Indiana? It all sounds decidedly Veni, vidi, vici. Separate the n from the D. More mythic, more appropriate. Clandestine and celestial. Just a suggestion. You’re the poet. I’m prepared to offer a short term solution. I’m being sent to the Holy Land (see glossy side of card) to resurrect the life of Christ. It’s ages since our adventures last year in Byzantium. I’ll arrange particulars, Skoog
Hysterical sopranos largely mother
frenetic, sloe-eyed, foal-eyed Samaritans;
a Via Dolorosa of cold
noses and dirty toes. A sheep has been severed
in a shed, running
red. Rose and periwinkle
wedding dresses sway their virginity above
me, wide eyed as corbels.
Where the hell is Skoog?
Here is blood pushing at dust and dust resisting as in
the first days of the first chapter. Our Father who art in this if anything, I am thousands of generations later, blood insisting within its vessel of dust.
Trumpet forth coarse beards if you must, but listen to these ancestors of our ancestors who never spin or sew. They are listed explicitly in a previous Genesis, descendants of dust and water and one of you but not a Jew, one of them but not Moslem, translucent in sunlight but not Christian. Here, they have witnessed an epiphany, the blind unbound and the blind offering sanctified blood [dam] to dust and the earth [adamah] made red [adumah] as a pin cushion.
Within an arch of fire and teal, a shaved mendicant stabs at my food. He is sick. I eat because I have paid for the meal, and I imagine myself with his illness. I wish that he had already died.
A green-eyed boy reveals red teeth, chipped as cheap trinkets. He wants more red soda. “I ask only five American dollars for any of these. You choose--” His teeth and gums are one color.
History is written in his febrile eyes and roan hair. Fourteen generations before and fourteen generations before that, a woman was impregnated by a shining man, stinking of leather and rust, grunting as a cold angel.
The boy is impatient. I become more patient. Why not-- My shoes have already been soiled with the blood of his father’s sheep and my meal has been spoiled.
I give him a dollar. He pushes it to my chest. “You could not ride on a bus in America with this.”
I push the dollar back.
He throws it at me. I drop the torqued bracelet onto his tea tray. It clatters without conviction. It has been handled before.
I place the dollar among his trinkets. He spits.
I follow him. This is, after all, the Holy City.
Smirking, smoking beneath the second station of the cross, his brother knows me.
“One dollar. Very clever. Perhaps, you are a Jew. No? You are Arabic, I think.”
“OK, OK, Moroccan.” They laugh.
I laugh, revenant that I am.
Skoog and our new companions are more interested in Bethany than bracelets. Still, I bring them to the shop the following morning. In the chill of confusion beneath glass, I am offered the assurance that there will be no haggling.
Dieter toes the earthen floor with an impatience bred of impatience and racial superiority to dust and all things born of dust.
I choose a serpentine bracelet which fastens into a kiss, ringing Mylese’s wrist with its verdigris. A decade before in a Mediterranean village, I offered its twin to a woman I could have followed back to Aix-en-Provence (and may yet in a fictionalized account of my travels I am writing).
“Where is this from?” she murmurs.
Heat and light break upon the window with the vengeance of Allah.
Mylese says, “It is very old.” Her fingers understand its value and function, but she and Dieter have decided that she is not allowing herself trinkets this holiday. They lift matching leather bags.
I return to the display case, crowded with old things and living things weaving webs. Mahmed and I separate remains of the dead.
“That? Twenty dollars. Twenty dollars is too much?”
“No. Not if you say that is what it’s worth.”
“I didn’t say that. I said, ‘Twenty dollars.’ I said nothing about what it’s worth. What is it worth to you?”
I do not want my friends to surprise me in negotiations. “I’ll stop back later.”
“Later. Later it could be gone.”
“Later we could all be gone.”
He smiles the smile of his little brother and father’s father. “OK. Just take it. No, take it. It’s yours.” I fasten it about my left wrist. The serpents strain to kiss. “It is for a woman’s arm.”
“She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss, for ever wilt thou love, and she be fair--”
“I’ll be back.”
“Where are you going? We made tea for you. For your friends, too. Tell them.”
“They’re not interested in tea. They’re waiting for me. And I don’t want to do this right now. I told you, just give me a price and I’ll pay it. No bargaining.”
