How (it seems) I came to be tattooed
in the house of W**** R****
in the Old City of Jerusalem.

It was the sour stench of tear gas
rising up the steps of David Street
from the alleys of the Christian Quarter.
It was the Border Guards beating
their prisoners after Friday prayers.
It was the blueness of sky,
it was the air-powered hiss of bus doors,
it was dein goldenes Haar, Margarete.
It was a haircut at the barbershop
in the Muslim Quarter,
it was the date (1714) on the ironstone house
in which my father was born.
It was Karl Marx writing
that the worker has no homeland,
it was the failure of the Enlightenment,
it was the McMahon correspondence,
it was the Balfour Declaration,
it was a Yemeni girl on Kibbutz Shomrat.
It was the coastal plain seen
from the Galilee highlands,
it was arriving in Nazareth,
it was tomatoes growing in sand
in the Wilderness of Zin,
it was George McRae singing Rock your baby.
It was the gold teeth of Bedouin girls,
it was kif on the Lebanese border,
it was the greyness of England,
it was looking for work in Tiberias.
It was her name scratched on a hotel wall,
it was passing through deserts in buses,
it was the rest-stop near Yad Mordechai,
it was a signpost to El Arish,
it was the panic of an animal in front of a fire.
It was the indiscriminate pursuit of affection.
It was the footsteps of a priest.
It was mist at dawn on the Jaffa Road,
it was the stars seen from the desert at night,
it was the chemicals in the hair dye,
it was the sound of earth landing on the pine.
It was the strength people need.
It was the evening
and the black walls of the passageway.
It was the blind man on the Via Dolorosa,
it was haji painted above the shop doors,
it was the mother suffocating her baby
to protect it from fedayeen.
It was not knowing the names of trees.
It was being afraid of snakes,
it was not knowing the names of birds,
it was organophosphates in the orchard,
it was poor sight in the dark,
it was the mirrors turned to the wall,
it was the streetlamp’s small circle of light.
It was the loneliness of people who believe they believe,
it was the hopelessness of choirs,
it was the smell of stone and wood in churches.
It was the callousness of killers,
it was the casual cruelty of soldiers,
it was arrested development,
it was abortions we procured.
It was Graham who died at four,
it was the fearful child’s bedroom,
it was the abusive neighbour,
it was everything that has ever happened.

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