Yesterday it rained so hard
Lemons spilt from the lemon tree
And rolled all over cobble stones in my Jerusalem courtyard.
I thought of Baba Farid
Who came on a pilgrimage centuries ago.
In a hole cut from rock by the room where I sleep
He stood for forty days and nights
Without food or drink. Nothing for him was strange
In the way his body slipped into a hole in the ground
And nothing was not.
Rust in the stones and blood at the rim of his tongue.
In the humming dark
He heard bird beaks stitching webs of dew
Sharp hiss of breath let out from a throat,
Whose throat he did not know.
Was it his mother crying out O Farid, where are you now?
She had done that when he swung
Up and down, knees in a mango tree,
Head in the mouth of a well
Singing praises to God.
Crawling out of his hole there were welts on his cheeks
Underfoot in bedrock – visionary recalcitrance.
A lemon tree shook in a high wind.
Under it, glistening in its own musk, the black iris of Abu Dis.
Wild with the scents of iris and lemon he sang – O Farid
This world is a muddy garden
Stone, fruit and flesh all flaming with love.
*Published in Postcolonial Text
The nymph of the wept for fountain…
She waits for me under a green almond tree
Right in the middle of the cemetery
In front of a broken stone marking a man’s death.
Glyphs dissolve – her voice clarifies:
Why are you here in Ma’man Allah Cemetery?
You should have stayed in the market place in Nablus
With mounds of sweet konafa
Gleaming vessels filled with tea,
Or stopped with the children playing ball
And flying kites of bristling paper
Right by the separation wall –
Barelegged children, wind in their hair.
You could have sat in Bethlehem
With women sewing bits of cloth
Threads iridescent, like sunbirds’ wings.
Why come to this nest of lamentations?
I come I said for love alone
(Though I barely know what this might mean )
And because I heard you calling me.
Black hair blown back over her face
Hair stung with flecks of golden chamomile
I watched her gaze at me.
Her eyes bloodshot, soot under her lids
And all about on dusty ground
Dropped from the almond tree, half-moons of green
Torn and pecked by passing crows.
Her voice surprised me though, low
What is it you want to know?
She rose, swirling her skirts:
Stuck to the gleaming silk
Hundreds of shards
They looked like crawling silkworms
Maggots even, sucked from earth.
Don’t be scared, come closer now:
After the bulldozers,
After the men with cardboard boxes
I kneel in wet grass
In between the torn gravestones
And the ones defaced with paint
I gather what I can.
She held up her wrists, bruised,
Dark as a sparrow’s wing.
I have work to do
I wash my hands in moonlight
Then gather up these precious bones.
Bit by bit I polish them
Using my hands and hair
Using smooth stones.
I breathe on these ancestral bones
Until they glow – miraculous metamorphosis –
Winged things, they soar into a wheel of stars
High above Jerusalem.
Yes, I admit my life is odd,
I sleep in that tree,
The one with black flowers
It blooms by the gate you came through,
Easiest that way,
No rent to pay, no landlord to trouble me.
Don’t you agree?
Then something took hold of her.
The creak perhaps of a lorry at the gate
Or was it the mewl of a cat from the parking lot
Paved over the unquiet dead?
She wiped her face with the back of her hand
Settled her skirts
– O incandescent burden –
One hand gripping a green branch
She leant against the almond tree.
Her words were notes struck on a painted oudh
An abyss broke between us:
When you stand in monsoon rain
Remember me –
The child of Lamentation
And sister of Memory,
Youngest of the muses,
The one who whistles in the wind at dawn,
Who kneels by the clogged stream
To open the fountain of joy:
I am a creature of water and salt,
Of bitter herbs and honey –
A torn sail on the river Jordan
I long to be free.
Note: In April 2011, I visited Mamilla Cemetery. This ancient place of Muslim burial is being torn apart by the Israeli authorities in order to build a Museum of Tolerance.
– April 16, 2011 Nablus – December26, 2011, Tiruvella –
Meena Alexander was poet in residence at Al Quds University, Jerusalem. www.meenaalexander.com