“OK, I did this. Twenty dollars. ”
“Now, I can say, No, thank you. I don’t want this.“
“But you do. I can see it in your eyes when you look at it. So, because I am your brother, for you I make it eighteen dollars. No, sixteen. Sixteen.”
Skoog and the Austrians, impatient as apostles, obstruct Lions’ Gate. A man, who has never shaved, wheels a cart of sesame encrusted bagels too close to Dieter. Dieter recoils. I purchase one for each of us. The vendor twists spices into Arabic newsprint.
“I like doughnuts,” Dieter confesses, examining it too closely.
Mahmed has followed from his shop. “Did you show them? Come back. Tomorrow. Bring your friends. You are all welcome.” He embraces me again. No one is particularly impressed.
We descend through a silence of scrub and stumble up the belly of an earlier temple.
“When the Messiah returns, he will emerge from the same gate.”
I turn as Lot’s wife. “I thought it was to be Golden Gate.”
“So did the Saracen when they sealed it. What did you pay?” Skoog navigates, calculates by the sun.
“Pure profit. And you missed The Church of Our Lady
of the Spasm.”
“An Armenian treasure. Dieter had to see it.”
“Between Via Dolorosa and El Wad. Close to St. Stephen’s Gate.” Dust billows up.
I am stung by a bee in the village of Bethany. Beneath a skirt of leaves Mylese places my finger in her mouth. The swelling bores Dieter. He reads aloud, Now, when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head, as he sat at the table. But when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, ‘Why this waste?’
Anxious for tombs and ruins, Skoog negotiates with a man bent over a boy emerging nose first to unlock a dead bolt and illumine a naked bulb.
I enter the humid earth stupidly. I know this taste. It is the last and first, and the familial chill lures me to the place Martha and Mary’s brother was interred as a seed.
Of course, womb rhymes with tomb, and though the two words may be the shortest, most profound rhyming poem, I decide not to mention this to Skoog. He’d undoubtedly considerate it sophomoric, even if the Austrians might be impressed.
Dieter’s Bible exhales. Its breath is old as onions, cold as shoes.
“Is there enough light?” Mylese asks.
He is turning leaves, gold leafed, thin as days.
Translucent and plum-lipped, backlit, Mylese is projected to the shadows of my sanctum. Why here in the tomb of Lazarus?
Did you count the steps?
She offers her breasts in the cradle of her arms. She wants my eyes upon her eyes, their pale November, the vulnerability of twin gray creatures, the depths of a sea folding in upon itself, the sanctuary of her hair, its silk magnetized to my lip. Her fingertip traces a red cross stitched onto my tunic.
Rosary beads nestle upon her palm, not burning or burgundy as those dripping from my grandfather's translucent fingers the last time I saw him, but pearly as a virgin's first discovery. Each precious droplet of white and a cross tarnished as a conjurer's key, her voice thrills to my cheek, Shall I show you how to use these?--
They fall from her quivering.
My teeth wait whitely in utter darkness. An angel or marble angel, a Hermes, a pillar of salt, something white and substantial pressing against dust, Skoog. “I’m here.”
My hand is asleep, dead puppet. Look, I lift it with the other until the blood begins again and it feels. Mary, Mary, my feet feel the damp. He whom you love awaits the lost half of himself.
“No, it was you. You drove the Austrians away.” We recline beneath new leaves upon the same earth. “He was repeating a particular passage, and you fell asleep.”
July enters April everywhere. Their first born will dominate the sky and every chronology. Emerald is their urgency, the urgency of every union, a crown for a drifting poet who would bear a king, a circumference of jewels too numerous and ephemeral for collection or valuation. Why bother? Drift through, bless and be blessed.
“The light went out and there was suddenly silence, a Biblical silence, silence dripping silence, as in the first days--”
“Or the last.”
“Or the last. The only sound was your hibernation. I offered Dieter a torch, but he was dissatisfied. He entirely missed what he had come to find. Typical. Too prosaic. Too bad. He struck his head when he stood. It didn’t appear to have helped.”
“I dreamt of a woman in the tomb--”
“Ask if that surprises me. Nukhet?”
