Jerusalem of Heaven, Jerusalem of Earth
I think this place may break my heart.
Around a corner lies the golden dome,
burnished to a postcard glow;
there a minaret rises
like an amazed breath
But that's not where I am.
I am in these streets, narrow as a curse.
The buildings crouch like beggars,
their humbleness calculated
to make you give.
They do not intend to disappear.
Their windows are closed eyes
that refuse to open;
crossing their stony faces
is the mortality of laundry.
Under slanting rain, the roofs lie low,
resisting the pressure of the sky.
Soaring is not for those
bent by survival.
Clouds hang over like a doom.
Within the ramparts lies a heart of dust,
foreshadowing the rubble
into which they dream themselves:
crumbling under rafters
hanging in air,
like rails of a train
There are nicer places.
There are gayer people:
not dressed in camouflage,
merging with the dun landscape,
passing as the meek of the earth.
There are places where
a dark descent of street
does not suggest
an ancient river of blood.
There are places where
the dank sad odor of life
does not lift as the rising hills ignite with lights:
where a crescent moon does not
cleave the heart
with the lucidity of vision:
where the cold, starred air
is not distilled
to the purity of revelation.
I think this place will break my heart.
This is the city of wounds.
On the Via Dolorosa pilgrims trace
the path of sacred sorrow:
church windows blossom a lacerated red.
Streets recall the name of martyred Jews:
the one whose flesh they flayed
because he would not damn the holy name:
the one whose torment in a Spanish cell
broke his body, not his faith.
Even children know the one
who sang the orphans toward the flames,
so they would not be afraid.
These wounds, and others that we bear,
are given to our children:
the sole inheritance
that they can count upon.
When the missiles fell,
we sealed the door with bleached cloths,
and taped the windows like injuries.
Our children, in their rubber masks,
knew which gas we really feared.
It burned their dreams,
like the tattooed numbers
on their forebears' arms.
We are covenanted to this fatal city,
which we claim.
On the street of the cafes,
bloodstains haunt the floors
and bullet holes mark the walls
We suck pleasure through the coffee froth,
reach with sticky fingers
for the promised sweetness.
Through the dark transparency of night,
walls breathe out the musk of death.
Through veils of cigarette smoke,
we seek suspicious objects:
to implements of grief.
We worry our wounds,
probing the rawness, prolonging it.
When it hurts,
we know who we are.
Sangre de Cristo:
Blood of the Lamb:
the afflictions of Ishmael:
the sacrificial knife at Isaac's throat:
your mark on me, mine on you:
scars that testify where we've been,
and what we have visited on each other.
You do not live in Jerusalem
unless you love your wounds,
savor the salt of your blood,
surrender to suffering
in which all is absolved,
after which all is comprehended:
willing to be reborn,
generation upon generation,
in this land of eternal redemption,
in this city incandescent with pain.
The melodies of Mitteleurope ooze
through open windows,
like honey glaze.
Lamps cast golden light,
books climb to shadowed ceilings,
furniture holds its breath.
The sweetness of a long-forgotten village
settles on the sleepy street;
its leaves murmur of memories never known,
its trees bend toward secrets never told.
Crooked houses lean into each other.
A little box of tin and glass,
fastened to each gate,
celebrates the festival of light.
Candles flicker, declaring
their small miracles.
A bare bulb swings in a kitchen
redolent of many meals.
Walls are washed the blue
of Kurdistani skies,
valleys lost in legend.
On the window sill a glass jar
of pickles, ripening in their brine,
ready to sting the tongue
with the salt of tears.
Lemon blossoms drift upon the path.
Only the lemon tree
blossoms and fruits at once;
each bitter, fragrant sphere contains
what was and is to come.
Ancestral shades stir the dusky air.
On such nights,
a wanderer like me
is taken under
the benedictory palms
of a thousand nameless fathers,
and gathered in the arms
of countless mothers
warding off the dark.