Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Holy Land IV

Coconspiritors Everywhere,

Again, a bit more of a hiatus than anticipated.  The world turns.  I was reminded, swerving on my bike back into our driveway in St. Petersburg the other afternoon, to find the bougainvillea sapling I planted a few years ago in the island of our turnaround exploding with Chinese red blossoms. Ripeness is all, and spring comes with a gratifying violence around here.  I wrote a poem once addressing this recurrent miracle:

                                                Florida: The Permutations of May

                                                        The ibises in committee
                                                         Are pecking up our lawn,
                                                         Their black-tipped probes must aerate
                                                         Our sprinkler-driven dawn.

                                                          The stately jacaranda blooms
                                                           Drop filtering through our tea.
                                                           The transference of spring is rife
                                                           With deep psychiatry.

                                                            Beside our pine the egret towers
                                                            And eyes me from afar.
                                                            If I would peck grubs from the bark
                                                            He'd gladly drive my car.

                                                            The trees are putting out fresh scales,
                                                            The lizards all are budding.
                                                            The rock is crawling on the moss,
                                                             Its stony heart is thudding.

                                                            This is the time our solid core
                                                            Turns to a molten thing.
                                                             Don't ask what spring can do for you.
                                                             What can you do for spring?

I sent a copy of this poem to Edward Kennedy, whose biography I was working on at the time.  I knew he would pick up on more than the reference.  He wrote me he liked it a lot; he wrote poetry himself from time to time, although he tried to keep that quiet.  His difficult death has been a weight on my spirit ever since.  When Walt Whitman composed "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed" he dealt with some of the misery losing Abraham Lincoln involved.  No parallels involved here, but as I reread the poem above perhaps I feel the same way.

If Ted Kennedy were alive today I have a hunch the recurring waves of tribal animosity and open religious hatred that are toxifying feelings here as well as abroad would more than sadden him.  Having devoted his entire professional life to providing for the neglected and the oppressed, the savage cross-currents of hatred, recrimination and violence that are destroying the ancient cultures of the Middle East and are starting to convulse us here would have aroused Kennedy's most profound revulsion.

 Floating around in Israel, as I've indicated, I found myself comparing ideas with plain people attempting to keep going somehow.  The driver of our bus, a tall, dignified Palestinian from East Jerusalem, never missed a chance to offer up prayers on his knees whenever we were stopped near enough a Mosque.  He helped us daily, in every way he could.  I would remain astounded at his skill negotiating our big tour bus in and out of the back-switching, overhung streets, jammed every waking minute with vehicles,  Returned to America, I wondered how this patient man would have responded to the provocations of nitwits like Pamela Geller, co-founder of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, who is making a career out of baiting Muslims by sponsoring competitions among aspiring artists to determine who can draw the most demeaning caricature of the prophet Muhammad.  This in the name of the First Amendment.  When a couple of ISIS hotheads appeared with weapons at one of Pamela's convocations in Garland, Texas they were gunned down by a waiting posse.

As Muhammad himself emphasized, we are all -- Jews, Christians, Muslims --  the children of Abraham.  The merchants of hate seem to be poised these days to take over the planet.  This must be fought by civilized people of every origin until our world comes to its senses.

That's what we can do for spring.


Burton Hersh