I said I think it's happening.
She came over and we watched his chest.
It went up a little and down and then, not.
His mouth and throat tried to breath.
His chin was riding a bicycle.
The clock ran down.
We shouted goodbye. Have a great trip.
We love you. We'll be fine here.
I tried to shut his eyes but they were stubborn.
She tried to shut his mouth; even more stubborn.
His forehead was still warm.
We didn't cover his face because we were used to it.
It seemed like night but it was morning.
POETRYREPAIRS #216 v15,08:093
MY "JERUSALEM SYNDROME": A Memoir
While still a boy, contact with the city aroused me so that I could not fall asleep for two
I remember that we walked in an illusionary, dreamy parade from one stone wall to another.
I remember the thousands of steps we climbed to get to the tops of Jerusalem's towers: the
YMCA tower, Mt. Zion tower, the stairs of the Learning Farm opposite the Governor's Palace
and the red stairs going up to the roof of the King David Hotel. Every one of Jerusalem's
towers, those to the west and those past the Wall that climb the mountains to the east, all
of them pierced my galloping heart with fierce and painful stabs. Did those researchers,
authors of scholarly books on the "Jerusalem Syndrome", write about the peaks of the city's
towers that really penetrated my heart, wounding it with a bleeding lover's wounds?
At the end of the Fifties I returned to the city. A young soldier with heart yearning and
lusting for her restlessly. About a decade passed between the first rendezvous and the next.
That nameless fever attacked me again, more forcefully. As soldier and scout of the Golani
Division, this time I got to the narrowest and darkest places in the city. I descended into
her caves and crawled in her tunnels. I learned to know all her hidden curves, the dangerous
bends of "the City Line" that went through the heart of the divided city like a huge scar.
Again I could not close an eye entire nights. That old excitement came back to me. With the
joy of discovery and familiarity, the sudden proximity to threatening Arab Legion posts, the
ambushes, night patrols, unexpected snipers shots and quiet penetrations past earthworks,
past fences and landmined fields.
There was no time for symptoms revealing my "Jerusalem Syndrome". I wanted to swallow the
city completely. Quickly, expertly, with mature knowledge. And with a no holds, no limits
curiosity. I was the young commander of "PAGI Post" in the north of the city. Across from
the fortifications of the Police Academy and the obstacle heaps of the enormous sheds of
UNRRA, the refugees' relief agency. This tangle of names that in time would become the complex
of "Ammunition Hill". I was a young scout who lead his men past swirls of barbed wire, I was
a greedy boy who desired the wonderful figs in no-mans-land and caused a great mess and an
urgent meeting of the Israeli-Jordanian Truce Committee.
The Jordanian soldiers in the Wall post opposite "Notre Dame" church shouted to us: "Tel Aviv
caput!", and passed a palm flat as a knife across their throat and we, with jubilant voices
of adolescents called back to them: "Emir Tallal – No brains at all!", and rushed to take
cover as they got angry and cocked their weapons. I was ready then to throw away my young
soul for this intoxicating city. Her stony being trickled into my burning blood and settled
inside me for many years.
I remembered how I embraced a girl for the first time, in sleepy Zion Square, after the dancing
of the Youth Movement meeting. I remembered first kisses that made my skin quiver, made me
tremble unforgettably. Only in time did I understand that the skin quiver and trembling that
furrowed my back were part of my private "Jerusalem Syndrome". I remembered a long, feverish
night, without sleep, without strength after an early basketball game and the long Youth
Movement soul-to-soul conversation about values, about youthful sacrifice, about unlimited
dedication to this predatory city. And even if this time I did desert the towers and if I
did desert the thousand steps, I always knew in my soul, in some primordial knowledge of the
senses; I will yet return to this city; I will not forget this city. I, without her, will
not be able to spend my life.
And indeed, I returned to her. Defeated and with bent head I returned to her. With prolonged
battle shock after that accursed Yom Kippur War. The combination of my "Jerusalem Syndrome"
with my private battle shock was hard, painful and almost fatal. I ascended to this city in
a last and desperate attempt to replenish, to renew my soul, to free myself from the post-war
depression forced on me by the Jewish Lord of Fate. From my narrow room in the students'
dormitory on a hillside of Neve Granot neighborhood, I looked out and did not recognize the
city. Giant cranes advanced on the hilltops around. Their iron necks mercilessly broke the
familiar skyline, from Mount Gilo in the south and up to Ramot in the north.
