said the Welsh wayfarer,
like me, lapsed
Methodist of old,
to the six a.m. sun,
a bejewelling crest
on the mountainous east--
reminding us both
that even the deserted
have their dew
Within the walls of Jaffa fort,
the many-coloured segments
of ripened Christian fruit
ordained themselves a slice:
Between them all,
benched in the square
one lone trumpeter,
below Saint Peter's spire,
plays mournfully slow
Not so far from the Free Kirk days
I knew in childhood--
the faithful mustering their best,
morphing to a throng,
leaving a break in the door
for the latecomer,
the psalm-song aura
to wist a way out.
Not so far, this silent Shabbat town,
shut excepting one Arab store.
We too turned from the world,
made food before midnight,
put aside playing cards,
put aside work--
only the milking cow
allowed to break rest.
But on this Shabbat eve, it isn't
far at all to the Arab village.
Here, the muezzin calls.
Bombers may sometimes low-fly
and cypresses may congress smiling
young gun-slung soldiers nearby,
but these eternal turnstiles bind
each day's journey, one to another--
laden to unladen, seller to buyer.
And while the old man's relentless
bicycle trundles, the barrow boys
fetch, carry more to the noise.
Old orange trees now bloom among
the modern streets that PG planned
in boulevards and alleyways,
palms, shadow, ease lie sweetly
on this Bauhaus future history,
built on the sketch and promise
of a colonial mandate. And they said
the name of this state shall be:
In Eretz-Israel, house
in the hall of declaration
the face of the great leader
hasn't changed in nearly fifty years,
the names of the delegates now absent,
are fixed to the table,
awaiting their return--
like the red and orange partition map,
prisoner to a future
long since gone.
A family have settled
on the benches of the monument
to exodus, and home themselves
a bumptious, eager, grown-up son,
who speaks in halting Russian;
two weary souls who're warped in wool,
who will not move their focus
from this shore, who do not answer.
On imaginary liners, the sculptor's lines,
they immigrate and emigrate nightly,
across a little sea of vodka.
Av’v street model
He asks a little money,
simply any language,
the same gesture.
Ten shekels to photo
my baffled foot,
my painful smile,
so tired of this walk,
never arriving home,
to anointing of feet--
As with any actor,
repeat fees reduce,
the role grows weary,
Security Guide explains The Road to Jerusalem
"These are the forests
the early settlers planted.
They need no common language
only to plant trees."
In my driven-by mind,
the fairest of Celan's doves:
skips the voice, soft and hard,
of Mira Zakai.
And even I know that
neighbours have crossed too many times--
the tale of the cursed of Europe,
that foothills seem full of danger
here on the brave new Jerusalem highway,
when the forest ends.
"These are the walls we are building,
to stop them throwing stones."
How like a wall
a lot of trees can be, Mira.
And how fear trails
behind, like exhaust fumes
from the persecuted mind.
The dancing star of David
hung from the rear-view mirror
dangles its reflection
all the way downhill
from the Mount of Olives
to the very trees that saviour
Holy, holy olive-trees,
the fences say.
And from within the church
those foreign Christians built,
is it Harrogate accents we can hear,
harmonising in the arms
of the old rugged cross,
oblivious to the mosque
spiralling above the garden, or
the temple on the hill?
Please no explanations
inside the church
We tourists are the new money-changers,
loose in the city of gods and prophets,
barred from entry, left to snap our future
memories of the outside wall in pixels.
But who bought experience, swallowed the dust
and who among us simply watched the movie?
Dollars or pounds, euros or roubels. Just
leave a few shekels for real holy oil
now be gone.
could He have carried it?”
The Philippino group,
taking it in turns,
reach the second
Station of the Cross,
bearing what appears
a half-size version,
such blissful suffering:
that face now pressed
against the wood
feels glorious pain
reward the staking out
a pilgrimage demands.
And the bearded orthodoxy
descending Via Dolorosa,
frown inwardly, viewing the spectacle.
Lies the spirit within?
At the wall of wailing,
a little fellow gazing upwards
texts some heavenly number
on his latest cell-phone.
Tell me, friend with the direct line,
Are the paper prayers stuffed in cracks--
crushed butterflies of hope--
Will they drop like solan fledglings
from Bass Rock cranny-nests,
Is there no way back to the ledge
for those who've fallen?
Through the arched gate
from temple ground
into the warren,
dark corridors open sight
to colour, trade,
hesitant to bring
their trinket-glitter too close in
to any jealous gods that lurk within
the stone you're built from,
your own mountain
turned inside out,
to you make.
The expressway down down
to the Dead Sea cuts thin
arid glens of rock and dust
bare like the peathills of Delting.
Underpasses here and there
take heed of flocks,
water-hoarding by the springs,
their road ends like road ends anywhere,
a network fraying.
Yet here there's permanence
in the ripple of goatpaths,
made of dustridge and green blade,
made of ageless use,
how they encompass everything
except the tarmacking.
High hills harbour
the last of the people,
those who follow flocks and stars,
where no one else is willing.
Floating the dead
It seldom rains on the Dead Sea
but does, though it has no effect
on the plastering of seal-grey mud
that tingles-so, after--
all salts crystallize
in this deep hollow where
the faithful and the not-so
come to bathe together--
but the priest is near at hand,
so fear not for your soul,
that salt will line your skin--
you can't just go, and not go in,
whether you can or can't swim.
They all say so, recalling how
that spirit rainbow arched above
the palm trees seemed to indicate, here
even dead souls still can be reborn.
Honey, and milk-bottle cocktails,
vinegar, sour in old sore wounds--
weeping of enemies in unison, each
name a mine, and naming the minefield.
The earth here aches with rival crying,
each handful heavy with other claims
which, to hold this holy land, call it "ours"
and all names meaning ours, not "theirs".
Land that is Canaan,
so rich in demand that
The author thanks The Helicon Foundation
and Literature Across Frontiers.