Jerusalem The Golden

Sharon H. Nelson

Jerusalem The Golden appears as the first poem in A Broken Vessel. It was reprinted in Jerusalem; An Anthology of Jewish Canadian Poetry, ed. Mayne and Rotchin [Véhicule, 1996], and an annotated version with subtexts will appear in capilano review.

In scripture, and especially in the books of the prophets, both the people of Israel and the city of Jerusalem often are represented as a woman, and in the case of the city of Jerusalem, as a woman's body. The poem "Jerusalem The Golden" is about the mythologizing of woman as a body and the parallel mythologizing of Jerusalem as a woman and as a feminized body. The "body is a myth" and the body as a myth provide the framing of the poem, which explores the interpenetration of spiritual, corporeal, mythicized, and religious bodies and the myths about them.

Jerusalem The Golden

the body is a myth
my sculpted form
passes for body or dumb flesh

and you don't understand why I write like this
that it is not a matter of will
or that my mouth is small

you want to take me
to the subway
where your electric mind trains
a supple gymnast
so that the noise will hurt me

you don't understand why I am like this
laying down my last ticket for a nowhere subway
branching like a dead-end city
or why the building with no architect is a myth

and you are bored and tired of beauty
Beauty, trees or even cities
myth-song or body
the whine of time is like electric wheels
scissors churning in the stems like heathens

you are dead
a stoned Goliath
blighting the land with rot
and the pestilence of pharaoh to count yearly the generations
or the sons of sons of sons of sons repeating: plagues
locusts serpents babies
and a waterless well that has no depth but salt

you want to know what is this structure,
why that fool, David, mad with fear,
outgrew even his senile harp and found a stone
lodged always in the cup of Israel's crown;
why a divided kingdom yielded
to a forked twig bent in the shape of a man

I feel your fingers slip
from the knot of my hair
to the stems of perfect flowers, trees,
or dig in the grass for beetles, vipers,
stalking an unborn crop or lashing out
at hostile unplucked twigs

and I am barren
as a building set for demolition
as a scarecrow hung on a dead man's cross or binding
like an empty shirt that still remembers scenting
or a mongrel bitch with torn belly out of season

you pause to hobble
fine flesh with green twigs
bent lashes, pebbles;
the cold stone of the craftsman's hand hammers
straight nails in a salty rock,
and salt is blood or myth or tears
of a bent twig where a scarecrow madman
bites at the knot of his strings and seamless garment

I dreamt I walked in a walled city
where there was no milk for the orphaned children
and the dry breast of the rock formed only salt

Rachel, wailing, devoured a soldier to replenish her womb
though the skeletal clank of his dry bones
clatters to fill a rented tomb
there is no comfort in walls or armour
and the sick smell of flesh rotting
is the plague they do not tell

all the ceremonies finally end:
the scarecrow pulls his garment tight about him
unharried by wind,
steps down

the voices that one night awoke a city
are stilled in a night that admits no miracles
while no structure can be perfect, no form complete
and a promise binds the newborn in the flesh

I am the Rose of Sharon
the lily of the valley
the Shekinah, a broken vessel . . .

Yerushaliam is a Magdalena
a soldier's whore . . .

Adàm, in the Image . . .

you are all
my lovers

Sharon H. Nelson. 15 March 1999.