National Poetry Month 2015, Week Three: My Poem “Peace On Mt. Zion”
April 17, 2015
Last month, Samantha and I went to Israel. It was my first time in the country and my first visit to the Holy Land.
I was struck by the conundrum that is Israel. On the one hand, there is the history of the land and the history on the land.
Three of the world’s major religions were built from the earth there and sprouted and diverged as any people do, resulting in conflict and misunderstanding.
On the other hand, there is evidence of these religious factions co-existing much like that bumper sticker popular a few years ago featuring the message “Co-Exist” and a pantheon of religious symbols, as if to ask, can’t we all just “get along”?
In Old Jaffa, south of Tel Aviv, for instance, ancient mosques and churches and synagogues sit cheek by jowl along the sea approach. And the market in Jerusalem is filled with Muslim and Jewish merchants distinguished perhaps only by their working hours and some specific merchandise.
Concurrent with this trip, Samantha asked me to write a poem to serve as the peace prayer at her daughter, Erica’s Bat Mitzvah, which happens to be this weekend. I was honored that not only Samantha, but my stepdaughter, too, wanted me to participate in her special day.
I’d been thinking about the subject on my first days in Israel, much of which was spent on my own as Samantha was in a conference.
But it wasn’t until our last day, in Jerusalem, when a tour guide we’d hired read a poem of Yehuda Amichai’s called “An Arab Shepherd is Searching for His Goat on Mt. Zion,” as we stood on a hill under the Moses Montefiore windmill overlooking Mt. Zion, that a poem started to come to me.
(Amichai is significant, too, because I gave Erica’s brother Max a book of Amichai’s poetry for his Bar Mitzvah a few years ago.)
Here is my poem “Peace On Mt. Zion,” which I dedicate to Erica and will read at her ceremony:
PEACE ON MT. ZION
(for Erica, on her Bat Mitzvah)
Peace is such an abstract word,
made concrete by the story
of an Arab shepherd and a Jewish father
told by a guide overlooking
Sultan’s Pool, outside the old city
of Jerusalem, from Amichai’s poem
about searching for a goat
and a child on Mt. Zion.
Their “temporary failure”
strikes me first, a lasting impression
lingering over the ramparts of the old city
–cradle and shelter of all origins.
So much begins searching
for a goat and a child on a mountain—
new religions, sacrifices, whole
cloths to cover the void,
until the child is found and the goat,
hiding together among the bushes.
The father and the shepherd
cry together and laugh,
and for a moment, all is quiet,
except for their voices,
which you can still hear
echoing over centuries of stone.
–Scott Edward Anderson