On Stones, New Eternities & Poetry

Rosebud Ben-Oni
December 17, 2017
Comments 1

To our land, and it is a prize of war,
the freedom to die from longing and burning
and our land, in its bloodied night,
is a jewel that glimmers for the far upon the far
and illuminates what’s outside it. . .

—”To Our Land,”
Mahmoud Darwish
(trans. by Fady Joudah)

A child is vengeance.
A child is a missile into the coming generations.
I launched him: I’m still trembling.

—”A Child is Something Else Again,”
Yehuda Amichai (trans. by Chana Bloch)

 

Memory is not history.

Memory is possession.

Collective memory means conflict, forever.

This is not necessarily a terrible thing.

The real damage is done when we seek to possess a piece of land in a forever-ness that won’t allow change.  When we hold them in stone. When we start wars over to keep them as they are.

Stones, we’ve been told, never bleed.

That they erode only due to external forces.

That they tell us mostly of what has already happened.

And yet I wonder: for how long have they warned us again the idolatry of space?

*

Eternity means Jerusalem.

—Talmud

When I lived in Jerusalem, there was not a day that I did not feel the anguish of her history. I heard over and over the songs of her spirit— or rather, her physicality— being fought over. Every day I breathed in the wakes held in place of new beginning{s}. My own teeth chattered with peace. I wondered what I would give {up) for her to breathe, to finally exhale. She is a city holding tight in the chest. She is a stone that has bled {all the future blood she has.} She does not want to be only her history. Her future meaning {only} her past.

Long before Trump’s faulty “recognition” of her, I wondered: what if no one possessed her in full?

And where will the Jews go? Asked relatives then, my relatives angry and worried, feeling betrayed, some with recent memories of the Shoah, the poison of expulsions from Europe flowing through all of our veins.

And where will we go?

As a child, I loved God and the Torah with a ferocity that was much older than me.

This love too was of ancient stone, and it was full of future blood {spilled}.

And where will you go?

In Jerusalem, I found I did not handle well eternity.

Eternity means conflict.

The war of her borders is the war of her name.

In Jerusalem I wrote almost every day. I wrote in desperation of stones.

My poems, my prayers, all turned to stone.

And where will you go?

What does anyone truly know about eternity?

Or rather: how does one make roads from nothingness.

At night, I heard stone angels shatter their own wings. They flew intentionally into walls not yet build. They never told me where to go, only what was coming.

Eternity means Jerusalem: when human hands turn her into stone, eternity will always mean war.

*

The chorus of their breath shook pinecones free.
With my hands held out: I will carry your messages down.

—”Messenger,”
Robin Beth Schaer

The poetry wars never stop. Over the years I’ve seen many a vendetta and sheer cruelty pass off as a review. This past year, I’ve seen several straight white men attempt to silence and ridicule people of color and women who write about their struggles and their bodies and their pain candidly. It has happened to me, and I never called him out because I did not want to give such an unexceptional man any more power. But I do think about the earthbound ways these mediocre men try to reduce and weaken those who dare to enter what they think is their world. That their “critiques” seem to be growing more virulent in a time in which they feel under attack.

Yes, in the time of Trump, they feel targeted.

And I think of these men like viruses who have adapted to change, because they already have the power that allows them to do so, but like new strains of viruses, they have to find new ways to harm not only communities of POC, women, LGBTQ and other historically marginalized poetic voices, but also do as much harm to future generations of people in general.

These men of toxic masculinity feel they are the rebels going against the norm when, in fact, they are the very norm that has paralyzed human evolution.

I won’t name these men. They are one and the same to me, anyway.

I will, however, tell you as I slept a fitful sleep in the hospital that night, I had an incredible epiphany of all that is possible for humanity. And poetry figures in a great deal.

But first I must tell you about the angels with whom I’ve wrestled in such darkness.

*

My heart believes it is a muscle

 

of love, so how do I tell it it is a muscle of blood?

—”Age of Beauty,
Emilia Phillips

It’s only now that I’m {back} in the diaspora I hear songs of tomorrow.

Not only of Jerusalem.

I hear these songs in my dreams. It is not a peaceful thing. I don’t sleep well.

Because I hear them while wrestling with angels in the darkness whom come to visit me. In their bright eyes, there is a darkness that comes to visit me.

These angels have always been with me.

For how long have they warned me again the idolatry of space?

