II Life's Housing
—Lois Greene Stone
Because the hands of the construction workers
Are still patting the bricks like puppies,
Because of the scaffold's hug round the shoulders of the house,
Because love's key is always stuck in the door,
Because even a leaning wall does not forget
The cement's wet-lipped kiss.
The temple's lintels, pillars
and frieze honour capricious gods
who meddle in affairs of men,
muddle minds with tales
of inexplicable fate.
The cathedral's cloister, apse
and soaring nave ring with chant
to glorify one of all possible gods
who rules with dead texts:
the font of immutable truth.
The palace's crenellated keep
secures the ruler's authority –
decreed by divine right –
while conscripted arms
sustain imperial might.
The office tower's glass prism
refracts the money-god's wealth –
counted in bits and bytes –
that lies beyond the horizon
of those enslaved by debt.
Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern
A concrete chamber, shaped in beige and grey,
As vast as ancient catacombs, and filled
With shallow water, in Houston displays
A workers’ guild of tall, slender columns
(All two hundred twenty-one made with skill),
Supporting ceiling, floor, water-column.
This concrete chamber called a “cistern“ is,
In truth, a reservoir dried by disuse,
Where looking-glass-water shows an abyss
That doubles the view for each observer.
Like a taiga-lake with upside-down spruce,
Here columns float on columns forever.
Seldom, by accidental design, mirrors
Do reflect stones reflected in mirrors.
—Bryan Damien Nichols
Connecticut stonewalls define the landscape,
Squares, rectangles, irregular shapes.
Its settlers cleared the land for growing
by building stonewalls with castaway rock.
Convex on concave became works of art.
Walking on walls later became
one of the children’s favorite pastimes.
“I’ll never fall,“ I hear myself crowing.
The higher the wall the greater the danger
I, the invincible tightrope walker.
The building we should occupy
is one that’s grounded in the rest
of us. Its roof’s a lucid eye
where pending storms can manifest
themselves. And there’s a reading room
according one fresh food for thought
to supplement what we consume
inside the kitchen that we brought
from home. For still we need to eat
in friendly lunchrooms where we work
off seething tensions in a suite
more constant than the passing perk
we get from those outside the job.
If Handel’s water music can’t
afford us tuneful means to swab
our cellar clean, Elektra’s rant
from Strauss’ opera will suffice.
For heating there are books galore
whose literary edelweiss
will complement the leaves we pore
through as we sweetly fall asleep
with high rise stories in our keep.
“A Song of Ascents. Of Solomon. If the Lord does not build a house, its builders have labored in vain…“ (Psalms 127:1)
Be careful if you build a house from sand;
You mustn't make believe it's made of stone
Or bricks or even wood, for sand alone,
Without cement or steel, cannot withstand
The slightest breeze, but starts to crumble and
Collapse before you have the chance to moan
Or mourn the home that you erected, blown
Away by wind. Yet on the other hand,
God lives and gives you hope, for He collects
Your scattered grains of sand, no matter where
They fall, and melts them into glass. You stare
As God then builds a palace which reflects
The burning bush's light, until you swear,
“The Lord is my builder, I shall not fear.“
A HUMAN BEING IS BUILT IN LAYERS LIKE A MOUNTAIN
A human being is built in layers like a mountain
stripes and stripes and stripes
layer on layer on layer
Pride, cracked from above,
wears down with the years
a heap of stones
soft sadness underneath
soft sadness and warmth
and fear beneath that
the earth moves
and from below are cast up
anger sadness pain
fear and joy
in a mad jumble
and our fragile bodies
and just then
pity and mercy
He Built a Wall (rondeau redoublé)
He built around himself a wall –
it stopped ideas from stealing in;
he built it strong, he built it tall,
no foreign thoughts could sneak within.
Because free-thinking is a sin
and sin’s an evil to forestall
before it ever can begin
he built around himself a wall.
