Jerusalem Imagined and Recalled
Jerusalem perpetually escapes the present. It slips into strong recollection—memory with all its failings constructing histories and narratives in dusty layers under and around every stone chipped by human hand. Human-hand made narratives, full of political failings, slip Jerusalem into side pockets.
And Jerusalem also slips, paradoxically, into a weak, almost-timeless desire—imagination with all its lust polishing each dreamed-of rosy-limestone stair and wall to perceptual perfection. The desired Jerusalem, the imagined Jerusalem, the recalled Jerusalem, recollect Jerusalem into a cacophony of dissonant and contested cries.
Rabbis long ago understood the multiplicity of Jerusalem and wrote of Jerusalem below and Jerusalem above—meaning physical and spiritual. They have been taken to mean below as this world, the present, and to mean above as the spiritual realm, the world-that-is-coming—which could refer to heaven or could refer to the future: mundane, redemptive, or apocalyptic.
I take the words to mean Jerusalem imagined (above) and recalled (below), desire imagining Jerusalem and faulty images memorializing Jerusalem piece by piece, piecing themselves together to build this city that dissolves the present with its creation.
This garden I now write from also slips from the present to reside in a dual-space of a strong past and weak future, of an almost-absent present, of memory and desire, of recall and imagination. Like Jerusalem, it exists only in the mind—like the real toad’s imaginary garden, a thought-experiment generating genres too slippery to grasp.
And since the toad’s garden exists only as a mental construction, let it slide now into Jerusalem, along a stone path from one cobbled road in the Old City to another, an opening on the west of the alley suddenly revealing the garden, a glimpse of possibility unanchored by actuality.
I have imagined it there, for the moment, so that I might recall it here in this text, something abstractedly vague as the toad croaks then splashes into its reflexivity, a mirror-pool of psychology and absence, a mere pool of sociological and political ambivalence.
White jasmine flowers trumpet from their dark shrubbery, arching over the entrance from the alley, nearly hiding the portal as it covers the East wall of the garden. Oleander stretches up the wall that encloses the North side of the garden. Bougainvillea stretches up the South wall. On the West, trellises of grape vines. Nearer the ground, short hedges of neatly trimmed lavender and rosemary border the square garden. These all strive for a square of clear blue above, the imagined Jerusalem.
Now, in autumn, only the shrubbery and herbal hedges bloom. If it were spring, narcissus would be blooming. In winter, cyclamen and anemones. In summer, planted annuals—petunias, marigolds, sweet alyssum. The tended grass remains green all year.
In the center of the garden grow two trees. A lemon tree wants to spread its reputation as the Tree of Life, but January fruits give it away. Next to it grows a tired olive tree, knotted-trunk peace-symbol. Its green fruit reflect glimmers of light.
At a distance from the trees sit four benches, each with its back toward one wall.
This garden does not exist, even while my mind sits in it, watching, waiting. I think I possess this garden, but then the toad’s trigonometric pool appears, just in time to disabuse me of foolishness. I don’t occupy this garden. It occupies my mind.
I am not alone here.
On the bench to my left sits an old woman. She has a basket of grape leaves next to her today. Some days she brings fresh dates, golden, unripe. Others, her basket holds za’atar, a spice mixture sprinkled with sesame seeds. She murmurs praise for her produce.
On the bench to my right, an ancient-looking man sits reading a book, most days. I cannot tell if he holds the same book every day or a different book. He doesn’t know, either. He reads it, pauses, mutters, cocks his head as though listening, and then continues to read.
Across from me a woman occupies the remaining bench. Her two children play in the grass in front of her. She watches them and smiles, but her eyes seem not to see the garden as they search some other place, subtly creating silence around her.
I think about what to write here. My children play behind my bench.
Four people have come to this space for generations. Each lays a claim on it. The four forget about the toad and its reflecting pool. They forget about the gardener, the people who live behind the walls that enclose the garden, or whatever may thrive beyond. They remember living here for thousands of years. They imagine living there now.
The four people reflect a me and you that do not cohere. We fall asleep here, and never leave. The dream unfolds.
There is no garden. There is a garden.
There is a Jerusalem. There is no Jerusalem.
I live in Jerusalem.