We kept them together to protect them, he said, though we did make the men wear the red And yellow badge. You must understand, this was for their good. We didn’t want them corrupted by our Catholicism, so we had to ensure we would not mingle with and debase them. There were our bankers, without them the King would’ve made tax demands on us and a kingdom cannot long survive on the broken backs and empty pockets of its people. And anyway, they knew they need not comply, after all what’s a pound of silver fine to a Jew.
Some, mostly of us, said we were the chosen people, as if wandering the desert for 40 years was the grand prize, okay of Sodom got the runners-up gift. I didn’t buy it then, don’t now, even after I sold my membership as the price of final freedom. No, we were, still are, the people of the candle and oil lamp, the latter far too sooty these days, playing hell with our smoke detectors. Two every Friday, and Hanukkah is good for forty-four, and on the anniversary of a death, just one, but that to burn a full 24 hours. So while our butchers fatten their thumbs for the scales, and our bakers tell their wives they won’t be home for dinner on Thursday nights, busy braiding dough, it is our candle makers who have chosen us as their kind of people.
The house is suddenly empty standing alone on a stark barren lot. The old drapes are drawn tight and little light enters, but there is no one there to see it. Every once in a while there is a rattle, a creaking, and you expect someone to appear in one of the now dark windows, the door to be thrown open, an invitation to enter or at least a wave, life asserting itself within, but it will not happen. You know the house cannot stand long unattended, that it will, too soon, fall away leaving only a hole to mark its presence.
On the anniversary of the start of a war one feels almost compelled to speak to its horrors, its cause, its effect. But we live in an age where wars are plentiful, when peace is the exception and war seems to loom around every corner. So on this anniversary I watch the snowy egret stare into the pond outside my window, the great bird calmly imagining that in her world all of the people are merely fish.
The salmon people don’t live here anymore you have moved them up the river, then inland so they no longer need to wander.
The salmon do not swim here anymore you have dammed the rivers to draw out their power and penned the mighty fish where the river first licks the sea.
The eagle doesn’t fly here anymore the great pines that sat for generations below his aerie are now cut into neat supports on which we hang our walls.
Our children do not run here anymore they have moved to the cities, have gone off to wars for fighting is the only job which they are given.
We have no rivers we have no salmon we have no sons, save those who sleep under neat white stones. We look for the eagle a mighty spirit but he, too, has been claimed by the others to decorate their buildings. We have only our spirit to guide us and we know that soon you will claim them too and leave us as you arrived to repeat the sad story.
No one is certain who painted the words on the wall. No one knew when the painting occurred, someone noticed the words one morning and told others, and the word spread through town. People stopped to look at the words, but few understood what they meant. Soon there were pictures drawn around the words, familiar faces, and people would stop, add words until the wall was a mural that could not be forgotten, only ignored by those who simply wouldn’t understand.
Magellan set sail 497 years ago,
which had nothing to do with her desire
to find a corner in which she could stand,
protected on two sides, and still
stare out into the world and see
all that was going on around her.
Better still if it were fashioned
of plexiglass, it could surround her
fully, as long as sound could get in,
and she could be fully engaged
in life without the risks that others
always seemed to drag in their wakes.
It wasn’t that she didn’t need people,
she just needed them at the proper
distance and most could never
determine what that distance
might be despite her entreaties.
Magellan would die a year and a half
later, a mistake she would never make.