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Sunday, May 30, 2021


by Sharon Lopez Mooney

"The Wall," a painting by Salam Khalili, the subject of today's poem.

History accosts him with the nothing
of childhood he could have done differently, 
caught by father in a web of conniving for money, 
clever methods for work, but he knew, 
got smarter as he aged, sold his knowledge, his charm
became a word and brushstroke warrior of defiant freedom
not for father but in spite, 
bold for his people, his children, 
against other fathers who would not.
Now afar, he craves Jerusalem, sensuous city seized and torn,
she bled through his veins, bound him to her, 
his home where he is not allowed to return,
punishment for refusing to be silent, 
A cost too great?
Skeleton bones rattle in with every step he takes
as he talks over business with his son, he feels
the ache of those years where war against war, its demand,
its seduction, took from him a grave toll, his son, a daughter, his family.
He burns with unanswerable questions
could he have done it differently? Did he do it again? Sell 
himself, this time to flight, to safety, to promised freedom,
Did I, father?
in ‘this land of the free, home of the brave’ where he still craves
freedom, the past sears his memory into ash, blows it 
across fecund black earth, cool, quiet, safe,
Am I doing it again, father? 
is the price once more, too great?
invisible under the fascinating mask he wears, the scars
throb faithfully reminding, history is what he made,
and history married him to the destiny of his people 
where each vow could have been a thousand others.
He lays in this lost midnight, awake, feeling the pulse
of the past pounding in his body
praying the price is not his soul.

Author’s Note: Salam Khalili was a Palestinian poet, painter, and journalist in Jerusalem before, during, and after the 1967 "Six Day War." He was never a soldier, but knew and interacted with many independent fighters against Israel. He and his wife felt there was great danger to their family and so sent their children away to be protected by nuns at a monastery. Editor-in-Chief of Jerusalem’s Al-Quds Daily, he published in 1970 an uncensored story claiming a secret deal to give up Jerusalem. As a result, Salam was imprisoned in Israel for seven years. After Amnesty International and a group of journalists worked to have him released, Salam was deported from Israel. We met in California where he settled, and we became intimates. Although he was never able to find his way into written English, he remained a master poet and story teller in oral English. He asked me to pass on his stories in my own original poetry. This poem is one of them. Salam died in 2015, never having been allowed to return to his beloved Jerusalem. 

Sharon Lopez Mooney is a retired Interfaith Minister who worked in the death and dying field. She now lives in Mexico and visits northern California where her family still thrives. Mooney received a California Arts Council Grant for a rural poetry series; co-published a regional arts journal; owned an alternative literature service; and, produced poetry readings and performances. Mooney’s poems are or will be published in The MacGuffin, Fallow Deer, The Muddy River Poetry Review, The Voices Project, The Avalon Literary Review, Adelaide International Magazine, Galway Review, Ginosko Literary Journal, California Quarterly, Hags on Fire, The Ricochet Review, Roundtable Literary Journal, and the anthologies Calyx: Women and Aging, Cold Lake Anthology, Words of Power, Songs to the Sun, Poetry is a Mountain, Smoke & Myrrors (UK).