Arts & Culture

POEMS: “Palestine, A Sestina” plus others

IMPROVISATION ON LINES BY ISAAC THE BLIND Only by sucking, not by knowing, can the subtle essence be conveyed- sap of the word and the world's flowing that raises the scent of the almond blossoming, and yellows the bulbul in … Read More

By / June 5, 2008

IMPROVISATION ON LINES BY ISAAC THE BLIND

Only by sucking, not by knowing, can the subtle essence be conveyed- sap of the word and the world's flowing

that raises the scent of the almond blossoming, and yellows the bulbul in the olive's jade. Only by sucking, not by knowing.

The grass and oxalis by the pines growing are luminous in us-petal and blade- as sap of the word and the world's flowing;

a flicker rising from embers glowing; light trapped in the tree's sweet braid of what it was sucking. Not by knowing

is the amber honey of persimmon drawn in. An anemone piercing the clover persuades me- sap of the word and the world is flowing

across separation, through wisdom's bestowing, and in that persuasion choices are made: But only by sucking, not by knowing that sap of the word through the world is flowing.

*

PALESTINE: A SESTINA

Hackles are raised at the mere mention of Palestine, let alone The Question of-who owns the pain? Often it seems the real victims here are the hills- those pulsing ridges, whose folds and tender fuzz of green kill with softness. On earth, it's true, we're only guests, but people live in places, and stake out claims to land.

From Moab Moses saw, long ago-a land far off, and once I stood there facing Palestine with Hassan, whose family lives in Amman. (We were his guests in the Wahdat refugee camp.) Wonder shot with pain came into his eyes as he gazed across the green valley between Nébo and Lydda beyond the hills.

Help would come, says the Psalmist, from one of those hills, though scholars still don't know for certain whether the land in question was Zion, or the high places of Baal. The green olives ripened, and ripen, either way in Palestine, and the memory of groves cut down brings on pain for those whose people worked them, for themselves or guests.

"I have been made a stranger in my home by guests," says Job, in a Hebrew that evolved along these hills, though he himself was foreign to them. His famous pain is also that of those who call the Promised Land home in another tongue. Could what was pledged be Palestine? Is Scripture's fence intended to guard this mountain's green?

Many have roamed its slopes and fields, dressed in green fatigues, unable to fathom what they mean, as guests. And armies patrol still, throughout Palestine, as ministers mandate women and men to carve up its hills to keep them from ever again becoming enemy land. The search, meanwhile, goes on- for a balm to end the pain,

though it seems only to widen the rippling circles of pain, as though the land itself became the ripples, and its green a kind of sigh. So spring comes round again to the land, as echoes cry: "It's mine!"-and the planes will bring in guests, so long as water and longing run through these hills, which some (and coins) call Israel, and others Palestine.

The pundits' talk of Palestine doesn't account for the pain- or the bone-white hills, breaking the heart as they go green before the souls of guests-on-earth who've known this land.

*

THE MEANING OF

What is the meaning of Then?

Not now. I'm busy- can't you see-with weaning Now from what was then. Alright, but when will you have Time

again for the meaning of Then?

I repeat, not yet … Soon … I'll turn to Then, and Then itself will maybe leave us meaning we might glean

from "What is the meaning of Then?"

For now it gives Now meaning and keeps it from simply falling into an abyss of When…. And what could we do then? Now, listen:

What is the meaning of Then?

 

Is it a consummation? Or merely an expectation? Or only a defense against disintegration? Does it imply salvation?

What is the meaning of Then?

 

And is there a single solution? Is it a cause for mourning? How long have you been longing? And might it involve celebration of a Now that's bound to Then?

Is this the meaning of Then?

How does humiliation figure in this equation? Has it become an ideal held up for reflection? And where in this is perfection?

Does the meaning of Then

function as an icon? Could it move us a micron closer to restitution? But what of that explosion after Then's implosion?

What is the meaning of Then

for the heart and for compassion, concretion and abstraction? Is it simply a part of the history of illusion? It does help with confusion.

Is there a meaning of Then

 

without all this confusion? Must it emerge from penance, or some existential disturbance to the self and soul as one? And again we come to the sentence:

"What is the meaning of Then?"

as though I'd just awoken to an essential discord. It makes the needle of the mind skip as over an old record which, it seems, is broken:

What is the meaning of Then?

What is the meaning of Then?

What is the meaning of Then?