I close my eyes and focus my kingdom, a vernal luminosity violated by vermillion. There is no further retreat. Her legs tremble.
“Her mother had just returned from a pilgrimage to Lourdes with rosary beads. How could it have been Nukhet?”
“Do you remember the day her husband came looking for her--to our room? Where the hell were you hiding her?”
Skoog, there is an archeology greater than the sum of your fragments. Every story of a woman, her terrain, the trains of memory which bind her, the quiver and the hollow, the myths attending and the green chapel.
Tell her she had once reclined upon this marble bench; illuminate each page of her as Romans, as Phoenicians had, the breviary of her heart, her ringlets, vowels and anklets, portal and cupolas, the bell towers of her knees and altar of her hips, her eyes, her lips parting, the four directions of her crossing cushions of silk, the silk of her left and the silk of her right triumvirated by banners of random light and water light until only a stain of ochre remains.
“She hid herself.”
I reach for an errant root as I had once for her foot. Each knot intercepts streams of blood and sap as love does, as
we had. This is the way we are born and born repeatedly.
A stranger sketches Skoog sketching postures and orifices of a twining tree.
Each limb could be impregnated.
Unbuttoning, the stranger writes Apollo and Daphne at the top of his page. He shows it to me. I smile; he does not. I am distended in his sunglasses, a random temple of green faces.
Our new companion is interested in the antics of Jehovah and Odin. “My father was a Nazi, my mother, a Jewess, delivered from a sea of blood to an apartment in Haifa.”
“A Red Sea.” Mylese reappears wearing an intellectual’s narrow eyeglasses. “Clever. How is your finger?”
I offer it to her as a metaphysical curiosity.
Pieter continues with a story of a little boy hidden in a dog house, growing up with a puppy and learning that language before his own.
Every other word must satisfy me.
How can the sky appear so clean, so ultramarine and leafing green after all it has witnessed?
Pieter frowns delightedly. “You see-- I told you [me, Skoog]. It is always a contest between deities.” His fingers begin an immediate, bony retreat.
Dieter calibrates a silver device.
On Ben Yehuda Street survivors stare at the delighted German speakers. Exhaling flamboyantly, Pieter raises a tear
of flame to the pink knuckles of his other hand, “I embody--” sizzles the cigarette-- “that theological struggle--”
Mylese smiles to each of us, her hair one dark wing.
Dieter disturbs it back into black strands.
“Sh,” she motions with the wand of her finger.
Pieter is telling the story again of learning the puppy’s language before his own.
“Give us a sample.” Classic Skoog.
Mylese suspects that she, too, may be part Jewish--“on Opa’s side. I adore their kind of music.”
“And she plays it rather convincingly. On piano.”
“Probably,” Pieter concedes. “Why not!”
“I’ve had enough of these wankers,” Skoog extends a leg.
Dieter’s leg responds. “May I talk with you.”
“You,” Skoog nods to me.
“We’re leaving for Capernaum.”
“This only takes a little moment.”
“Please.” Skoog crosses his ankles. “We have a little moment. Several.”
A mother, two tables away, massages a lemon into each glass until its virginity has offered everything to water.
Dieter produces a postcard. It is a representation of a primitive canvas.
Skoog examines the image with trained compassion. “Your grandfather?”
Mylese, born Mormon, lifts the card from my hands. Dieter, saved from a dissolute life by Mylese and her society
of Latter Day Saints, details the extraordinary exodus of a lost tribe of Israel deposited by a second great flood in upstate New York where they buried golden tablets of a new covenant to be discovered more than three thousand years later by Joseph Smith. He places the card back into my hands: “He is being informed by an angel as he sleeps.”
Informed by an angel as he sleeps.
“And where are these golden tablets now?”
“I suppose you’re asking as an archeologist?”
He pushes back at Mylese’s knee.
I divert him faithfully: “Allow me one question. If the answer is No, I convert to your faith.”
“Like an American Game show.” [British, astringent]
“Ha ha ha. Ha ha.” [Australian]
“If the answer is Yes, you desist from proselytizing.”
Mylese makes a little sound. She kisses the hair above my ear. “Goodbye.”
Dieter says, “Yes. All right.”
“At any time during a day, a week, a month, a season, a year, a lifetime--according to your faith--are women considered unclean?”
