Where Water Meets Land | By Heather O'Brien
Three-channel 35mm Film, 120 slides, 25 min, 2014 - 2016.
We take pictures so we can forget. We see decades of internment, nationalism, and domesticity. Projections transform into fantasy, ruminating in the unfamiliar. To forget is the only way to remember.
Flags on the walls mark claims, but the walls themselves do not take sides. Stone upon stone upon stone. Who lived, who died? The walls do not tell us. But the city echoes, layered with everything visible and hidden and longing for mercy. I can’t see the dead buried beneath the earth, nor those living among us. But they are here, all of them, their footsteps tracing a path along the stones. Here is the echo of a child who slips into church to pray for his ill mother. The city gates are about to close, bells are chiming, priests are chanting. Birds stir at the reverberation of bells, then settle again. Voices trail on the evening air like an echo of the day’s cascading song and murmur. The child snatches a crust from the basket of communion bread, then rushes out through the gates as they swing shut. He will take the bread to his mother, weak in her bed. Through their small window they will watch together as the sky dims to a murky gray, its hue wafting from the clouds like purple ebbing from a cloth dyed and washed. Together they will listen to the chime of bells older than either of them. They will not know how far into the future that chime will echo, nor who will listen.
Tonight the moon rose full and ancient
over the sea, dragging its radiance behind
like a cloak across a winter sky so deep,
so distant, I could imagine no greater
darkness. Huge and untouchable, your death
rose with it. Before me lay the sea—that plain
of salted silver bearing the tracks of everything
dreamed and lost; an expanse so vast, so fierce
and tender that I stood stricken. Grief whirled
within me like a planet: rich with awe,
pocked with the shadowed scar of knowledge.
Moonrise, moonset, you are not here.
Those last months, as you wrote letter
after letter, to be opened after, oak and maple
flared their autumnal glory, their multi-hued
grief. Now you are absent: smile, voice,
heartbeat, that thread of breath bearing
the body’s pulse, its rippling memories.
What remains are words—etched, echoing,
still visible in this earthly moment.
The old moon trails its radiant path
from dark to dark, illuminating a landscape
of memory: that salted plain
where moonrise swallows whole the night.
Lisa Suhair Majaj
Lisa Suhair Majaj, a Palestinian-American, is author of Geographies of Light (Del Sol Press Poetry Prize winner), of poems and essays published internationally in many journals and anthologies, and of two children's books. She is also a scholar of Arab-American literature, and co-editor of three volumes of critical essays on Arab, Arab American, and other international women writers. Some of her poems have been translated into Greek, Arabic, Hebrew and several other languages. Her poetry was included in the 2016 exhibition Aftermath: The Fallout of War—America and the Middle East (Harn Museum of Art). She lives in Cyprus.