III. The Uncertainties of Residing Here
AMONG THE RED GOLDEN HILLS
1) Among the Red Golden Hills
A world I step away from
coming to this hill—the rocks underfoot
rise to the size of boulders moving the landscape
back to where it ascends the sky.
Near to the sounds on this raw, rocky hill—
where no one before has dwelt, a cluster
of dwellings, all flat-roofed, stand scorched
by day in the sun, cooled by night.
Amidst the coarse dried brush, rock-gardens,
newly tended olive, fig, and almond
trees, grow before the eyes of children
running with friends by the gravel road.
Steady with words, composed to decide this hill
will be their home, its young couples
welcome happily, visitors for a stay.
Everyone knows the costs, the uncertainties of residing here.
Across the valley, the inhabitants are neighbors
driving past. In the local super, their eyes
avert, their faces express a dark, inhospitable
look. Well before sunrise in the stillness of night,
while their children shift in their beds, a voice
pierces the hour, a high-pitched wailing
over a speaker, calling their men to prayer.
Back across the valley— the few close miles
apart, the muezzin startles the hilltop visitors
out of sleep, unused to such disturbing
of the peace at the onset of each dawn.
On this hill where we step, by early daylight,
the children stir waking up
singing Modeh ani lefonekha . .
2) Improv in a Box
Any cardboard scrap
will do making one dimension
into more than two
Unpacked on a table
a box of four-cups
(for coffee or tea)
a see-through top
in the eyes of Gitty
(nearly six and a half)
changes in an instant
to a stage, a theater
for puppets cut out
from paper she loves
to color to fashion
a play for her younger
brothers seating them all
in a row to entertain
in flashlight dark
3) Happy for the Errand
Nachi not four
goes proudly stepping
raw egg in the palm
of each hand to return
across the hill’s
a bumpy walk
to the neighbor’s door
who doesn’t answer
lets himself in
to wander the rooms
(where can she be)
happy to leave
the eggs on the bed
beside her napping
to take the eggs from him
4) They call him Melech
(like a king) for a name
challenging the tongue
how his siblings
three and a half
giggles at his fingers
fiddling to close
the buttons on his shirt—
oh that smile
that says I know—
to start at the bottom
button to the top
also washing up
hurrying to the sink
climbs on the tub
ready to show
any new thing
he’s glad to help
himself shoes on
with Nachi Gitty too
down the rough
stepping not to trip
on the high steps
bus off to school
5) Construction in a Tiny Corner
Not a statistic
one might read
in a Guinness Book
even so it’s a wonder
how it shows
Srulik at two
settles with comfort
tight for his bulk
in a corner a chair
at the back bookshelves
in front a ledge
that’s clear enough
to lay blocks on squatting
carefully picking out
each one to set down
exactly as his eye
demands the building
stand humming as he goes
saying words to himself
a hand to topple
happily from the top
to start over again
no one’s counting
the number of times
only the length
he takes a Guinness
two hours no interruption
6) To Say how to Say ‘Adah’
Here’s a look
that could send a thousand
sails across the sea
of any heart the way
the seeking gaze
in Benzion’s face
(nine months in the world)
holds onto the way you are looking
at him holding a word
on his tongue ‘adah’
then hearing it back
a new look jumps out
with bright baby laughter
fingers as if plucking
a harp made of air
to say ‘how do
you know how to say
so adah’ too
7) Laughing with Srulik
Among the hundred some of children
on this hill of flat-roofed houses
here toddles another dear child.
Gazing on the older ones leaving for school
Srulik watches content with the company
of his baby brother on a rug. Over nothing,
one brings the other to the laughter
of a heart-belly laugh. They don’t know
the drama unfolding around them beyond
this ground their home—the red golden
hills stretching to Jerusalem. They don’t know
that yet some judge may order
without certain cause to destroy
their happy place. They don’t yet know
how much history, recent to its past,
counts to have brought them to dwell on this hill.
Yet the mothers, the fathers know the gains
of raising their children free to run,
to play over this rocky ground, growing
to find their place, to hold onto their joy
all through these uncertain rooting days.
The slow sounds of a summer fast
Water trickling into a neighbour’s makeshift swimming pool.
A neighbour’s trampoline springs squeaking in sync with a jumping child’s noisy wheezing.
Her summons piecing the air, directing her toddler to return home from the park.
