I Speak of the City: Jai Chakrabarti


Photo courtesy of Peter Dressel

[I’ll be looking out for more blog posts from poet, novelist and good friend Jai Chakrabarti as he details his experiences in Jerusalem at his new blog: www.jaichakrabarti.blogspot.com.

Even in this excerpt from his first blog post, you can see how the City lives in the details. How the Wall not only wails but spreads out and finds new places to spring up throughout the City. How these walls can dissolve to doors if we can find the right key. How a storyteller can provide that key and keep the door open long enough to forget there were ever walls to begin with.]

excerpt from What a Gatekeeper Wants

Since it’s Shabbat, there’s few cars. Even then, Shaadi takes the long quiet road. He carries the heaviness of peace-workers who’ve suffered setbacks, who refuse to quit.

Along the way to Jerusalem / Yerushalayim / Al Quds he points out settlements and Arab villages. Many of the settlements are newly built. Walls spring up on both sides of the road. From one vantage point, the walls are without character, the same peach-white as the stones of the mountains around us. As we rise into the steppes: an occasional glimpse of a soldier at a checkpoint, a powerline, two children in kipas jumping on an old well.

In a few places, Shaadi mentions, the Wall is enlivened. In Ramallah graffiti speaks between stones. At one crossroads, a sliver of Tibetan prayer flags lull. Call.

Even Jerusalem, as we drive through the Old City, recognizes us first through its ramparts, towering fortress walls throughout history destroyed, re-imagined again.

As we come upon Damascus Gate, where a boy is waving a tee shirt for sale—Visit Palestine, Free Palestine it says—I can appreciate what the Gatekeeper whispers in my ear. He wants what I want. He knows I’d rather have my brew hot, but not scalding.

Sutra Dos:
The City will ask you to forget the graves under your house.

In exchange, the Gatekeeper will offer beauty, and why should you not take it, and why should you refuse such human gold as what the City’s memory wills to forget?

© Jai Chakrabarti from A Junkyard in Babylon

Author: Oscar Bermeo

Born in Ecuador and raised in the Bronx, Oscar Bermeo is the author of the chapbooks Anywhere Avenue, Palimpsest, Heaven Below, and To the Break of Dawn. He lives and works in Oakland, CA.

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