Mylese kisses two fingers for a cigarette. Pieter reaches forward.
Dieter dips toward his black book. “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Let what you say be simply Yes or No; anything more than this comes from evil, I remember and regret not having answered.
Striking the street with sandaled feet dry as match heads, I flutter forward to myself, I am thirty-three and I am free. I could go anywhere from here. The trees ascend, their ascent implicit, fluttering.
“We must visit Frenchie,” Skoog decides.
Wise. The humid dark and our continuing adventures are so much more delicious from within her tinted widows. Periodicals, glossy as lipstick, air conditioned to the touch, comfort and discomfort me.
I find Anabasis with a foreword by TS Eliot among the bilingual books.
Skoog persuades her to close early.
“Prenez le livre.”
“You’ve earned it,” he confirms. “Be ready to leave after breakfast.”
This blind moment, of no particular significance at the time, attends my return as an idol set into a high place; but, of course, there is only an increasing distance, for I have returned and stood before my full reflection in the dark glass shadowing the place where the book in my hands had been found.
Everyone and everything familiar is gone.
Beside a pool in Cana, a girl interprets petals of a lily. Once considered, each floats to the center of a flame of reflected light, its genesis.
I sit so as not to disturb an epiphany.
The seiche of leaves suggests that a lifetime is a turning and a turning. An unnatural summer clings to her unwashed hair. The dream in the tomb propels me.
“We may be the last guests at the wedding.”
“I doubt that.”
“What do you doubt?”
“All of it.”
“What are two thousand years in the mind of a god?”
“You’re seeking a miracle.”
“I’m not it.“
“No. I suppose I am. Is that the correct answer--”
“It wasn’t a wedding.”
“What do you mean?”
“5000 guests? Have you ever been to a wedding with 500 guests? What does that sound like to you? Water into wine, wine into blood-- If there was a sacrament, it was between a savior and a desperate people. Remember, all of this took place during an oppression by one of the most powerful, brutal empires in history--at least until now. Read it radically--”
“As the Bible was meant to be read.”
“As poetry. Skoog.”
“Delighted. Speaking of poetics, polemics and Romans, we’re off tomorrow for a mountain fortress at the Dead Sea. Interested?”
“Not with us.”
“I’ve just arrived here.”
“So have we.”
“What’s the hurry, then?”
“We’re on the lamb. A posse comitatus of Mormons is only a day behind. And they’re ardent.”
I wanted to address an apparent confusion between Cana and Capernaum, but the sky was changing.
We descended to the Galilee, kicking dust.
The student who booked us into the hospice without interest, without conversation, served our dinner on a stone patio overlooking the strand where Jesus had ministered to day laborers, mercenaries, thieves and prostitutes according to scriptures--and to his wife according to scriptures suppressed according to Sally.
Our camaraderie multiplied, and we hurried behind our shadows to the sea. The water deepened into an irrepressible womb, prophecies rushing our feet and disappearing as quickly. Skoog instinctively began to collect driftwood. Sally offered her blond body to the lapping.
The hostess brought Sabbath wine to our symposium, a chorus of flames dancing the great apricot death of the sun between us.
“My name is Shoshana.”
She wore a pinafore and no shoes, and struggled to run with our conversation. Sally and Skoog, English and increasingly inebriated, spoke rapidly. I compensated.
Soon, there were two couples in separate conversations, and the water rising.
“My name in English, someone here told me it is Lily.”
I imagined all the Sea of Galilee has witnessed and all that could have been, all the beauty that was and is
lost irrevocably, mirrored back in this dark Deuteronomy, unremitting, shimmering with the faint spark of marble, whispering to any artist who might release and embody it. Shoshana exhaled, each syllable colored as beads in the markets of Jaffa Gate.
“I don’t speak Hebrew.”
“Perhaps you’ll begin to learn.” Her smile was impish, suggestive. “We should swim. It is a fine evening.”
Her dress puddled about her, each toe nail red as the surprise inside. A fine evening. Remnants of the British Empire, I smiled following her in, my teeth uncertain but ready.
“Have you seen much of my country?” Her voice, amplified upon undulations, was too close. How could anyone have walked upon this water. It was difficult to tread.
“That’s the same.”