His fortress held him then in thrall:
it silenced innovation’s din
but its long shadow cast a pall,
it stopped ideas from stealing in.
He used denial to underpin
foundations that would never fall
for every fight denial will win;
he built it strong, he built it tall
but no perceptions came to call –
it was a fortress, not an inn!
No insights visited his hall,
no foreign thoughts could sneak within
And all his life he lived therein:
secure from controversy’s brawl
he never knew what might have been,
his sole achievement, all in all:
he built a wall.
THE MAN OF THE FOREST SPEAKS
(based on the story "The Exchanged Children" by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov)
I add from the holy to the secular with loaded
saltcellars that I brought from a settled place
I use them to anoint forest trees for heating
I permit myself to throw
books into the fiery furnace
so that we shall warm up and not freeze
They look at me not understanding how
words become incense in the burning of the letters
how heat turns into language in which to speak day-
to-day needs as they sit helpless on the floormats ,
I break cinnamon sticks into the fire
to make a pleasant smell for them
Why they come back I don't know.
I built my house in the air
so they would stumble on the way here and still
they knock with mouths full of pleading:
black souls seeking quiet
the unicorn seeking sanctuary from the lion
beautiful girls seeking healing spells
to relieve the pain that comes after the Sabbath
Both princes and peasants wander here
I have seen sons of handmaids pursued by animals
Only the doe my eyes yearn for
never comes to my house.
birth and death,
a place for his house
of its interior
hammer in the other
I made my porch like the inside of a house.
Outside the windows were checkered curtains
tied back with ribbons,
On the entrance door, a colorful picture,
and a tea set on the waterproofed table
and a twinkling mobile
and fresh flowers.
Like a sock pulled inside out
the lengthening house put out its interior,
and I, who am forbidden to leave the house,
have more room to walk around indoors.
Reason tells me this house is no more blessed now
than it was hours before you, dear friend, nailed the
a scroll encoded with perfect holy script tucked inside,
at a sacred slant to the right hand side of the door post,
spoke the sanctifying Hebrew prayer then
hedging bets or mixing admonitions, stood in my kitchen and
a sprig of dry sage, waved it over the stove,
the chairs, tables, the TV, carried the smoking bindle
from room to room, blessed the king-sized bed
with its indented side, its empty side, in this dwelling set
by the sea which to me, landlocked as a beetle all my life,
is blessing enough, while I, following behind,
inhaled the light that blended with the scent spreading
into corners and when you raised and rang a small
hand-crafted bell, I also breathed that calling sound
and stepped into the limpid air steeped in peace,
more blessed now that the clothes were hung,
the dishes shown evenly stacked through the glass doors
like stars through a scrim of polished sky,
fresh flowers rising like sentinels from earthen vases,
the ocean outside gleaming like wet stone.
We invoke the Kabbalists who knew there is doubt in
and reason gets blown in solitude. Human intention
brings reason to God’s intention. I plant lobelia to purple my
I bless our friendship; it is as particular as the words I’ve
After you leave, a neighbor comes to my door,
tells me a woman died in this house; was I aware of a
I say no, because I may need to borrow a heel of bread.
But there are many presences, each a shimmer, a thumbprint
left by a friend who came bearing the gift of self,
who gazed with me toward the restless sea and the red
Now I live here as truly as the spiders and the whales
and the practical floors.
The poet pieced
this hold together
rock by rock
on land overlooking
the Carmel loop road.
A lone outcrop
for a lone man,
fond of the trees
Today, I needed
two passes by
to spot the house,
separated by black-top
from the sea.
side, by rico
The coast cypresses,
poet’s pride, gone,
as Jeffers is,
it didn’t take
The things we love
meet their ends
at our hands.
Who's to say it is not just rock, water, sand, minerals of differing colors, glass
which is sand
some sunlight, accompaniment
of noises not chosen, but given, quietude of worms. Liquid carries a tune:
melody of blood.
