O Jerusalem, Jerusalem
The burnishing sun latitude 32 Tropic Cancer
The solar wind blowing old gold on the hills
The privileged air easy to take at this altitude
The dome of the sky fitted over the Dome of the Rock
And time strums on the city as on the strings of a psaltery
And psalms come forth, given a psalmist.
The ages lie heavy over baleful monuments
The head of Goliath was carried here
And here cherubim gleamed in the new Temple
The stone was dressed and the cedar beams hewn before being
brought to the site, so no sound of hammer or ax or any iron
tool was heard while the Temple was building
And it all floated together for the glory of Solomon and God.
At zero nine two seven hours Hussein announced over Amman
radio The hour of revenge has come
BC 922 Shishak of Egypt sacked the city
At 11:30 hours artillery opened fire on Mount Scopus
One came from the north against the city and despoiled it;
the other would come from the south but was interrupted
Interval of 25 Centuries. Selah.
Utter the word Jerusalem
And voltages thrill in the cell banks of history
And stored occasions leap to life like the dry bones of Ezekiel:
Father of Isaac raising a heavy knife with a heavy arm
Uriah sent into the hottest action
Salome dancing for the prize of a bleeding head
Seder of Disciples before the crackdown on subversives
Pilate drying soft hands
Land pledged to Abraham, mandated to island nation in the North
At 1550 hours Government House together with fortified zone
taken at a cost
BC 538 Message from Cyrus of Persia: proceed to rebuild Temple
At 17 hours, air strike against Jordanian 60th Armored Brigade
BC 332 Young man from Macedonia, at 24 already Alexander the
Great, came to the city and went from it, and left it standing.
The atmosphere. Dry but mystic.
Exhalations of the desert rise by day but the steamy littoral to the
west has no influence in these streets
The nights are cool under shoals of stars that burn with the same
calm as over the tents of the Maccabees
Echo-ghosts of trumpets and ram’s horns
And hooves of horses and clash of armor and the murmuration of
prayers long ago sent up and answered or never answered
The Jihad of Saladin
The pilgrimages crawling over rutted and dustblown byways
Sheba’s Queen with a very great train of camels bearing spices and
very much gold and precious stones
The clanking legions of Imperial Rome
Allenby riding a well-fed horse, having scattered the Turks
Porters jackknifed under burdens that better a truck should haul
The tanks of Aluf Uri Ben-Ari grinding up the ridges to the
Corridor to join battle. Selah.
The sound mellifluous, but the city behind the syllables never for
The austere, the beautiful, the vexed city
Prey of the fanged world
Desecrated and rebuilt, consecrated and defiled,
Her glories smoldering, her ground bleeding.
Behold: sacraments to Elohim and Allah and the Holy Spirit;
and terror-bombings in the marketplace.
The dread incursions
The hosts far off, approaching, trailed by dirty dustplumes
And the gut of the city tightening; men setting their jaws and
looking long at their women and children
For yet again some king or caliph has come to conquer,
Here where seers walked and prophets thundered
And Jesus was scourged all the way to the nailing ground.
Onslaughts like recurrent malignant tides
Sanharid came against Jerusalem
Nebuchadnezzar came against Jerusalem
The Nabataeans came against Jerusalem
The Ptolemies came against Jerusalem
Antiochus came against Jerusalem
Pompey came against Jerusalem
Caliphs, Seljuks, Omayyads, Greeks, Tartars, Mamelukes,
the Ottoman came against Jerusalem
Godfrey of Bouillion and his Crusaders came against Jerusalem
Volkmar and his Crusaders came against Jerusalem, Sanctus
Gottschalk and his Crusaders came against Jerusalem, Sanctus,
Emich of Leisingen and his Crusaders and Richard the Lion-Hearted
of England and Barbarossa of Germany and Philip and Louis of
France came against Jerusalem, Benedictus qui venit!
Blessed are they who cometh in the name of the Lord, all eight
Crusades of them
And among them they massacred Jews along the watered green
colonnades to the Holy Land, yea in the cities of the Moselle
and the Rhine, in Verdun, in Treves, in Metz, in Worms,
Benedictus qui venit in Nomine Domini!
