On History

for the residents of Ein Karem, Jerusalem

A plentiful thing. With it we water
what remains of these and other places,
two churches, sun-scorched, and a tall steeple
where the mosque stood. A dirt path embraces
each holy site, skirts considerably
the artists’ village, hill-side bungalows
where some, arriving poor from the city
have settled for more. Come summer, the rows
of peony will hide these well. For now
we see the red roofs’ clamour at each tower,

spelling trouble. The cold brings, with its swifts
and blackcaps, other migratory threats.
An odd rebuke, neighbours given short shrift—
nothing so flammable as death or debt—
merely the slow heat of companionship
stretched across quiet months. As days begin
to grow and then meld we start to let slip
small kindnesses, our tempers lengthening
while travellers return to gather round,
in their flagged groups, the historical grounds

and take pictures. Passing over the signs
of such wonders as these: prayer's still shared hour,
the shade of white brick, grapes thick on the vines,
our gardens, planted long enough to flower.
We fold winter away. Remind the men
to line the streets with stalls, decked full of plump
unseasonal fruit, whole crates plucked by hand
outside other walled cities. As they come
from afar in their strange pilgrim way,
to see what’s past, and presently here.

by Theophilus Kwek
from Giving Ground (2016)