Just Short of the Western Wall (July 2008) (Revised)

Deuteronomy 30:14: The thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart.

I went to the Western Wall today, to pray,
where pious men gossip with those sacred stones.
As if God would hear my prayers amid all that noise,
all the vinegar and shriveled fish they spit upon those giant stones.
It’s a wonder they can stand.

I did not pray there, would not go near,
Among such hopes and cares and dark purpose
As would curdle honey.

Would not even approach with the women,
more demure than my modesty could allow,
tentative and shy before our Almighty God.
Prayers clambering for purchase,
stifling a gasp or cry as each fell.
No matter the height,
each fell.

That was the only skirt she owned.
This was a straw hat that should keep out only the sun.
This was only her shoulder slipping out from under her shawl,
like the moon, renewed no matter what insults might be hurled at it.

In the holiness of that open courtyard
and that wide blue sky,
in the presence of fragile prayers,
glassy and flawed,
not kilned quite strictly enough,
I found a stone in my heart,
as wide as a man could hope to reach,
as steep as a cliff, as warm as the beach,
as deep as the dark in the core of your eye,
and oh, so, so whole.

No cracks for our sorrows,
nor footholds for our disfigured hopes,
and the stone still smells of endless fires
and the things that burn like perfume
in the smoke.


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