Taking Back Jerusalem

Jerusalem hangs out of focus in the background as a chain hangs across the image in the foreground
Photo by Cole Keister on Unsplash

Let me be
   brief: by the end of this,
someone will be cursed & I pray it anyone

but Him. Let me start
   again: the night was beautiful but not
romantic. Sure,

there was smoke & moon
   -light. From this angle,
you could almost mistake the city

for american. There were seven, all of us born
   of this country before this country
existed. It was ours

the way a street cat is mothered
   by thin air. Still, we called this
a reclamation. A taking

back: the sign reading cameras in use
   outside an unlit jewelry store,
the palm trees dancing

like they could belong here – city of gravel
   throat & temple’s cry – of gold
-blessed forehead & confluenced

histories – how many waters
   anointed & claimed you
inheritance? How many hands

un-sanctuaried you by birth
   -right & con
-quest? A name, however holy

can be a story of unimaginable
   distance. We could only exit you
by the mouth through which we entered

& there, we first saw Him:
   shadow folded in shadow
speaking hushed & hurried Arabic

& for the first time that night,
   a familiar I could but couldn’t
have known: a boy with moonlit tongue

promising his mother he’ll make it
   back with every breath – peering
around the corner: a soldier, his

gun, that precise small
   -ness – I couldn’t unsee him
or Him, couldn’t uncast that smile

from his nodding face, our mouths
   pretty with english – he stopped
one of us. he searched

only one of us. & there, I remembered
   my mother, begging God to watch
over us in Jerusalem, where,

at four years old, a soldier held a gun
   to her head & maybe it was or wasn’t
at this exact spot, & maybe she prayed

for the wrong son but in that moment,
   I prayed. & there was no God
but the space between us – how the distance

between my holy & His
   holy could resurrect a broken
lord on my breath – & there I began

to understand how my mother could
   abandon her birthright –
& I suppose, she made it out.

Alive, depending on your frame
   of reference. & so did we. & by
some magic, so did that Boy, caught

with the wrong God on His
   breath in His holy city. Forgive me.
I’m trying to understand what makes

one’s existence, at a fixed location, a radical
   act – divine even – & what makes
the existence of another, near a specific body

of water, a violence. Forgive me. I wrote this
   in an american airport
& its magic escaped me.

George Abraham is a Palestinian American poet. He is the author of Birthright (Button Poetry)—a finalist for the Big Other Book Award—and a board member for the Radius of Arab American Writers (rawi). A graduate of Swarthmore College and Harvard University, Abraham lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, where he teaches at Emerson College.