Ammiel Alcalay


1.    Old Bridge
Mir- is in The Museum of Modern Art.

M'ro is in Sarajevo.

Wendy Wasserstein is on stage at Symphony Space
and over the air on N P R.

Terry Gross calls me twice during a break to find
out how to pronounce the name Izeta.

Izeta is M'ro's wife.

They have a dog

It is December 1st, 1993.

Certain people say we should always go back to nature. I notice they never say
we should go forward to nature. It seems to me they are more concerned that
we should go back, than about nature. If the models we use are the apparitions
seen in a dream or the recollection of our prehistoric past, is this less a part of
nature or realism than a cow in a field? I think not.

The role of the artist has always been that of image maker. Different times
require different images.

Today, when our aspirations have been reduced to a desperate attempt
to escape from evil, and times are out of joint, our obsessive, subterranean
and pictographic images are the expression of the neurosis which is
reality. To my mind certain so-called abstraction is not abstraction at all,
on the contrary, it is the realism of our time.

Adolph Gottlieb

     no pyramids dot the skyline

     in the seats of power of

     this crumbling empire

     the ghosts of industry eat

     this old half city bridge

     of nevermore again

     eat Glamoc and


     eat these


     posters of Sadaam whirl and spin

     stealth bombers drop TVs

     over Baghdad books

     burn in Sarajevo

     babies choke

     in clouds

     of evaporated milk

     the ghosts of industry

     dot this landscape

  lo these many years of construction repairing the irreperable potholes

  the gaping erosion of industrial repetition this tarred and feathered

  landscape this tarred and feathered history

  my neighbor found an arrowhead in his backyard 385 10th st. Brooklyn

  waking up in a sweat I found the Old Bridge hanging

  from my neck and the whole town of Pocitelj

  in the pocket of my jacket draped over a

  chair in the shadow of a pot filled with

  rosemary and lavender.

          trust the least
          desire imagine

          light together
          gazing at bottles

          floating in the port
          pushing against a

          time we imagine
          years further

          spinning leaves
          a bed a pillow

   gazing at sailors dying for trust together as light plays
   through the leaves when you least expect a burning desire
   in ways we could hardly even articulate attached to no real
   itinerary eyes too slow to shelter too close to part

  our park just souvenir feathers drawn across states skin taut
  across manifest destiny listening ear to the ground for what isnÕt
  there evidence of beauty evidence destroyed everywhere desire
  and hunger taxis with amulets evoke wounds across time within
  earth underground too slow to penetrate too late to spawn such
  a chaste upbringing such sheltered accents for no language escapes

  warm stone cold stone rooms at either end and the room in the middle
  of this journey dank and mouldy elegant and even gentrified now but
  a poor room a room for the poor a room to end up in bones creaking
  and lungs clogged the hard life embedded in the very body of the city
  in gold adorned and manner straightforward her head covered like
  the dome a part of her very body you would have to rip the eyes
  out of to destroy the memory of "fourteen of us" in this room

      in sailing
      river no
      river tents

      attracted by
      trollies and
      desire born
      of a farther

     neither owl nor eagle nor deer

     only feathers on a souvenir

     drum bought from

     an Algonquin

   feathers on a souvenir drum bought from an Algonquin
   speak parking lots and minarets toppled to dust ponds
   and rivers Mashpee next to Barnstable  and
   Sandwich  speak for the garbage we help

   attracted by trollies a view of the
   river imagine escutcheons herald
   aluminum arms door knob or handle
   either grip the very same even this
   oblong sea that ocean grandfathers
   on the move underground the bloody
   corpse gnawed and nibbled at by
   tourists of fortune caution stop
   words kill writer ahead by the dead
   hand of heraldry of glories past and
   yet to come feel the weight of this
   token in my hand in yours holding
   mine the night the bombing began the
   night we decided to kill the garden to         bury Eve forever to starve her children           starve her veiled sisters Night and         Layla who'll never find the prince
   that opened a cookshop in Damascus         her groom and lover who left his         turban by the bedside to go to the privy
   only to find a hunchback up to his ears         in shit caught headfirst by a demon         lost in a makeshift trial of trials and
   tests and travail and wandering in the
   whirlpools of space commandeered
   by our own obsequious hosts gearing         up at every idle moment to steal not         only life but even air itself  don't you         see / we're on the eve of destruction

      toy wrapping
      the daily tide

      our park

      disappearing city
      injured at the outset astute
      observers anonymous random
      kitchen speak for the garbage we help

      on the river of joy and
      when time comes
      and on the day of jewels
      and upon a crown of wealth
      and depths of poverty not
      my own none of
      this surprise me

      she sang


Ammiel Alcalay is the author of a seminal book in Jewish/Middle East studies, After Jews and Arabs, Remaking Levantine Culture.  He is also the editor of Keys to the Garden, New Israeli Writing-the first collection in any language to bring together the poetry, fiction and nonfiction of Middle Eastern (Mizrahi) and Sephardic Jews writing in Hebrew and Arabic.  A respected translator, poet and professor at Queens and CUNY, he is the author most recently of Memories of Our Future, Selected Essays 1982-1999 (City Lights).
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