Refrain of bile, string
work of mucus. Trees in the park sway and shed few leaves in ablution. Wood,
and servile waits in stacks
of sullenness, raped, used, hammered, sawed, wanting to become. Houses
built to be rebuilt.
you built your house
that were thoroughly perishable
so that after you nothing would remain
not the slightest
none at all
Cypresses that were already dead
(that were not killed for you)
were sliced into boards
Old Persian rugs
on the roof
right out of the Japanese book
so that we may learn too,
how to cultivate in the way of the Tao:
not to sweat
just to facilitate
translated by the author and EC
My house is a tree house
My cypress enfolds the house
My cypress stretches out its arms to the other cypress that leans toward it across the balcony
And the house says to me
The tree says to me
Like a bird that sings and builds you no longer craze yourself with alarms
You have seen a straight line from behind to far off
Now you are turning my branches
fingering my acorns
anointing them with lacquer
hanging them in your ears
lovingly rolling the curls of bark I let fall for you
And because of this the house also enfolds the tree
and the house and I are enfolded by all of the tree
These days, I am house-enfolded.
With my Aching Hands I never
Built a House
But I held my babies tight on my lap,
ran my fingers though their hair,
wove them stories and wrote them poems
and sang them to sleep and built them a home.
*The word ben (son) has two of the letters of the root BNH (build).
With budding hands and soaring vision,
my young son places an oversized block
atop a delicate tower.
The wooden square wobbles for a moment on its uncertain footing . . .
precarious, like his toddling gait . . .
The structure holds!
My son claps his hands in delight. I smile and hug him,
his eyes sparkling back at me.
All day long,
we add fresh bricks to the foundation
of our love.
—Cynthia Weber Nankee
Building our house
We've built a house that's made to last
into the future, from the past.
It started when I married Mo
well over sixty years ago.
Our first-born laid the firm foundation
for the second generation,
younger brother followed fast
with little sister coming last.
They formed a well cemented base,
grew tall and sturdy in this place,
they married, soon increased the fold
as Mo and I watched, growing old.
We've built this house, each had a part
in its construction, from the heart;
with twelve great-grandkids in our throng
our house today stands large and strong.
THE MARRIAGE WALL
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother, and cleave unto his wife, to become one flesh.“ (Genesis 2:24)
You can't deny the fact I tried to build
A marriage that would last, a marriage built
Of stones I hewed myself, a marriage gilt
With gold as well. But I was too unskilled
In masonry; when cracks appeared, I filled
The cracks as best I could with mud and silt,
With ashes, dust and spit, with weeds that wilt
In summer's heat, with butterflies I killed.
You too believed our marriage was a wall
Of massive marble blocs; we built it well,
We thought, as sturdy as great ancient walls
That last six thousand years. It cannot fall,
We loved to tell each other—till it fell,
The way a tower made of cardboard falls.
In the house that will be ours
There will be almost no furniture
Just a table
A bed and a lamp.
And I see the house that will be ours
At the edge of the desert of silent birds
Very far away
—Ruth Gilead tr. EC
“The essence of a person is to serve their Creator, as if they were a Temple, as it is written, “You shall build me a Tabernacle, and I will dwell within it“ (Pele Yoetz Good Conduct)
The Museum of Tolerance
From where I stand, six floors beneath the clouds,
suspended between the monuments of our history, the Old City walls
the King David, our museums, the church and Muslim spires
are all tucked inside our sprawling cityscape.
From its humble beginning, just simple stakes in the ground,
I am watching a giant building grow, blocks of stone, clay,
and slabs of glass, walls and frames, delivered by trucks
and lowered by our ubiquitous cranes, bit by bit, secured and calculated
to be a perfect fit by Israel’s engineers and architects.
Today, I saw a crew, on its plateau, tiny stick figures
scuttling back and forth creating the infrastructure
for the mixed media technologies, which together with exhibits,
impressive displays, tours by uniformed docents will lure groups
from afar, revealing our noble intentions and enviable mastery.
