In 2009 I traveled to Israel on a free trip called “Birthright Israel” for young Jewish Americans. A few years later, I turned my experience into a narrative nonfiction essay about travel, identity, and what it means to have a homeland, which was published in this travel anthology.
Today, I turned that essay into a poem. My homework prompt for my Creative Writing students is to write a place poem – a poem about the narrative or emotional or sensory experience of a place. Right now, most of them are simply free-writing their poems. With this poem, I modeled for them how to use free-writing and prose writing to brainstorm ideas, phrases, and imagery that they can then shape and manipulate into a poem.
As if in a dream
between sun and stone
I move forward to the Wall
suffocating upon prayers
clutching my own inadequate offering
to nest between crevices in the rock
more solid and solemn than history
a motionless wave of hope and mourning
in the fervent buzz of a language I have forgotten
Then begin to shuffle backward
in reverent silent supplication
a pattern unfamiliar that moves my bones
and suddenly I remember why I am here
halfway around the world, crying tears
that fall upon the sand beneath my feet– no
beneath the feet of my ancestors
in this homeland that has never been my home
my heart begins to beat in tune with the stone
* The Kotel is the Hebrew name for the Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall, arguably the single most important Jewish site in all of Israel. Once part of the main synagogue in Jerusalem, it was all but destroyed by the Romans and shortly thereafter the Jews were expelled from the city. Thousands of years later, it is the holiest place for Jews from all over the world to visit, to pray, to mourn, and to leave small slips of prayer between its stones.