O Jerusalem, Jerusalem

Norman Corwin is the author of numerous works, including "On a Note of Triumph", "We Hold These Truths", and "Holes in a Stained Glass Window." He teaches in the School of Journalism at USC

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

*

Nebuchadnezzar

Nasser

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

Sea 1922.

*

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.

Selah.

*

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.

*

Yerushalayim

The sound mellifluous, but the city behind the syllables never for

long serene

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

Benedictus!

Gottschalk and his Crusaders came against Jerusalem, Sanctus,

Dominus Deus!

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

rassul Allah!

*

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

and slavery

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

of death.

*

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

Bathsheba

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

the Ark

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

marble

Can stir penitents and paratroopers, draw tears from adamant,

resuscitate the weary, summon true believers from a thousand

prompt employments,

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

everywhere,

Observed, preserved, attended, minded,

Public as God himself.

Selah.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
56°