Last Night on Mount Zion

This poem was recently awarded Highly-Commended in the 2019 ACU Poetry Prize.  The theme was SOLACE.

Last night on Mount Zion

what were we thinking when we clambered up

above the synagogue beside Dormition church

to a roof that sloped through history? Still flimsy

and white, in a pomegranate sky, the moon

was growing over domes and minarets and spires.

It was the eve of Tu B’Av’s holiday of love. Like children

 

on a picnic, we’d come to pray: maybe thirty, or so,

chittering grey heads, sombre young, an English Methodist,

a tubby side-curled man in black fedora, a mum of four

in purple hijab, a bony brown-robed monk,

Subcontinental clerics, and the rest of us, led

by a twirling-skirted woman in flat-heeled shoes

 

with the bouncy cheer of a kindergarten teacher.

The abbey bells reverberated in our chests, so rocked

around the yellow limestone walls that David in his tomb

below might well have stirred. (He’d have had a soldier’s

interest in the days’ events: of mortars fired over Gaza,

of Golan’s ruptured peace accord; he’d have understood

 

how tempers fray, but not foreseen this would be so near

Rachel’s Tomb; and he’d know – too well – how men

might conjure murder in god’s name.) What did we

imagine we’d achieve when friends from Hebron on

makeshift rugs bowed towards Mecca, raised open hands

in their Takbir Allahu, observed Rak’ha? Or when others

 

turned towards the Temple site to chant their Aleinu?

Or others, towards the setting sun, sang a gospel

spiritual somewhat out-of-tune? Had David heard,

his fingers might have tapped the rhythms of exuberance

but winced, at New World renderings of a psalm.

What did we hope for, together in a circle passing goodwill

 

hand to hand? What did we think when from below,

a band began to play? The courtyard wailed with Klezmer

strings and wind and keyboard. The abbey bells

arc-ed through our soles, rang metal in our skulls.

The moon by now had let her gold soprano loose.

So, there we were,

 

haunted by old East Europe in lament amid

jingle-jangle tambourines, clapping, chanting,

leather sandals’ click-slip-click on stone,

and the ricochet of clanging steel, against

distant sirens, car horns’ arrhythmic syncopation

in a circle on a roof upon Mount Zion wanting peace.

 

What could any person’s god hear through that din?

Not much, it seems, for when we woke this morning,

there were no surprises: only news of Syrian rockets

splashing down in Galilee. Of disturbances again

at Temple Mount. Of a fifteen-year-old Arab boy

lying in Beit Jala’s morgue.

 

Still, tonight, we’ll come again to Jaffa Gate. We’ll make

our motley way along the slippery limestone flagging,

grasp the rusted rail to climb the steps and take

our place for evening prayer upon the roof. We know

we will not change things, (though we might hope).

We do this, not to change the world, but so as

 

not to change ourselves… We’ll sing. We’ll dance.

We’ll greet each other, face to face, by name. Earth,

metal, fire, stone and wood: it’s flesh that brings us here

to assure ourselves we’re not impotent nor pawns, nor

complicit in the carnage; that we are decent folk in deed,

and song, dance, fellowship can stand for something

 

more – I’ll take the hand, so like my father’s

stiff old farmer’s-hand, of Abu from near Hebron and he

will smile and tell me that he knows me from some other place

as sun sets in the gullies life has carved into his face.

Against phosphorus, fire and mortars ours a feint manoeuvre.

Yet in its frail resistance, it brings some comfort.

On Mount ZionIMG_3720