Middle-Aged Man Photographed In Zion

by Bernard Henrie
The Writer's Block
Third Place, March 2011
Judged by Kwame Dawes


Owls stare from dark eye sockets.
Each cheek in the museum photographs
dry as Gaza.

I see my own face
in the black and white portraits.
The autistic gaze of a dog leaning his nose
from an automobile window.

That was the year Ambassador Bolton
suggested Israel attack Iran, Fatah rockets
drifted over Jerusalem and water turned bitter
in Ramallah.

The gallery shuts down. The night watchman
passes with his flashlight from window to window.

I sit for coffee, the pages of the Jerusalem Post
ruffle in the salt laden breeze from Galilee.
I walk to the Wailing Wall, but cannot think
what to pray.

The stars in irregular rows begin their silver stare
over the old city and the Occupied Zone.


It is striking how photographs in a museum are the first window into the disquiet of the city, but soon the speaker is outdoors, drinking coffee, reading the Jerusalem Post, and what appears to be a commentary from outside of the “real” space becomes a dispatch from the “front”—the kind of dispatch that reminds us that the fronts are constantly present in our lives no matter where we live these days. The most eloquent and powerful line of the poem is so subtly rendered it could be missed: “but I cannot think/ what to pray.” A fine poem. --Kwame Dawes

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