Ruth Kessler

 

The Latroun Monastery

                                Israel

 

Here the hills

have seen bloody battles.

The sun stood

still in Gibeon,

the moon halted

over this valley.

 

Vow-bound,

you embroider the ancient

stillness with worship.

 

Vine-like,

you took root in

this naked soil.

Stubborn,

trellised by silence.

 

Your dark habits

earth-colored.

Your austere habits

like stark winter vines.

 

It’s a difficult land

where spring announces

itself with blossom

of thistle and briar,

 

and the desert wind,

a close neighbor,

shrieks in your ear

“Go away, go away, go away!”

 

The silent praise of your wine.


 

Elegy in Las Vegas

 

Someone else’s drowning won’t do,

we have to have our own -

complete with our croupiers ferrying

us over this Lethean glitter towards

our own sirens, the sweet lure of their damning jingle.

Their elegy for what Fate will not let us win:

 

Lips whispering hope, whispering ashes.

Love and friendship

thin tissues of light under permanent scars.

The heart’s silence, a brutal conquest after

the Golden Age of desire and wonder.

Slow drifting apart of earth plates that used to be one

(those leaving like trains, since they must,

obeying their blood’s command like a schedule).

In the forest of echoes we have planted a tree of remembrance.

Learned there’s an art to untying a knot,

like undoing the dressing of a wound past healing.

We walk past the house life’s adamant industry built,

its weathervane pointing to yearning’s fifth wind.

Past the locked rooms of our lives

where portraits of loved ones, of ourselves, keep staring

from empty walls.

They demand to be freed. We refuse, clutching the keys.

When the seams are about to give,

we long to go back:

Fit each hesitant step into its old footprint, just so,

as if no generations of storms have erased

them beyond retrieval.

Salvage from the refuse of life those tarnished dreams.

 

But instead, the head nodding sadly over the Rwandan massacres.

Instead, the hand reaching out for another chip.


 

For Those Living Near Railroad Tracks

 

What is it like to live permanently on desire's edge

to feel the cord of yearning tugged at

each time a train rolls by,

the heart's doll-like moan  not Ma-ma-Ma-ma-Ma-ma

but Far-ther-Far-ther-Far-ther  echoing each

            rattle of the wheels

 

Daily to weigh on the heart's scale

your pedestrian rootedness

against the luxurious wanderings of strangers

            and wince at your paltriness

 

To envy autumn's migratory birds

the porous traveling of clouds

not when the season comes for its transitory visit

            but   every   single   day

 

To lie at night  listening

to the mournful whistle haul your

dreams across lands you will never visit,

each dream as close as the full-blown moon

nestling in the backyard linden branches

            as distant

 

                ?  ?  ?

 

Ruth Kessler is an Israeli poet, fiction writer and translator living in Rochester, NY. Her work appears in numerous literary publications and she is the recipient of NYSCA grants and Yaddo and MacDowell fellowships. The poems in this issue are from her manuscript Geographies.

 

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Copyright © 2005 Ruth Kessler. All rights reserved.