Indian Hospice*

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

Mamilla Cemetery

The nymph of the wept for fountain…

Rilke

I.

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?

II

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

Resolute even.

III.

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

Each night

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.

IV.

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.

V.

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

Keywords: Jerusalem

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