them; not by what they seem to be, but by everything it means to be created in my image.”

Next door (I think): Louise Erdrich, The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse

Non-fiction: Michael Gurian, The Wonder of Boys

Gurian puts in layman’s terms what we knew, as of 1996, about the effects of male biology on the behavior and development of boys from infancy to early adulthood … and suggests how parents, mentors, and teachers can best help boys become strong, wise, powerful men.  I don’t agree with everything in this book, but I do find all of it interesting.  

Next door: Hypoglycemia for Dummies 

Yes, I should have read this one years ago … but I didn’t know the book existed.

Spiritual classics: Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God … and Maya Angelou, Wouldn’t Take Nothing for my Journey Now

There is nothing like Maya Angelou or a French monk from the 17th century to remind us of things we’ve forgotten … or maybe never thought of before. Brother Lawrence worked in the kitchen of his monastery most of his life, and he prayed, “Lord of all pots and pans and things … make me a saint by getting meals and washing up plates!” This prayer is, of course, about being in two worlds at once by being in the presence of God. Brother Lawrence found his key, not in a book, but in the Door!

Sometimes the door before us is invisible, but it is still open.

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Let the rain kiss you.
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops.
Let the rain sing you a lullaby.

The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk.
The rain makes running pools in the gutter.
The rain plays a little sleep-song on our roof at night —

and I love the rain.

Langston Hughes
The Dream-Keeper and Other Poems (1932, rpt. 1994)

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