“That is Egypt now. Did you climb Mt. Sinai from the monastery?”
“It is very dramatic, Santa Katerina. I did this with my school. Did they wake you in the dark?”
“And they showed you the burning bush of Moshe?”
I nodded, I shivered.
“And you saw the sunrise from the teap?”
She arranged her hands.
“Is that what it’s called. Peak. Like peek-a-boo?”
“So you were there for the sunrise? It was a beautiful moment for me. My mother is not religious. She is Palestinian and her family has been here since the beginning. She says they were Jews before the Jews now--do you understand?--before Mohammed.
“There is something that has been passed from mother to mother since then. It is small with very, very small writing in it. I don’t know what it is called in English. It will be mine.
“My father was from Russia. He is angry anyway. Together they worship no God. No one. So, I didn’t know any words but I made them.”
“I did, as well. I recited a poem and asked that the desert swallow me if it displeased Jehovah.”
“A poem? You make poems? Perhaps, you will make a poem about this.” Her smile, most ancient vessel, floated toward me, and her breath was as pink.
“Say the poem you made for God.”
“You know the Lord’s Prayer--”
“I don’t know.”
“Our Father Who art is heaven hallowed be Thy name--?”
“No. What is this from?”
“It’s a Christian prayer. Christ says it in the Gospel of Matthew. I wrote--or recalled--the lost half.”
There was only our breathing and dripping upon the face of the water. Half in, half out, we became progenitors of a slender new species.
“Our Mother who art in everyone, everything is thy name. Thy garden serene, thy waters green the earth as they blue the heavens. Thank you for our daily bread and the blessing that no one can be satisfied until everyone is fed--”
“I’ll show you someplace,” her hair darker than the obscurity, expanding somehow as an unidentifiable object
of childhood. We emerged at the gate of a fallen tree. “This was their camp, where they waited for him and he waited
“Yehoshua. The one you and your friends are searching for. Your prophet. ”
“How do you know?”
“We know. Maybe your friends would like to see this.”
Her hair hesitated. I hesitated. Her hands were upon the trunk. I was behind her. She had not removed her bra. It was wet. It was flowering. We dipped beneath the branch to a chapel of fitted rocks and willows. Her hair was a curtain to be parted. It was rope. I clutched at her, then I was the horse. She was atop me hurrying us into eternity.
She became a vessel and carried us even closer.
“With no witness other than the story written forever upon us.”
“Say it again.”
“Forever upon us,” passed as a wafer to her tongue. I confessed into the dark chapel of her. The water was swallowing. She reached for something, my shirt, to cover her face; but I heard her call. It was Hebrew, the language of the old faith seeded in this hollow where Shoshana was quivering, rooting as the last and first.
I pulled everything away, the shirt, the bra. She pulled me back and pulled me back until there was no further. The chalice emptied. The chalice filled.
We awoke at the same moment, my bones, her bones, the bones of the earth pressing. Shoshana kissed my face in four places and hurried away. I watched with the hunger of Solomon. I needed no scribe to help me compose a song of songs.
The water and I receded. Stones glistened, revealing a lineage of rubies. The water and sky prepared to birth light, and I decided to stay awake, for, after all, this was the sea of Galilee; and Shoshana would return. I kicked at a charred remainder of our fire, as if I could have dislodged it from my breast.
The sun began its auric ascent. The religion of night, its moon and attenuated light was again vanquished.
My swimming trunks secured to a branch remained the only testament of my visit.
“Swim in your underwear. The Russians do. The Dead Sea destroys everything anyway.” Skoog speaks through his reflection in a window of a bus roaring forward.
I see Shoshana rising from the water; her bra is folded in my pack. I anticipate each blossom. The song playing in
the bus is intimate and heroic, and she moves beneath me somewhere left of my heart, between two ribs.
Skoog turns to Sally to whisper but kisses her hair. Terraces of new forest circle the ancient heights of Jerusalem
as my beard had circled Shoshana’s aureoles in fitful revelations of moonlight. With each pilgrimage they inclined
to me as a silver dome and golden dome do now.