The home of Grandma Mazal, in the shade of the eucalyptus, along the old railway track, in
the heart of Bak'a neighborhood, changed its form and lost its old magic. Even the memorial
stone in honor of Oded Macabbi of blessed memory, that I encountered by surprise on a cold,
rainy night in a garden near one of the classes on the Givat Ram Campus, even it did not
succeed in peeling from my injured heart the horrors of that accursed war. And the old towers
of Jerusalem that once moved me so, stood in the clear air, swayed to the peal of the bells
as if they were standing in some old faded album. The bell chimes changed to cries of the
muezzins, and what once drew me to go out after it, to float in the transparent air above
"the City Line", a souvenir of the flaming days of my youth, slowly declined. Sounds of the
city that once enchanted me could not compete with the cannon barks that echoed within me,
those that rose from abandoned basalt towns and ashen mounds of "the Syrian Bulge".
My hope was nearly disappointed. The beloved city betrayed me. My "Jerusalem Syndrome" was
already starting to abandon me. Was my mad fever about to pass? Was the benevolent forgetfulness
that I was taken with in the city one of the signs of my recovery? I walked to the places
where I had fevered in the past. Their magic was gone. After a few weeks of disappointment,
I left off the city walks. I delved into books. I immersed myself until oblivion in ancient
Hebrew texts. If Jerusalem's stones betrayed me and have not the power to restore to me my
youth, my sanity, the strength of my love, why, the mountains of books will take their place.
The process of parting from Jerusalem was long and painful. At each visit another dear memory
slipped into oblivion, another picture was erased, another sound of bells disappeared and
turned into longing. I suddenly noticed how dirty she was, her aridity was hostile, winds
blowing through her were merciless. Her stony being, lacking greenery, arose before me. My
"Jerusalem Syndrome" began to separate into details: dates, names, streets, something very
crumbled and incohesive.
My life in Jerusalem. My real life and that which was only in my feverish imagination, slowly
gathered into memory. They gave way to another life, other memories, a foreign feverish intoxication.
Until one day, by some inexplicable trick of the invisible Fate-Spinner, I received a "hot",
"knockout" request, to give poems of mine to a project of neighborhood restoration, "Picture
in Stone". Engraving pictures of founders of the Ohel Moshe Neighborhood in Nahlaot. Unexpectedly,
a gigantic circle in my life was completed. Grandma Mazal Mutseri-Mani, where are you today?
The clumsy boy that couldn't fall asleep on your rooftop will stand and read his poems in the
heart of the city. Oded Macabbi, memory of a faraway and forgotten friend, where are you? I
who chanced upon a memorial to you, set up a poetic memorial to my own life. My Uncle Avner
and Aunt Shosh of the Yellin family, two of my dear ones who passed away, whose home was
always open to me and full of love for my family, where are you today? Why, you would be
thrilled with joy had you been granted to be among the invitees at the inaugural ceremony
of setting my poem in stone. My beloved girl, "the one love of my life" from that nocturnal
Zion Square, is she now standing at my side, when I can barely speak from the burst of emotion
that chokes my throat? My Jerusalem, scratched and scarred within me, fell upon me again for
a moment, one brief, moving moment, before the video camera that captured the ceremony.
My "Jerusalem Syndrome", my drunken, crazed fever, my love of Jerusalem without rhyme or
reason, my tremendous longing for her squares, her stones, her towers, all these returned
and hit me suddenly. Who is this hidden Fate-Spinner who brings back to me a love so belated,
named Jerusalem? My abandoned one, my forgotten lovely, my bitter sweet, my eternal heart?
I knew that I would not stand the excitement were I to read my poem at the ceremony, and I
deliberately chose to read Yehuda Karni's poem, "Put me in the Breach". A wonderful poet who
is forgotten, a lover of Jerusaem who is abandoned. How well he expressed the desire of poets,
the eternal desire of the Hebrew poets, to be one of Jerusalem's stones.
I read the poem with excitement, and I added a few words to it. I hope the audience understood
them. Because I do not know where they came from. Again I burned for a moment with that fever.
And I only said that from Yehuda HaLevy, through Yehuda Karni and until Yehuda Amichai, it is
the same way that scorches the hearts of Hebrew poets and turns them into one of the stones of
this city. And at long last I made my peace with the city, at long last I could love her
openly, above the wall of the project "The Picture in Stone", without fear that I will be
hospitalized among her community of madmen whose lives were wrecked by the "Jerusalem Syndrome". . ..
POETRYREPAIRS #216 v15,08:093
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REPAIR: resort, frequent or habitual going; concourse or confluence of people
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from ELIZABETH KERLIKOWSKE's MISCELLANY (36 poems new and collected)