First sleep attempt: Failure
A thousand words in,
I have tea and I have time.
A light still burns in Jerusalem.
Come muse, show me the way
there is much to write ere break of day.
Yaakov our Eritrean janitor, mop in hand, dances across the meat kitchen while Louis Armstrong’s trumpet beseeches the pharaoh. Stars twinkling in the inky arches whisper the song of spring. Another Jerusalem night.
If you have never attended a Yeshiva you cannot know the sublime bliss of a nap between yeshiva lunch and dinner, skipping girsa seder. Then you wake up, eat, pray. The Jerusalem sun is setting but the stones retain their warmth. The street beckons; it leads anywhere.
You walk to the shuq on quiet feet, the sky a brilliant violet. A couple of young men with long sidelocks pass you, lost in thought, noble bearing of adulthood already shining in their posture and peaceful gait. A cat leaps to her family in a dumpster. You pass a falafel place, little more than a hole in the wall. Grease and cigarette smoke roll out and it is not unpleasant; the proprietor sits before pictures of holy rabbis and heckles his annoying customers.
From an overgrown courtyard you often pass, the sound of a skilled violinist practicing fills the cooling air. You cross over Yaffo street, full of men hurrying home from work, a synagogue overflowing onto the sidewalk, two female soldiers gossiping over their uzis.
You enter the shuq, the pandemonium of the day’s end coming to a close. They’ll nearly pay you to take the leftover pastries; their minds are elsewhere; so many mouths to feed on both sides of the counter.
The stalls pull down their shutters; the bars and restaurants begin to stir. There was a ramming attack last week, but that’s stopping no one; the endless summer night, holy and mundane, has just begun. You stay as long as you can, buoyed by your recent rest, tasting the special air, beloved of holy men, crusaders, and everyone in between.
You turn and start your way back; the study hall is its own universe, too, and there is much there to learn.
The voices of boys and men ring out, trying to move stubborn produce. I fish the tea I like off the top shelf. A Chassid in regalia argues with the pierced cashier over whom the song on the tinny store radio is about. “Gilad Shalit,” says earrings. “It’s about the messiah, that he should come,” insists sidelocks. I step into the sweltering heat. “I don’t think he’s coming,” I hear from behind me, said with bashful strength, with ardent humility.
Tonight it feels like summer, in Jerusalem.
The sun sinks all around.
I eat bad twenty sheq. pizza in the dusk,
not wanting to pick up and bag my strewn possessions.
The time has run up, the light is gone. One more sleep in this holy land I don’t appreciate. One more night with friends I wish I loved more. One more night alone.
Then, in the morning – to take flight, drift to the next world, the next life, with only this cage of a body and my trapped perspective, where I might finally choose the path of non-existence and be free.
A few more dusky Jerusalem breaths,
A few more beads of Jerusalem summer sweat,
then to the horizon,
always alone and always together,
whatever might come.