The Rock On My Shelf

I found this spherical rock
in the golden hills of Judea
when I was 17 in 1987,
and holding it now in my
South Florida living room
watching my 18 year old son
prepare his dinner of leftovers,
thinking about him
leaving for Israel
in just over a month to stay
for almost a year, I remember
imagining myself King David
as a boy with his sling
finding the perfectly shaped
stone to aim at the giant’s
brow to break him down.
No such beginning to an
illustrious career for me.
But I did keep the rock.

It’s 2017 and I am 47, the rock
in my palm as cool as our granite
countertop. It’s been used
as a paper weight, a decorative
chachka, a bookend, but
more often, lately, in these
troubled times, I hold it
in my hand on sleepless nights
and my mind runs wild
to imagine using it as an
improvised weapon, beaming it
at the eggshell skull of a home invader,
a violent criminal or a jihadi terrorist
or a flakka zombied college student
or a neo-Nazi or a rogue Russian agent
acting as my nice neighbor a few doors down,
any of them, all of them, hordes of them,
ready to kill me and mine just like
when someone killed my friend Aaron
not so long ago, on any given night,
just like that, and it’s just me
and my rock, my rugged piece of Judea,
against some random anyperson
with a beating heart and a gun.

And the terror is real, the mind
goes there quite easily as I walk around
the house like I know what I’m doing.
I check the locks, the wooden bar
across the sliding glass, and check
them again, and then I turn
the rock over and over and caress its
smooth surface and I hold it
against the lip of my ear and listen
to hear nothing, to hear no one
talking from another time
or another place or from Gd above,
no lore, no myth, no magic, no instruction,
and I bring it to my mouth and, yes, I touch
my tongue to its copper penny taste,
the taste of hard earth shaped
by desert wind and desert sun and desert rain
and I smell it, and the smell is earth and time,
much like the aroma of the books
surrounding me, stacked in the shelves
covering the walls of my living room.

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Here is this fist sized stone that has sat
in these shelves for 30 years, stone
I found in the golden Judean hills on a day
I conjure as a brilliantly bright afternoon
of endless blue and boundless possibility.
I was feeling the slightest mischief
when I slipped the stone into my backpack,
imagining I’ll have it still when the next
fearful giant thing needs knocking out,
but I could not envision this
18 year old boy, my son,
eating his dinner at our table
and the journey he will take
across the sea I can smell from my porch
to that faraway land of legend and light,
land of sand and stone, holy land,
land of hope and despair,
fertile land of history and memory
and sudden violence and terror,
land of love and land of hate
no rock on any shelf will stop,
no rock in any hand will help,
divine land of ancient questions
with impossible answers
coarsening every pulse
steeped in that desert heat.

Was I right then to keep it,
this piece of Israel forever mine,
something to hold, something to carry,
like a gift or a found treasure
or a stolen trinket? I am thankful
to have been so privileged that
it has never been used so violently,
never sling shot, never thrown,
never needed to defend me.
Sits on the shelf with my books,
sits with the poems and the stories,
sits there giving me nothing,
not solace nor safety,
even as I love it there on the shelf,
my hold of holy earth, harsh stone,
love it like my own damn
beating heart.