Toddler’s raucous protests.
The swoosh of a distant car.
Washing flapping faintly in the gentle, summer breeze.
Footfalls muted by dust as fasting men walk wearily to Mincha.
Foliage rustling as birds forage for their supper.
Cutlery clanking against porcelain plates, in preparation for the evening “break-fast” meal.
Her calls growing more insistent.
Toddler’s objections escalate.
Crickets chirping incessantly.
The muted flutter of a hummingbird’s wings.
The whir of an air conditioning motor.
A bicycle stand’s rusty grinding.
A child’s toy push-along toy rumbling up the unpaved Eshkol.
Her pleas of love intensifying.
Toddler’s cries diminish
Into soft whimpers of submission.
Whimpers for Klal Yisrael,
For their long, obstinate battle against
Shhhhhhhh. Shhhhhhhh. Shhhhhhhh
Ah. The soft silence resonates with reassurance, forgiveness, embrace.
My daughter’s getting married
another just had twins
my son’s serving in Hebron
and a terrorist killed my teacher’s son
My youngest has a birthday
and is doing well in school
the price of living is outrageous
and war is raging in Iraq
See these giant olives
and the sweetest pomegranates
missiles fly across from Gaza
and calls of annihilation from Iran
See the desert flowering
and the bounty the earth gifts us
we’re in our home, our family’s close
one day we’ll live in peace
IN MEMORIAM MICHAEL MARK HY”D
TO CARVE IN BLACK ONLY THE WHITE
I am trying to carve, to write in black
only the white
for over the years
only a few words passed between us
over the years
the steady column of light
that shone from between your eyes
I recognized in general
and now in one and one
one and seven
standing in tears before the black hollow that is left
all the glances that passed between us in a blocked light
come back, living and open, like new, to the heart
the steady quiet light in you rises, inscribes itself, opens within me
and the path to it is given
just to close my eyes and think: Miki
from the Hebrew: E. Cameron
in memory of my father
reach toward me those days
too lazy to be killed
let the hug be as long
teddy-bears in suitcases
come back from the journey
on which I am setting out
gaze toward me that radiance
that oftentimes disappeared
between me and you.
—Shira Mark Harif
A white angel in a black coat
knocked on my door.
He looked at me gently, but his eyes were covered.
He took a flower from my garden and went away.
And whispered praise (Hallel) and song and forgiveness to me
But I did not hear the praise (Hallel)
And I did not hear the song
And I did not hear the forgiveness
I only saw the flowerbed in my garden
with the black hole gaping
—Maayan Ora Batt
from the Hebrew: E. Cameron
You built a house of study and of prayer
That seems about to rise into the air
Over the Hebron mountains on white wings.
Surely you learned a skill from Metatron
Whose secrets you had meditated on
To make the outward show the inward things.
Mystic, businessman—earth-to-heaven stair!
Snatched from us by a judgment so severe
It lent a murderous hand some dastard skill.
Now angel-tall, with shining sword in hand
Stand guard above this house, above this land,
That shine even for those who wish us ill.
And if from your high vantage you behold
What more we are expected here to build,
Devise some means to send the blueprints down
(Your smile would tunnel then through the black hole,
Restoring light Creation’s haters stole),
And reconnect the Kingdom and the Crown!
As our children are crushed
Beneath bloody wheels
And our paintings turn to ash
By similar hand
I listen for sirens
And the muezzin’s call to kill
For what do they pray?
To fill a quota for Death?
To empty the Earth of beauty
And re-fill with boundless rot
—Mindy Aber Barad
“A Psalm of Asaph. O God, [hostile] nations have entered Your land, they have defiled Your holy Temple, they have made Jerusalem piles of ruins.” (Psalm 79:1)
“Death to the Jews,” the enemy armies roar,
Ready to strip the wood from Israel’s tree,
Ready to battle waves of Israel’s sea,
Ready to fight the sand on Israel’s shore.
“Death to the Jews,” our enemy’s fathers swore,
Unwilling to hear Israel’s melody,
Unwilling to read Israel’s library,
Unwilling to find gold in Israel’s ore.
But even now, far different words are heard
In many languages and tongues; they sing
A song in a still small voice that does not cease:
“Blessed be Israel; blessed be the Word
Of God from Zion; blessed be their King,
Our King, Who blesses us, and them, with peace.”