Poem for Balfour 100

I thought the historian wept,

At least, his voice cracked,

As well it might: his words for the past hour

Had exceeded the speed limit

The lecture hall was his fast lane.

Now, in his closing remarks, he spoke of tears –

Not specifying who shed them,

Nor did he need to, our tears and his,

And the tears of our enemies

And of our fathers and mothers,

Of martyrs among us and of victims we made,

Of top hatted politicians

And the indigent Eastend Jews

Who gathered in Fieldgate Street

Outside the synagogue (established 1899)

And sang Hatikvah, ‘The Hope.’

November 1917, the Balfour letter

Spoke with favour of a homeland

On excessively holy ground

Overflowing with history

And conflicting rights from time immemorial,

So this, after the  rootlessness,

The pogroms and the libels,

Rekindled the dormant spark.

A century passes and hope mutates;

Hope of reconciliation

Hope of affirmation

Hope for the abiding nation.

‘Notwithstanding all the tsures,’

The historian said and halted,

I thought he was overcome,

But he picked up his burden

Like the prophets of ancient times:

‘Notwithstanding all the tsures

It seems right to celebrate

The Balfour Declaration.’

The audience rose up and applauded.

Perhaps many thought as I did

Of the remnant of Israel

And the Guardian of that remnant,

Of beachside hotels, milk and honey,

Venality of power, Iron Dome,

The dispossessed neighbour

The blood lust of enmity

Digital innovation, medical progress,

The borders, the strictures, the wall,

The West Bank Barrier, sprayed

By Banksy’s mandatory enlightenment.

And the other wall, where we pray,

‘Suffer not Israel to perish,’

Tangled and tenacious flora persist,

Obtruding between the bricks.

Visitors pressing their hands against the wall,

Feel the heat of  accumulated prayer,

Some wail aloud but some are silent

Always weeping, always hoping.

2 November 2017

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