I used to think I knew what that meant: don’t worship any land as if it were a god for whom is only meant for you.

My father’s family spoke of us as the chosen people.

They also spoke to me this silent question not a question: your mother was not born a Jew.

Because memory is not history, but possession.

My father left his people entirely, in the end, for my mother.

He chose her.

First he chose her over his family, and then he gave into solitude the day his synagogue would not let him enter to pray on Rosh Hashanah because he was late on membership dues.

(And where will the Jews go?— no one thought to include him in the collective on that day, the beginning of High Holy Days.)

He did and did not chose this strange sense of solitude.

He chose not a temple, but the silence that comes without slow, relentless expulsion.

Solitude has always been inside him when he first began to question the Orthodox ways of life.

I tell him as often as I can how proud I am to have a father who would rather wander the wilderness of solitude than to try to pray in a false place.

I talk about integrity, about love, about sacrifice.

He tells me not to worry.

I know even in the roughest times that in his hands, there is my mother holding him in her hands, in which he holds her hands in his hands.

It is not a form of possession.

I have seen this when I wrestle with the angels. Only I am aggressive when they bring me into the darkness of {their} bright eyes. {They} barely move.

It is not a form of possession.

{They} want to hold me in {their} hands.

But I’m still human, evasive of their grasp, and uncertain and frightened of what’s happening.

Each time I look over at my husband, fast asleep, not wanting to wake him.

Sometimes I want to live inside his heart and never come out again.

Sometimes I wonder just how much I’d give up for this.

But my husband has no religion— he only believes in us.

In his tongue, stones in my blood turn into song.

He chooses to only believe in us, the long future of us in which my love of no religion has staked his whole life upon.

*

To the ones who name each piece of stained glass projected on a white wall.

To anyone convinced that a monologue is a conversation with the past.

—”Flood: Years of Solitude,”
Dionisio D. Martínez

Poets need solitude as much as community.

These days I prefer an incredible amount of solitude. New York City is a strange place to find this. In sunglasses and a hat, I can disappear quite easily onto the streets.

When I lived in Jerusalem, I never found such solitude, aimlessly wandering the streets of the Old City late at night, although others warned me this was not the safest thing to do.

Yet it’s always in a crowded room or a noisy subway car that the music is loudest. The song breaks through. I start hearing what becomes poems and essays like this unfold.

The music is not unkind, but it is relentless.

It won’t let me go until I put word-sense into it.

Love has had the same effect: every day my husband texts me the exact moment he’s leaving work, and I wait for him, with a longing not unlike to the one I still have for Jerusalem.

Only, with him, I can hear the music. I can hear too the future-speak of Jerusalem.

My father asks: so will you take him there one day? Will you return?

I don’t say: What if all I still hear is the colorless din of endless rage and envy? What if I can’t hear her when I’m t{here}?

Across the ocean, in the diaspora now, holding my husband’s hand on the streets of Queens, I hear the future-sense of Jerusalem. I hear her tell me love is not the answer, but the fruits of such evolution.

It’s not love alone that solves an argument.

It’s not selflessness but accepting the idea no longer that hatred and intolerance arejust part of our nature.

It’s asking if there will ever come the day one human’s solitude can exist alongside another.

*

The only way I’ve been able to carry the stones from which I’ll never be free is to believe: Eternity means poetry.

Over and over I repeat to myself: Eternity means poetry.

And I think of those keeping poetry alive. I think of poetry’s endless advocates like Luther Hughes, Loma, Tracy K. Smith, Rigoberto González, Ruben Quesada, Kaveh Akbar, Eloisa Amezcua, Anthony Frame, just to name a few. This poem, “My Mother Cannot Look at Me without Wanting to Cry” in the Shade Journal by Adam Hamze. Organizations like Cave Canem, Kundiman and Cantomundo that offer alternatives to the often toxic traditional workshop setting. This poem, “Poem for the End of Time,” in The Believer by Noelle Kocot. Noemi Press’s incredible catalogue. This poem, “how to get over [“when the poem flirts…”], in POETRY by T’ai Freedom ford.

Over and over, in 2017, I read you, dear poets, and I hear{d}.

While time does not stop, the stones that have crushed me over the years finally bleed.

Change. Un-possessing. Unlanding the lands. Reading as learning to speak with as learning to breathe.

What new eternities should poetry unleash.

What new planets hide beneath the ruins of our present cities.

This is the second part of a two-part series. Here’s Part 1.

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