‘Sleepless in Jerusalem’ and Other Poems


Howell-7By Lloyd Howell

Note: The following poems originally appeared in the 2010 issue of the Journal of Unification Studies.

Sleepless in Jerusalem

for M, a Jewish friend

Behold, he who keeps Israel will
neither slumber nor sleep. Ps. 121:4

Visiting your ancestral homeland for the first time,
you say that you had the best sleep
of your life –
the kind that only babies have!

I know what you mean but I pray
that you wake quickly
to the facts across town;
where the lines are being redrawn
and homes declared illegal
by bureaucratic fiat
to be bulldozed, without compensation.

no, I mean families;
to be exact, non-Jewish families,
removed by armed soldiers
following faceless orders from above
to soon stand, teeth gnashing,
in utter despair
amid unrecognizable rubble
children screaming, crying
their toys crushed,
their world gone,
now exposed to life’s inequities
at all too young an age.

Wake up!
There on the other side of town
enemies are being made;
yea, mass produced –
a house goes down,
a wall goes up
cutting off the ‘Arabs’ from you
and each other and jobs.
Soon you both will be totally
estranged from each other.

Wake up –
there on the other side [of town]
is having a nightmare,
arm is reaching out
as they are being pulled under by a tide of hate!

Wake up –
join me in my sleeplessness.
For what kind of friend would I be
to let you sleep in false tranquility?

My Beloved Holy Land

for all those who live there, especially my friends

Inside the old city of Jerusalem
there are many walls
with stone dry as bone bleached in desert sun
upon which,
in stark contrast and in random locations,
tenaciously and wondrously cling
tufts of green plants;
their names being
Peace, Shalom and Salaam Alaikum.

Surrounding Jerusalem
there are rounded rocky parched hills
upon which gnarly twisted shrubs and trees
amazingly persist.
They are the cousins of
Peace, Shalom and Salaam Alaikum
and their names are
Hope, Faith and Perseverance.

In and around Jerusalem
there are countless barren spots
and dusty empty lots
upon which are strewn
innumerable stones and rocks,
unlike those of my Long Island,
they are coarse and harsh
with sharp protruding edges
and in the hands of the displaced and occupied
their names are
Hate, Anger and Frustration.

Above the thirsty troubled land
there is a pretty blue but empty sky;
the dry earth and plants below
cry out, wait and silently pray
for the return of messianic clouds
whose names are
Prosperity, Forgiveness and Abundance.

Upon the many municipal hilltops
are dwellings,
stacked and tiered
spreading outward and down
made of that dry bleached stone,
which when hit by beams of golden sunlight
are mystically transformed
to an ethereal gleam
of cities that seem so close and yet so far away
their names being
Redemption, Heaven and Paradise.


Silence Louder Than Words

Attending the Dialogue
at a time of terrible tragedy
between Israelis and Palestinians.

Many had much to say
but the one who said most of all
lips shivering, body trembling,
as rivers of words
ran silently down her cheeks.

The Jihad Within

There is within
every man
a Judas:
grievance, jealousy
that can fester, overwhelm
and bring down
the un-inoculated soul.

There is within
every man
a Christ;
for otherwise
how would we recognize
the light, the spark,
that pinch of leaven
by which our soul
can rise up to heaven.

Silent Night(s)

a Judean village,
a cold night,
a barn of sorts,
a baby born,
angels attending,
curious shepherds dropping in,
a guiding star,
strangers bearing gifts.

God watching,
Roman overseers,
unrest throughout the land,
a jealous king
fearing for his sovereignty,
Barabbas scheming.
Love seeking a way out —
the door closes.

Not long ago:
a Korean village,
a cold night,
a thatched-roof house,
a newborn’s cry,
rice-growing farmers stopping by,
a mysterious golden crane arrives,
villagers bringing ginseng and herbs.

God all around,
trouble makers aplenty,
Japanese potentates with iron-like grip,
an almond-eyed Judas lurking in the shadows.
Love rising from the rice paddies
a door opens
taking root, growing, pollinating
to a new Roman Empire
and then the world beyond.

Author’s Note: Who’s to say there can’t and won’t be another ‘silent night’ catching all by surprise. Pick an unlikely place and meditate on it.♦

Lloyd Howell (UTS Class of 1978) has participated in a number of Middle East peace initiatives and Palestinian-Israeli-Christian dialogues. His third book of poetry, Sleepless in Jerusalem, from which these poems are selected, is generated from those and other related experiences. He also has two other poetry books, Toward A Nation Not Yet Born, and What Language Do You Speak? His upcoming book, Remembering Father: a poetic tribute to Rev. Moon, is expected to be published early in 2015.

2 thoughts on “‘Sleepless in Jerusalem’ and Other Poems

Add yours

  1. Thank you, Lloyd for sharing your gift with us. A timely reading for the events in Jerusalem this week that all three speak to; “Silence Louder than Words” shows the unspeakable suffering and “The Jihad Within” and “Silent Night” speak to hope.

  2. Lloyd, there are some excellent textures in your various poems.

    “Barabbas scheming.
    Love seeking a way out –
    the door closes.”

    I have read a lot of your work, and have been inspired by your eye. If we ever find ourselves on the road to Damascus together, I would enjoy getting lost in history for a long afternoon or two.

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