A woman that I met over the summer emailed me a copy of a poem that her aunt, the feminist midrashist Enid Dame, had written. I think it’s just lovely, so I’m posting it here to share with you all.
Jerusalem Syndrome (1999)
In Jerusalem the summer before the Millenium
(days drying up as the world warms),
Elijah sits in a cafÃ©
sipping thick coffee and waiting
for God’s latest instructions.
His robe is white; his beard, full.
He’s tolerant of the imposters
who inhabit their sacred names
for only a few days, at most:
mere tourists part-timers, not citizens
like him, here for the duration.
“Jerusalem Syndrome,” the social workers call it,
detailing the symptoms: an urge to wear a new name,
to bathe vigorously to pare toenails
to move around in white sheets
which give off a muted radiance
befitting their wearers’ callings.
I’ve met three Jesuses already
(one’s skin is black as olives one has red hair
only one is circumcised),
and Migdal Mary still trying
to explain her dream visions
to a clatter of hostile apostles.
And at the Wailing Wall,
Miriam’s tambourine trails purple streamers
(did she buy it in San Francisco?).
six rings in each ear,
a gold six-point star in his tongue.
His brother stares at it
and drops his plates.
And down in the Old City,
Ishmael’s door is banged,
an angry word hurled on the floor
as Isaac exits again.
Another luncheon date spoiled!
It started, as usual, in strained politeness
exchange of children’s photographs
moved on to wine, a safe joke, a smile
then the word handled like a grenade
the crystal smashed
the usual explosion.
They did stay together longer, this time,
these reluctant half-brothers.
Should that give us hope?
I see David’s still at it
in all his busy guises:
willowy student strumming
an acoustic guitar,
bronzed youth turning cartwheels
in bikini shorts while bored wife taps her toe,
middle-aged politician camera-savvy
posing for the latest photo-op,
then randy old man in wheelchair
flirting with the young attendant,
making her blush prettily.
I contemplate this summer parade
of walking statues living midrash
bill payers child raisers cereal purchasers:
like clothes shucked off in a heat spell.
Are they truly mad? Struck by the sun?
Show-offs? Dropouts? Postmodernists
literally entering the texts
so they can rewrite them?
Or is it God they’re after, after all?
But where, Shekhinah, are you?
I had hoped to see you here
in some daring girl’s or bold old woman’s embodiment.
I should have known:
you’re still in exile,
perhaps in upstate New York
working quietly in a back room
of a Health Food Co-operative.
I see you sorting tomatoes
remembering they were once called Love Apples
remembering your old, estranged love your weekly weddings
on crisp sheets in an orchard-scented room.
You dreamily hold a tomato
against your cheek skin to skin
waiting for summer to pass through Jerusalem
for apple season to start.
I knew Enid Dame was good, but I hadn’t read that poem before. That’s splendid — thank you.