I am human: nothing that is human
is foreign to my interests.
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.
—Philo of Alexandria
There are murders in the church on the site
of Jesus’ birth,
machine guns in Manger Square,
bombs and tanks in the live nativity
at the corner of Edgewood and Riverside Avenue.
on both sides in every war,
heavily armed against the mirror,
scripture sky cracking and popping
with one self-righteous apocalypse or another.
A human being’s the human race,
a killer’s a suicide bomber,
the Israeli army is Islamic Jihad is Father Abraham.
The newborn bears a mushroom cloud,
a mass grave,
and a crucifixion.
Nearby is a small house with many noises,
rooms lost in rooms,
Millennial branches scratch at its eyes.
In the mornings it marvels
that its nightmares now
set its mood for days.
A haunting is a compact affair.
A head harbors more ghosts
than any castle or landscape.
My respect for you
is an acknowledgement of the tortured complexity
of your hierarchies of demons.
I will be kind,
for I too am haunted.
(The whole of humankind’s found in each
of its parts,
like a hologram,
like a crystal.
The streets of every city
converge at the heart of every hometown.
The blood of my body
moves through every heart in history this moment.
Every dhammapada runs through this line of this poem.)
This nearby house,
it’s an obscure house
in a bulimic sidestreet swallowed by Babylon.
Most of the maps have missed it.
Most hauntings don’t make headlines.
the fifteen crooked blocks of this quarter
were condemned and cleared away,
but I still live here.
Polish Jews still live here.
Palestinian Arabs still live here.
American Indians still live here, wondering
what an Indian is
and what makes an Indian American.
Then there was that day you were standing at the corner
when you realized this red brick right angle
wasn’t some anonymous conjunction
in the middle of millions of people,
when you realized the urban stone was earth,
where everything had happened,
where there was nothing left to take place,
rich earth, wise,
and you came back inside
and together we listened to the branches
blown against the house’s eyes.
(You stand before a war crimes tribunal/
mutilated, you lie in a mass grave.
You molest a young Indian girl/
you make her a Disney cartoon.
You create. You love. You adopt. You share. You give.
You murder. You enslave.
You educate. You emancipate.
You are the one human being.
The rest of us are parts of you.)
every moment is central.
So you sit there and I sit here.
I am afraid to speak,
but I’m dying to ask you so much,
to ask what made you notice.
I’m dying to ask you why you
cannot be part of me,
if we can’t negotiate,
if we can’t somehow be part of one another,
if I am doomed to this insignificance
because I want you too much,
because I reduce myself
by the means of my own desperation.
Damn these near-sighted eyes!—
I’m asking myself all the questions,
when I’ve come so far to talk to you.
So you sit there and I sit here,
and we still haven’t said a word,
though I’ve been shouting
and demanding your attention
from the other side of my passport.
From over there,
you must’ve heard something I said,
but now it seems my tongue’s been sewn
to the roof of my mouth.
My lips are frozen.
What made you notice?
A particular thing I said?
Or a particular way I said it?
I’m dying to ask.
So you sit there and I sit here,
and I waste my appointment.
You look so much
like everyone I’ve ever wanted,
like every pretty passing face
on my little red brick corner
of Manger Square,
and I’m dying to know
why I must be conglomerated,
what I can do to bring to bone
the fact that every one of us
is as you, that none of us
is alone like all of us
feel in our sad little houses that we are.
I’m dying to know.
I’m dying to ask you.
You stare at me,
I want you.
I am afraid to speak.
I drag you back
beneath broken arches,
and I keep the whole world in this little house.
It is a low house,
but there are many echoes,
and old men make the beds all day.
I have taken your place.
The cities outside are empty.
I traveled a long way,
and I wanted you so badly.
Naturally, however, I realize
you were only right here,
sitting across from me at the table,
and I haven’t left this house in decades.
In the mornings I marvel
that my nightmares now
set my mood for days.
I can hear the night the whole world over.
I’m sincere when I tell you
I want to take good care of you.
I’ll be kind,
for I am far more haunted than you.