Absent Friends

Fiorella de Maria

For the staff and sisters of the St Joseph Hospital, Jerusalem
I never thought I would be too afraid
To contact an old friend. My hand reaches
For the telephone but I find myself drawing
Back in case the lines have been torn down
Or your number belongs to a stranger now,
Speaking a language I cannot share. And
For all I know, the letter I keep trying to write
Will be left on a doorstep without a house
Left standing behind it. Or it will lie in some
Depot somewhere with all the other post
Whose owners are not there now to lay
Claim to them.

I should not be so morbid.
You are probably alive somewhere, all of
You, avoiding the gunfights as I would dodge
A downpour of rain. It is just that I keep
Remembering the summer of the Jubilee
And the gaping hole where the Hyatt Hotel
Was meant to stand. The children played
Among the plastic sheeting and rubble. A
Dusty vision of the battlefield waiting to
Break the Promised Land. Noor, black-eyed,
With a face like the morning, the many tiny
Hands that reached out to me on my way up
The Neblus Road. I smell Shawarma cooking
And the elixir of Arab coffee, wonder just a little
If I could think myself back home for a moment.

Why did it feel like home? The draughty evenings
In Said’s café, watching the men smoking Nargile
And quarrelling over a game of backgammon.
“Yallah! Yallah!” The clatter of counters and the
Sound of a coming riot. Hannan complaining about
Her patients all the way to the Al-Arab hostel with
Its cockroaches and cheap American films.
Silence along the ramparts of Jerusalem. Sunset over
The Mount of Olives. It will soon be time for the land
To stay awake in anguish, sweating blood, but for now
The lights of happy homes come on one by one and
It is easy to believe that the stillness has meaning.
I do not think myself lucky to hear the Dona Nobis
Pacem ringing out across the sleepy corridors–slightly
Flat–at Holy Mass. A telling off from Rima marks
The day, not the Englishman bleeding in the doorway
Or the warning barked in the corner of a Gaza
Camp: “They do not understand diplomacy.”