"The Situation" II - Jerusalem

Free IWP Course: Creative Writing, Disability, and Inclusion

...what was once invisible is now seen...

Alice S. Yousef is a Palestinian translator, blogger, and poet, who has published stories, poetry, and translations. Her work can be found on web-magazines including Twopoetswrite and VisualVerse. She holds a MFA Writing from Warwick University (UK) and is currently working on her first volume of poetry.


 

The timekeeper watches the swallows return  


After forty five days I begin to wonder 
is it the weight of the number, entrenched so much 
in waiting- 

mothers and newborns staying safe from the sun  
hermits in silence   
Jesus' steps on the Mount of Temptation 

but  

I am not a mother, the cat is always hungry  
the silence is broken by birdsong  
and the Mount of Temptation leaves me with devils 

I keep time  
in small moves  
without pressing too tightly  

Day 1 

A 'state of emergency' is declared 
the radio says, 'contain' as in control  
and I fear the word:  
the streets empty like a curfew had broken their feet 
one I had seen too often in my childhood 

Day 5  

'lockdown' is announced 
while friends fear loss of water 
my mother reassures me  
the last time we were locked in at home 
an open-air balcony, my father boiled chickpeas  
to make hummus and we planted roses and green tea 
in a 4x4 meter yard 

Day 10  

My window overlooks 
a sole broken-backed spine of a pine  
the 'morning briefing' is now a common habit,  
but I let the news find me, forty-seven diagnoses later 
I type away the days on my computer  
emails to friends who only have dogs for company  

Day 15  

Death steals, the Book of Revelations' 
locusts and turned seas pour in the neighborhood 
death steals my words too- 
from behind the fence all I can yell to a friend is: 
may your husband rest in peace 
I am sorry I cannot hug you 

Day 20  

I turn between the books and the screens 
check my temperature, check my breathing 
I never wondered about the human body 
its functions how holy, its desire how unholy  
except living in the holiest city of all:  
the gateway to both heaven and hell 

Day 25  

the words change meaning- 
running in circle becomes a physical need  
what was once invisible is now seen; 
as in I love you, says please stay  
as in did you wash your hands? says please be careful 
as in how are you today? says I hope you are still breathing 
the world turns upside down when you smile behind a mask

Day 30  

The church bells don't stop ringing,  
in Jerusalem, the church bells announce the hour, death and joy- 
through Zoom I can watch the Easter mass 
but I cannot smell the incense  

Day 35 

The sky clears up, hawks, the sunbird, crows appear like magic 
new migrant birds 
commonly called the Indian bulbul 
sing at odd hours 
the only other buzz is the invisible drone   

Day 40  

I should have written more 
spoke less, observed the world  
I should have sent kisses to the children 
who had no bed sheets to sleep on 
I should have worried less,  
kept to time, prayer and yoga breath 
I should have finished the plate of food 
before complaining about stale bread 

Day 45, today  

The golden hour is six thirty, 
another day ticks off, unbalanced  
the city prepares to sleep, like a four-year-old brushing his teeth, forgetting dinner 
at four years I could tell them uniquely by flight, my birds 
a spilt tail, whizz, a running heart like mine 
the swallows always return to warm-hearted lands 
the swallows in the heights,  
my security.