The Cleanup Crew at the Western Wall
Twice a year, the custodians of the Western Wall brush the thousands of papers crushed into cracks between stones and sweep up the plaza. I don't think anyone believes that the prayers are somehow defunct once the paper is discarded. Whether or not there is a God to receive them is up to each person, don't you think? A story that before the ark, the temple, God was lonely, and once the people built a place for God, God dwelt there. Once a person's prayers are spoken/written and said/placed, I would guess the person praying feels that his urgent message is sent. In the story, when God was alone, God spoke . . . and God listened. I remember the times I scribbled a note and stuck it in the Western Wall, and I wondered how a fresh crowd of people each day could find space to squish their crumpled gratitude and self-pity into the wall. From the Middle Ages until the British Mandate forbade it, pilgrims drove nails into the wall and marked the wall with painted palm prints. In the story, if you are in the right place at the right time, you may be lucky enough to overhear God speaking to God's self . . . Creation echoing in Creation like your child's voice calling in a canyon. It also occurred to me at the time when I prayed at the wall that if there was a God, the mind of God would have to be able to easily expand to hold all the words in the universe, much less the spoken ones, much less the written ones, much less the high-priority ones scribbled on tiny scraps of paper and stuffed into both wide and thin spaces between the hewn stones of the Western Wall. I think about how, all over the planet, we face Jerusalem, because our people built this place for God, and God must see that we are facing God's face when we pray. And in the story, the canyon echoes/God and the voice/God and the ears/God and time/God and we/God enter and clean up and enter and clean up and enter the place in the story where God is.
The Front Gates of the Jewish Graveyard in Cairo
The gates of Bassatine were locked
with a heavy chain and the graveyard
was surrounded by a wall.
It was too high to climb,
but along the far side
I spotted a makeshift earthen ramp.
I was halfway up the ramp when
someone started shouting at me
from inside the graveyard.
It's closed, he said, the cemetery is closed.
I'm Jewish, I shouted down.
Although his face softened somewhat,
he still wouldn't let me in.
Talk to the rabbi, he said, you need an appointment.
These two poems are extracted from the sequence Jerusalem, printed in broadsheet format for a gallery exhibition at Congregation Dorshei Tzedek in West Newton, MA, from September – December, 2019. “The Front Gates of the Jewish Graveyard in Cairo” is a found poem, sourced from the article “From Cairo to Kolkata, Traces of a Vibrant Jewish Past” appearing in The New York Times, 8 June 2018. It is also among five poems from the same series, published as a set of broadsheets by Pen & Anvil Press.
Josette Akresh-Gonzales was a finalist in the 2017 Split Lip Turnbuckle Chapbook Contest. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart and has been published or is forthcoming in Rattle, The Pinch, The Breakwater Review, PANK, and many other journals. She co-founded Clarion and was its editor for two years.
She lives in the Boston area with her husband and two sons and rides her bike to work at a nonprofit medical publisher. She is working on her first book.
>> Back to Issue 22, 2019