Menu

Poetry

By dint of going wrong all will come right.
                    —proverb

° Where outside the mind is this place
like mind, unmappable,

this un-, this ir-, this
sub-?
What coffin text—
honeycombs, laurel sprigs, lyres, among
syllabograms—chiseled
here with ouroboros
and zero glyphs for eternal reading on these walls?

What funerary urn shard’s
linear scratch-strokes
will be used to decipher the language
once spoken in this ruin
once we
are sifted artifacts…

Admit
this speech is already indecipherable.
Admit that reading this you’ve lost your way.
The via positiva turned downmountain
three goat-strewn switchbacks ago:
see how you missed it, its ragged wooden road sign
almost completely overgrown by purple bougainvillea.

 

° What is this place, beyond the mind, whose town names
have no fewer than six syllables
so will not fit on any map?
They all begin with Ag
for Agios, saint, the saints
all stripped to strangled
abbreviation:
Ag. Nik. Ag. Greg. Ag.
Nos…

 

° It is checkpoint, the Uzi-ed soldier spat
when I set off the metal alarm, What
are you doing? It is checkpoint. Do your job.

 

° The town’s called Mappamundi, map of the world,
but this map’s north edge ends
just before the road that goes there starts.

MapQuest
is searching for lost coordinates. Please wait.

 

° —Where does the nude beach start?
You’ll know it by
where the naked bodies are.

 

° Only a + and a –
on the rental car’s gearshift:
I stared at it a long time, like some
votive inscription on a tablet in Linear A.

 

° Don’t use complicated terms
like east and west,
she said.
Just say top and bottom, left and right.

 

° The shopkeeper hawking relic kitsch, on Yom Kippur,
when we told him we’d come back later:
Nobody’s coming back
except Jesus.
° We aren’t lost, exactly, just
unexpectedly re-placed.

 Let’s just keep looking as we drive
for one of those signs that tells you
YOU ARE HERE.

 

° We are here, wherever here is, always. Inside our
minds—our right ones,
or not. Up there is the monastery, where
those wails are coming from.
Then this must be the Minoan
sewer pipe with its stench-trap, and just out there
the underwater shrine:
Our Lady of the Spasms, Our Lady without Air.

 

° Why are crowds bellowing in the square?
Why are police
rushing down the street with body shields?
I have no idea, the waiter shrugs.

But you must be
hearing them shouting through megaphones? What
are they saying? 

Really, he answered, I have no idea.
Something about the Situation. I really couldn’t say.

 

° Just
what belongs to Caesar: isn’t that
exactly what’s at issue
in the Situation? Then
how are we supposed to decide
which things we ought or ought not to render?

 

° Please, read the placard,
no explanations
inside the church.
Where is this place like mind outside
the mind, outside
any interior explaining.

 

° Yom Kippur, Wailing Wall: women
hurl themselves to the ground amidst their supplicating
prayers stuffed into chinks
as four Israeli police
carry a man away by one limb each,
who screams, in pain or devotion it’s not clear, Allah, Allah, Allah… 

Shall
the last be first, and when, and how?

 

° Something about
the Situation, something
about who gets to live
here, who gets
to come back.

 

° Can you tell me
where to find the ruins
of the Temple of Mammon, or
are we there already?

 

° Non si spaglio mai, they said. One never mistakes. You can’t miss it. You can’t go wrong.

I went wrong. I screeched
right when I said Straight? and she said Right, meaning
correct, the Google Maps
voice still trilling the seventh syllable
of At Agios Nicodemeus, continue straight
and exited on a road that has no exit
except to a road towards the checkpoint, that has no exit.

Do your job.
° What is this seventy shekels, I need dollars,
seventy dollars, to drive to Bethlehem,
it is West Bank, there is checkpoint,
I take you to the Church of Nativity, where
Jesus was born in manger, not
seventy shekels, four times more, is not
five miles is eight kilometers, I
will wait for you an hour, I will drive you back,
no Arab will drive you is Friday, is four times more, is seventy dollars, no no no…

 

° This one-lane road keeps twisting
further up the mountain,
but shouldn’t we be heading down to the sea?
—Unless the sea is coming up here, yes.

 

° How can it possibly take four hours to drive there:
it’s not even half an inch on the map.
As if time were measured
in eighth-inch marks.
As if history
were measured
in marks that could manage
to keep themselves quasi-legible
(under magma under ash
or cave-hoarded in a jar)
until someone could figure
what it could mean
to read them.

 

° Admit this speech is indecipherable,
north of Up, east of Left, two centimeters
on the map
downhill from where the restorations
of the ruins end
and the ruined ruins begin.

Some logomachy, some
war among the words.
Make these
our holy songs, Lord, our assorted chthonic deities,
our strange land.

 

° Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built
where Constantine’s mother undug
three crosses.
They couldn’t tell which were the thieves’, which the true,
so they held them, one by one, to a dying woman,
and the one that cured her

must be Christ’s, displayed
in the vestibule until the faithful kissing it
kept taking mouthfuls of wood to bring home.
O cross,

pilgrim-gnawed and experiment-confirmed, de-earthed and true.

 

° This is the ascension’s
martyrium, slab
where Jesus last touched the earth.
The mihrab beside it points
the way to Mecca.
The left footprint taken centuries ago to Al Aqsa Mosque.
Though it’s said the footprint is “plainly
and clearly impressed in the dust,”
I couldn’t tell which of its cracked
pumice-like indents was meant
to be the print, the True Print, checkpoint
between earth and heaven.
On TripAdvisor, underwhelming: three-and-a-half stars.

 

° Here is the Omphalos, the center of the earth.
Here the not-yet-restored
Garden of Eden, Adam’s skull
that overbrimmed with blood from Calvary
one cave floor up, near where Isaac’s
not-ram blood almost flowed, by
Gethsemane’s Christ-old olive tree gnarl,
where Christ stepped foot into Paradise
near Muhammad’s footprint under the Dome
of the Rock, which is the Temple
of Solomon, the altar of David, where the tablet of the Ten
Commandments lies buried, the Temple
of Herod, near Herod’s palace, the courtroom of Pontius Pilate:
step
with dread where Muhammad kicked back down the stone
that wanted to ascend with him, step
with dread as the left
last footprint of Christ is kept
behind the checkpoint, step
in dread as the Holy of Holies
has no temple anymore
to wall it off, to reign it in,
no curtains of goatskin and gold,
no cherubim and mercy seat before it
and smoke of incense and spit of ram-fat,
to step upon it is the deadliest
profanation, lay each
footfall down in trembling and in shame.
This is the hallowed place. It may be the last.

 

° Psychologists interviewing a patient
with schizophrenia asked
how, if lost in a forest,
he would find his way out: 

I’d walk around in circles until I got dizzy
and fell down asleep and dreamed
about a passageway: 

wouldn’t you?


The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Access one piece of artwork every month for free! To experience the full archive, log in or subscribe.

Related Poetry

The Ordinary Time

By

Dana Littlepage Smith

Topographies of Easter

By

John Terpstra

I Stand and Knock

By

Daniel Priest

A Prayer for Home

By

Bronwen Butter Newcott

Pin It on Pinterest