Sally and Skoog frolicked in the Dead Sea, avoiding the fierce strokes of light and back strokes of barrel chested men and women. I floated until I became nauseous and rinsed off in the springs of Ein Geddi as David had done before he was king. Sally wore Skoog’s T-shirt. My shoes, as prophesied, permanently discolored.
Skoog rose as a golem in last light. “Shakespeare, Sally and I have had a little tête-à-tête about you. Frankly, I’m concerned. You haven’t been much fun since your nap in the tomb of Lazarus.
“We’ve decided something criminal is called for. We’re climbing Masada at dusk.”
“Is that illegal?”
The Dead Sea disregarded us scissoring the face of a Judaean mountain. The path Sally somehow reconnoitered in the night could never have supported a plague of soldiers, caparisoned and harnessed to a massacre. This must have been a ceremonial ascent to the original pleasure palace built for Herod. It was already a ruin when the last Jews to resist the Roman Empire, forty years after the death of Christ, chose this as their final station.
Just beyond the site of their communal suicide, there remains a fortified wall, and below, upon the floor of the desert, identifiable between the moon and camera obscura of cast shadows, the enemy camp.
“No. No sleep here.”
I turned from the spectre of a story larger than my own to a small man in an oversized uniform, not Roman, perhaps Romanian. He should have alarmed me, but he had not. I had anticipated something broken behind me.
I led him to Skoog. “Thou art a scholar; speak to it Horatio.”
The guard appeared delighted with our ruse, especially our Sally who stepped to a proscenium marked ceremonial bath and surveyed us and everything beyond us as the salt goddess who had waited and watched in that place, backlit by the same moonlight, long before Romans and Hebrews.
For more than an hour, there was no sound or movement aside from the slither of Sally’s sleeping bag.
My eyes were occupied with everything that had brought me to this promontory, when a sphinx leapt past as a gazelle. Skoog bruised my arm: “Metempsychosis.” He was redeemed. He could sleep now.
“We’re all ghosts anyway.”
His small laugh defied and defiled the emptiness.
“I slept with Shoshana. The woman from the hotel.”
Sally lay immobile within her blue cocoon. I was sad and disoriented, for, suddenly, my cocoon was far away in the north, in the north of another woman’s body.
I had been enchanted with Sally, the delicacy of her hair, the pale light of her eyes and name amplified by the lily pool
in Cana. I had been a little in love with her, or, at least, the moment. That--and we--belonged to a previous age now.
“She covered her face.”
“With her hair.”
“With my shirt. I heard her through the shirt.”
“I suspected you were together. She took to you the moment we entered the hotel.”
“I hadn’t noticed.”
“She has a way to contact you?”
“Yes. Of course. And do you have her telephone number?”
“I have the hotel’s.”
“What is her family name?--
"That’s what I feared. You realize you’ll probably never hear from her if she becomes pregnant.
“Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb-- A stranger, perhaps an ascetic or a soldier, a prince, a poet. A poet.
“Cheer up. Sally and I have decided upon a flight into Egypt. Why not come with us at least as far as Mt. Sinai.
You seemed happy--at least, purposeful--even--heroic there.”
“I already have Jehovah’s opinion.”
“I suppose you do.”
There is a photograph of the three of us, disheveled, the sun rising as a fourth face behind us. It is a portrait of my youth captured in a place that was already old in the first pages of Genesis.
A second photograph arrived with the first snow. Shoshana is supporting herself against the gate of a fallen tree upon the shore of the Sea of Galilee. She is slightly out of focus which, against the sparkling water, gives the impression of a revenant.
A note says something about having fulfilled a promise, but it is difficult to decipher. I carried it to the single, surviving rose in the walled garden and almost believed that the vindictive acceleration of days was relaxed by evidence of communion. The tip of the letter touched a flayed lip. Sad, ugly rose, too red, too large for its stalk.
I drank from its cup but could not forget.
I study the photograph and believe, or want to believe, that she is wearing the bracelet.
Occasionally, I imagine a telephone call from a teenager. I listen to him introduce himself. His name is short but unfamiliar and a little difficult initially. We speak of his mother and the last fifteen years, his first fifteen years. I have prepared words, but it is best to listen. After all, his father now would not be a stranger, a ghost, but a man of recognizable convictions, a worker on a Galilean kibbutz, a carpenter, for example.
© 2009 Fammerée
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