And when they reached Jerusalem they massacred still more, yea;
and they set fire to the synagogue at the hour of prayer
And all perished within
And the crusaders wiped the char from their boots, and knelt, and
pressed bloody palm against bloody palm and prayed to the
God of Mercy at the Shrine of the Holy Sepulchre
And then in good time they fell out among themselves and were
chopped up by the Saracens, La Allah illa la wa Muhammed
And this shall be the plague wherewith the Lord will smite all the
people that have fought against Jerusalem. Their flesh shall
consume away while they stand upon their feet, and their eyes
shall consume away in their sockets, and their tongues shall
consume away in their mouth.
Thus spake Zechariah. Selah.
But no --
For when Titus came with legions foot soldiers auxiliaries rams
catapults spearmen archers
He was repulsed and repulsed again and his ordnance was burned
out from under him
Yet Rome had the talents and patience to civilize Judea
And the Temple fell and was obliterated all but the Western Wall
And Titus butchered priest and layman mother and child and
razed the city
And he took with him back to the adoring Tiber the golden
candelabrum of the sanctuary and also captives for show
But the flesh of Titus was not consumed as promised, nor did his
eyes shrivel nor his tongue wither
Instead he was glutted with banquets and an arch of triumph was
raised to him
And Suetonius historian and king-kisser called him the darling of
the human race
And Titus Emperor died in bed Anno 81
And for 200 years thereafter no Jew could enter Jerusalem on pain
At 14 hours, the battle won, an officer entered the Old City and
made his way to the Western Wall
And scribbled five words on a scrap and stuck it between two stones
And the words read Let Peace Reign in Israel. Selah.
Before and since, harsh texts tangled in the gridlines of claim
Stores of grievance and vengeance,
Agencies, urgencies, encounters, stratagems,
Irgun, Mossad, Haganah, Hezbollah, Intifada, Jihad,
The Six-Day War, Entebbe, Jihad again
Suicide bombers, massacre-makers, assassins, kidnappers,
Stones, bullets, coffin parades, burials of innocents.
The raw hills the harsh winds the rains more or less
The folds of the valleys tumbling down to the slash of the Jordan
and the dazzle of the bitter Sea
The far crests of Moab awash in watercolor purples
But where in the dust is the harp of David
And in what blossom on the floor of Kidron is the fragrance of
And by the shankbone of what disjointed Jebusite rusts the shard
of the land mine?
Speak comfortably to Jerusalem and cry unto her that her warfare
is accomplished -- Isaiah.
O pastel city of three sabbaths, behold:
The world of neon and explosives and imperious engines
Is at your many gates.
Where once came Sheba with a train of camels bearing gemstones
and spices and Persian kittens
Now may come dragons with seven warheads and ten missiles:
Out of lands far from the shade of your crypts
Out of hard-faced cabinets and pitiless cold laboratories
Come weapons forged in the furnaces of suns
Apocalyptic secrets sucked from the gourd of creation
The very atoms that once danced in majesty like celebrants before
Are now girded for arson and murder, and wait only for the failure
of the failsafe.
Al Quds Yerushalayim Hierosolymis:
Here in your grand precincts where the spirit can walk against traffic
Where a wall stubbled with living weeds, and a spreading Rock
under a dome of arabesques, and a Sepulchre sheathed in
Can stir penitents and paratroopers, draw tears from adamant,
resuscitate the weary, summon true believers from a thousand
It is here, if anywhere among our swarms
That man, the all of us, our bristling and contentious breed
Has perhaps his best hope and his shortest chance.
If in the toils of war, the holy places be spared
Then make all places holy.
If from the stones of a hallowed parapet, repose and joy and
heartbreak-yearning of long ages be consummated,
Then extend the Western Wall across the planet.
If on the prayer rugs and at the arks and altars of Jerusalem
the name of Peace is chanted every day
And in the streets, the commonest coins of courtesy say Salaam
on one side, Shalom on the other,
Then let the fame of Peace accumulate until it stand in honor
Observed, preserved, attended, minded,
Public as God himself.