This bold and monumental enterprise,
this grand edifice, our city’s newest pride and joy,
will have sufficient walls to proclaim the largesse in fine plaques
of those donors who made all this possible.
Speeches by dignitaries, from here and abroad, received
with much applause, will laud the lofty, seldom realized
dream of tolerance, in this worthy twin for Yad Vashem, our esteemed,
much revered museum of intolerance, from which they have been shuttled
back and forth in a fleet of limousines accompanied by sirens in the streets.
And yet, barely seventy years past the hatred intended to destroy us,
where the blood-soaked ground of the camps and killing fields is forever stained,
we have heard the news: that beast has in its cradle been reborn
in those same countries sending emissaries to this edifice
who will shower us with compliments, be dined by our world class chefs
and sleep in our best hotels. We are grateful they have deigned to visit us,
saluting tolerance and voicing solemn resolutions, before returning to the countries,
that deny and denounce us in international courts and assemblies.
From my window, I regret you have taken away a great chunk of my sky,
so I feel justified to suggest the space could have been a park, with swings
and benches, where our Muslim neighbors whose envy and resentment, this museum,
rising on the graves of their cemetery, has increased their ire, might sit beside us
exchanging small acts of kindness, and discovering our mutual humanity.
An earthquake can easily reduce this edifice to rubble,
but sitting on a bench someday I might meet someone
and exchange a simple conversation and smiles
and we, who were enemies, might become friends,
and even have an occasion in some yet inexplicable course of events,
to save each other’s lives, an earth shattering event, waiting to unravel,
but not so fragile, and subject to nature’s whim,
as this monument to wishful thinking in concrete.
From on High
“This is a building which should not be built,“
said the Lord, seeing brick after brick shaped
from the clay of fear, burnished with the glaze
of arrogance. A tower rising higher
in an attempt to escape the earth,
to escape those still earthbound,
whose words rise but are unheard
by those gazing down, hurling words
to those below. “Go, swarm elsewhere.“
“This is a building which should not be built,“
said the Lord, causing a scattering of bricks,
the end of the tower. Builders returned
to the earth. The Lord’s words:
“Resume your journeys. Replenish the earth.
Do justly. Love goodness. Walk humbly
with one another. Walk humbly with your G-d.“
DESIGNING A CITY
First the landscape: bull rushes, cattails and dozens of water lilies
which require water so I'll put in a lake with lagoons, an island
overgrown with scrub, green and yellow tangles reaching.
Mist scrims over lazy schools of minnows in my lake,
an early morning osprey swoops into breakfast
ignored by a pair of beavers : chop, cut design, build.
Beyond the lake the land turns into hills, high as blue.
Oak, popular, maple at the foothills, give way to loblolly pine,
sap grown stiff. Green turns gray peaks white.
Jays, finches, orioles, sprinkle blue, yellow, red accents in the sky.
I hear low toned hoots and howls, a slither of snake breaks the silence.
Bayberry and honeysuckle intoxicate every living thing.
I'm enamored with my city, not a city. No road kill, traffic,
sirens, garbage stench , gasoline fumes; no beer cans, smokestacks,
cracked cement, bulldozers, cigarettes butts stain the scene so
I decide to put all that in a another place called inferno
and leave my little Eden untouched but afraid.
Early that morning
I was told I see in circles,
not rectangles, “We’ve different views.“
I don’t know why he said that.
I was photographing Route 1 office expansion.
A construction foreman 6’1“ told me this
and I’m 5’8“
I suspect our heights
had nothing to do with it
or my clean upper lip,
his trimmed mustache.
The photographs were good
the buildings were plumb
he was right.
I’ll credit buildings
they hit me as marvels
out of touch with cosmic globes
“Problems,“ his helper said,
so he went.
I was awed by that nimble workman’s climbs
on squared structural steel,
his familiarity with angles