God is Not an Elephant (but He is in the Room)
At the inter-faith conference
All hell was breaking loose
As men of faith failed to convince each other
Of which was God’s preferred people
Or favourite Prophet
Or most desired form of worship
One stood up and said,
I will tell you a story
And because they all liked stories
They shut up and let him speak and he said:
There were some men of faith in a room
And there was an elephant there but it was dark
So they could not see it
But they knew something was there
So they all said:
The Orthodox Christian said:
It is like a piece of rope,
To which the Catholic said:
No, not like rope but a snake.
Indeed not, said the Protestant,
Long and straight maybe
But not a snake or a rope but smooth
And it jabs my finger sharply;
It is like a sword.
The Orthodox Jew said:
No, it is not like that at all.
It is like a wall,
While the liberal Jew said:
Not so! ‘Tis like a ball!
The Sunni Muslim said:
If you could see
You’d know like me
That it is like a tree.
The other Muslim said:
It is like parchment!
He was Shia
And was, of course, holding the ear,
The Sunni, the leg,
The Jews, the side and the head,
And the Christians, respectively,
The tail, the trunk and tusk which,
If nothing else,
At least all began with ‘t’.
Like you perhaps
They recognised the tale –
The Jews, thinking of jokes about
And four Prime Ministers,
It is a Jewish story
(Perhaps not actually but metaphorically)
The Christians could not agree naturally and said:
It is our story
And describes our curious trinity.
And a Muslim shouted out:
Actually, it is our story!
It is Sufi!
Which was met by a loud retort from another brother of that faith
That that meant the story was wrong absolutely
As it had not been recorded by Muslim or Bukhari
And so what happened to these men
Was that the conference ended there and then
Not only could they not agree
They could not even let the story be
And so went home
(There but for the grace of God go we)
Rapping My Way to Islam
I had a dream
A crazy dream
Where things weren’t really what they seemed
I drove a cart
Through a city
A Jewish man in the back behind me
Looked like JC
Crowds were shouting
‘Bout World War III
A chance to blame it on world Jewry
I felt bad for him sitting there behind me
Cos way back in the 80s in the Galilee
I got lifts from loads of Israelis
They didn’t give me
Milk and honey
But gave me cake and drinks all fizzy
So this here now it really got me
I wanted to give the guy some sympathy
So I stopped at a stall right next to a tree
And got him a bun
All pink and sticky
Turned to give it him
And say I’m sorry
But he’d changed to a guy from deepest Araby
Kaffiyeh and thobe all white and sparkly.
Three years later that guy was me.
Can You Keep a Secret?
A Palestinian child takes the good soldier a glass of tea,
and she tells you this only when she trusts you,
trusts you on pain of death
a massive vow of secrecy
An Israeli talks of a Palestinian family in Gaza
that she and hers are good friends with.
Visits aren’t possible any more.
But it is not a war
though sometimes it seems so
Everyone here can find reason for hatred and fear.
Yet perhaps everyone has a moment
they have shared that they hold secret
in their hearts,
A secret that may be deeply buried,
so deep that it is a secret even from the self.
They are dangerous, these secrets.
Illogical, and they seem to negate
whole sets of belief systems
by which people define themselves.
But we all need one,
at least one, good ‘Other’.
And if we haven’t met them
we will keep a place in our hearts for them,
for this mythical figure to enter our lives
and make us whole.
But if we have to wait too long
our hearts will ache and close,
and we will succumb
to something like madness
and we will declare war
In our numbness
on the other,
and hence on ourselves.
We will vow annihilation.
An end to all our fears
They hanged Eichmann here in ‘62
For what he’d done
But even he had once learned Hebrew for two years.
You sit there and
I realise that
You are hollow
Your words echo
From the empty
Cavern of your chest
As you describe how best
To just be rid of the rest
I’d wondered before
How you’d been able
To dismiss with such ease
The one across the table
They’d sounded genuinely
In pain describing
At your hands
And I’d thought that you
Where they’d been and
What they’d seen
You felt no echo
You have to choose
To be in someone else’s shoes
But you choose
The Anatomy of Longing
I am going to be like a scientist
(She can cry
We will take some numbers
This one tells us much
See how big it is
Compared to this one
(Do I smell food?)
Let us move one step away
And talk of names
The naming of parts
Of who we are
(No, the oudh does not sound like a guitar)
We are from
And let us look at the term
That suffered collateral damage
No, it is a joke!
(Of course, they did
That’s why they left
My grandmother for one)
From that book
(The curtain flaps in the breeze
Just like the one in my old room)
So, to conclude
What is in a name?
It is dead
I have cut out the letters
And now the soul is gone
It probably died in that place
Unfortunately, I do not belong
It is an interesting case
And what is that water on my face?
I am sitting in a taxi,
Jerusalem to Gaza,
On the radio, two Arab women are talking.
I understand next to nothing.
But as my eyes become heavy
I come to understand exactly
what they are saying.
‘There will be peace,
and the guns will melt
into the sand.’
They elaborate, explaining how,
and it rings true.
I am sure I will remember the specifics
when I wake
and I drift into a deeper sleep,
comforted that there is peace
within and without.
from all this.
When I wake,
I want to write it down,
but have no pen,
the car is moving,
and, as I try to hold on to what they said
it slips through my fingers like sand
until I can’t, for the life of me,