Helen Bar-Lev: “Two Zinnias”

Two zinnias in a glazed vase
clipped by nuns’ careful scissors,
are the only decoration in this spartan 
in a convent in Jerusalem
but it is clean, the mattresses comfortable
flagstone floors, yellow- and red-ochre,
have been polished to a gleam by 
   passing shoes
these one hundred years, even more

We have returned to Jerusalem
after an absence of some months –
a jittery city, it is more intolerable 
   than ever
horns constantly honk, faces do not 
congestion and pollution, agitation,
congregate in its centre
together with beggars,
street musicians, religious Jews, Arabs
an incongruent conglomeration
which beckons in a manner I cannot 
and repulses with vengeance,
as though one reaction triggers 
   its opposite,
a contradiction of emotions
that is disturbing considering I 
   lived here
for so long and loved it with passion,
wrote love poems in dedication,
painted its landscapes from every angle
until my ability wilted and the brush
could no longer respond to my commands

So that earlier today when I walked
through this city in the heat of its summer
and watched dusk extinguish the gold 
   from its stones,
I noticed a nostalgia for it – for the 
almost expecting the present
to disappear behind a curtain
and lo! enter the Jerusalem of old,
the city I knew and yearned to return to,
smaller, happier, more beautiful

These are my thoughts now, late,
in this sanctuary amidst this city’s insanity,
this secluded quaint convent,
where quail and jay and gay flowers 
whose energies are lovely, light,
a place that does not disturb
nor disappoint my memories

While the two zinnias in the vase
blink red and pink
in the heat of the night
and soothe me

Copies of Helen and Johnmichael Simon’s illustrated poetry book Cyclamens and Swords are still available from Ibbetson Street Press. Order yours today.

One comment on “Helen Bar-Lev: “Two Zinnias”

  1. zhenimsja says:

    I’ve wanted to publicate something looking like this on my blog and this gave me a good idea. Cheers!

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