Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Wall in the Heart

A poem from Salah-al-Din (Saladin) to Simon Wiesenthal re: building the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Dignity and Tolerance on top of the Mamilla Cemetary – a 1000-year-old Moslem burial ground in Jerusalem.

They say in death
we are equal
but our dead cannot rest
peeled awake in layers to witness
the long-awaited arrival
of dignity and tolerance
the latest chapter in the Holy War
You said, Shimon,
that a People are not evil
only individuals
shifting sands
revoked sacred geography
for neglect of our brothers.

We are no strangers to death, Shimon
the red rivers of Jerusalem and Krakow
horses and boots slipped and snared
in kudzu of limbs
as they forded them
drunk with power
swords and bullets whirling round Vienna waltzes
and Crusade became crucifixion
Aliyah, apartheid
Charity, recruitment
for God’s armies
Jihad, a brutality waged on others
but to the internal struggle
we must return
salvation is not possession
but liberation.

We are not so different, Shimon
I remember the words
of my great father, Ayuub
to battle only when
all bridges are impassable
soldiers will sacrifice
for cause that transcends them
a whispered promise
in Mecca prostrations.
Are Jerusalem’s gates beyond repair?
Is it the fate of the place
that gave birth to our prophets
to wave the flag of intolerance,
flaunt scars and stripes and D9 damn the different
Did we not learn that suffering
is the enemy of nobility
power and devotion
the twins born of Myth
and every breath conceives a choice?
Salah-al-din’s army
recaptured Jerusalem
Abraham’s children returned
Muslim and Jew rejoiced
the victors rewrite history
but when we finally reach the promised land
we must ask, was our cause just?
Did we live by our books
or by eyeless faith and lust?

Jeremiah foretold that the law
would not be inscribed in stone
but deep in our hearts
where this wall remains
and there are one way arteries to reason
not compassion
we can always find scripture
to justify reaction
but I pray we don’t forget
the good, the merciful
who live by their word
give us comfort and wisdom
with bread in darkness
when the Temple wall exhales
the western sky
returns wails of the dispossessed
their hungry, hollow eyes stretching barbed wire
of No Man’s land.

A lonely call to prayer
announces a new dawn
they say the Moors dwelt
in the drowning sun
washing flame and sin
from our Saharan star
placing it anew
each morning in the eastern sky
so nothing's irreversible, Shimon
we’ve proved
that the dead, like our humanity
can be forgotten
but so can our transgressions
and failures to love the stranger
and the vulnerable as our own
to see divinity in each of us
one thousand golden domes.

You fought for justice not vengeance
contemplated forgiveness
and envied dead Nazis
decorated with names and sunflowers
their brilliant, yellow optimism
made you forget for a moment
that God had abandoned you
at Mauthausen
silently praying
someone would care enough
to plant a sunflower for birds
to carry you pieces and seeds to Zion
so I ask you, Shimon,
who will plant sunflowers
on the tired, shattered graves of Mamilla
who will forgive you?

Yasmeen Najmi

© 2010 Yasmeen Najmi

1 comment:

  1. Yasmeen, whoever you are, you are brilliant.

    Thanks from the Campaign to Preserve Mamilla Jerusalem Cemetery

    Sign the Public Petition at: www.mamillacampaign.org