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Stephen Berer
the Eternal Jew's biographer

The Eternal Jew’s Tale, #75, Up the Euphrates

River & Birds, Altered State, image colorized and modified by the author, from the public domain book Picturesque Egypt, published 1878, owned by the author.
River & Birds, Altered State, image colorized and modified by the author, from the public domain book Picturesque Egypt, published 1878, owned by the author.

In this episode, fasten your seatbelts…

The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Fourteenth Era, Part 14 of 18, ~1170 C.E., to Khazaria
Sh’monah Esray, To Rebuild Jerusalem

Walkin’ the highways from Masyaf Mountain in the light of the sun — friends of the sheikh, no need for guards — to Aleppo and beyond.

To Antep* then west to avoid the Byzantines, and nor but a day to the great Firat** and there we sit and there we weep and there we remember Jerusalem. How do we sing the Lor’s song in a strange and wicked and lonely world?
* now Gaziantep; ** Euphrates

We imagined that river like it flowed direct out of Aden’s willows and palms. And now here it is mosquitos and gnats, ripple and gurgle and lap and splash, driftin’ muddy thru reed and marsh, past skippin’ hills and tremblin’ rocks, thru barren waste and frozen fields, thru all them places in our soul in our long searchin’ for the Lor in us. Infinitely faint, a music unheard, and yet it’s how the Lor touches us and in that touch we arise — Adam* swirled into consciousness — to give us form and a moment to live. Up and up and up we go, walk that river, slip and slide, ride them waters back to their source. The further we go the lesser we are, spillin’ our sweetness into the sand, and all our Torah washed away.
* other’s say: atoms

Aye, all our Adens flow back on us, them places of beauty and places of peace, moments of innosense, times of joy, places where the Lor seemed to stand by our side and touch us and mingle Torah in our veins. And yet it seems in the same places or moments nearby, such sorrows and losses, bruises and scars, shameful acts. We name these memories ‘Jerusalem,’ edge where eternity is tangent our soul, the Lor’s foundations unrestored.

And here, tho we didn’t know at the time, the fourteenth stage of our journey ends. Who would think Jerusalem would rise along these muddy banks, first a wisp, then a cloud, then a thunderhead’s broodin’ frown seared in charcoal and scarlet flames, flicker of lightning and thunder claps and stormy gusts that blow it on and disperse it back to wisp and mist.

Fourteenth Era, Part 15 of 18
May Israel flourish

Here on these shores we eat the last of Sheikh Rashid’s hashish cakes. As we climb aboard a rottin’ boat, our ferryman, Urshinnab, assures,
“Yea, I’ll take you’s all the way up this Euphrates to its source, even to that other world, that Aden where these shores end.”
Anyways, that’s the claim he makes. Batkol frowns and looks around. Marsh and silence. We slip from shore.

Languid ripples bend away. Reeds and muddy shoals and cranes. A breeze. The willows tremble and sigh, wavin’ their arms, ‘Come here. Forget.’ Beneath them, the women washin’ clothes see us and wave and begin to dance, swayin’ hips and sway of arms. And now the plane trees murmur dreams. The rustle of leaves like brushes on drums, and the birds in a chorus, warble refrains as the women bow to the ferry boat,
“Hail, ye holy spirits. Ascend.”
The birds take flight to accompany us; angels and egrets alight on our boat as the River Redemption flows to its source.

We lie on the prow. The azure sky descends. I touch it. It ripples and bends like water, zigzag arcs shoot out in a spray of color wherever I touch, as I dissolve in the liquid air. Our little ferry stretches out, and with it, like rubber, we elong into giants sailin’ an island upstream.

We pass beneath a willow tree into a masjid*, tiny and cool, with an intricate dome of inlaid tiles, polished sapphire, jade, and gold. What artist drew such a perfect design? The dome echoes a choir in song; must be a thousand angels of praise. Sudden, the dome in a thunder explodes. Birds, leaves, branches, sky. A flock of warblers scatters away and a rain of leaves flutter down….
* a little mosque

I wake from a dream. Astonished, I blink. I wake again and the world is new. I am in a boat. What river is this? I wake again. I am in a boat. From far away a woman stares. I know her face. I wake again. Heavy breathin’. I am in a boat. Far away… I wake again. A woman sittin’ far away. She speaks. Her words a waterfall, a low rumble. I wake from a dream. I am in a boat. Music echoes from far away.
“You are Batkol,”
I think I say. Am I dreamin’? I wake again. She murmurs, but all her words are garbled. I try to explain… She bursts into laughter. I wake from a dream. I am laughing. I close my eyes and see rivers that ripple into words down a page, mosques built in an arbor of trees.

I wake from a dream of rivers and boats. The world is a boat. It rocks on waves, and sooner or later what is standing, falls. It make me dizzy. So that is why…

I wake from a dream. But am I awake? Do I hear singin’ or Batkol’s voice? She stops laughin’. I listen close.

Splish… Splish… Gurgle … Splish. The world empties of sight and sound. Just a vast mosaic of blue sky. The splish and gurgle and the ferryman’s wheeze. And then in the silence I hear it again what I’ve heard many times, I don’t know when — a sigh, a whisper, a word, a phrase that comes like a shadow dance on the waves; a voice on the river or a Voice of the Lor singin’ itself, faint as a breeze, singin’ itself through the ages of me. Verses that slowly remember themselves. Mysterious lyrics. What do they mean?
‘In symmetry of love and decay…
‘Hear me; touch me.
‘I care not what is true.
‘And I betray what is coy.
‘I’ll lead you where you want to go,
‘And leave you, cold, alone…’

Be this a woman singin’ to me? Who is she? Potiphar’s* wife? Or Lilith callin’ from a farther shore? How do I know her temptin’ song? Again and again, but now it transforms,
‘In some, the degrees of love…
‘Come, hurry, touch me carnally.
‘Refuse echoes.
‘Cling to what is ekht…
‘Redeeming you who are called, alone.’
* Berraysheet/Genesis 39:1-20

“Batkol, do you hear what I hear, a woman singin’, alluring me?”
“I hear a khazzen* blessin’ us that we might flourish in our new land…
“‘*Et semmukh Duvveed uvdekhah…*’”
* cantor; prayer leader; *-* 15th blessing of the Sh’monah Esray

~~~~~~~~~~

In the next episode: sleeping in an abandoned fortress, but not entirely abandoned, it seems.

About the Author
I am a writer, educator, artist, and artisan. My poetry is devoted to composing long narrative poems that explore the clash between the real and the ideal, in the lives of historical figures and people I have known. Some of the titles of my books are: The Song uv Elmallahz Kumming A Pilgimmage tu Jerusalem The Pardaes Dokkumen The Atternen Juez Talen You can listen to podcasts of my Eternal Jew posts on my personal blog, Textures and Shadows, which can be found on my website, or directly, at: http://steveberer.com/work-in-progress. I live with my bashert just outside Washington, DC, and have two remarkable sons, the three of whom light my life.
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