Woman-as-city; Woman-in-city: Babylon, Oakland & Me In the Ancient Near East, cities are women.

Cities are your mother and they suckle and feed you, and cities are your lover, and you marry her by living in the city, you enter her gates, and her towers are her bejeweled body. (In the Song of Songs the lover's neck is beautiful as a tower, in an amazing inversion of the land-as-woman metaphor.) In war, cities are ravaged and raped, their nakedness is uncovered. When you are exiled from your burnt down city you become an orphan. I grew up in Jerusalem and everywhere around me there were songs about Jerusalem, and the rocks who have a heart, and here she's a damsel in distress, waiting for her soldier-sons to come redeem her. Here and there made of gold, turning all the male poets into violins. Her sons are the warriors who came to save her. They stand weeping at Walling Wall, in their dusty, sexy, paratrooper helmets. Could I be the city's lover? An old problem for women poets, an old problem with the city-as-woman metaphor. Because I am neither a son or a warrior-lover. [now I'll read a poem fragment:] She confused herself with the city, so she made herself gates, wondered now who was going to fight to enter, like in her elementary school pageant: Six Day War, Seven Gates, brave beautiful men. It’s an easy confusion. You hear all those serenades: humans with hearts of stones stones with human hearts you can’t imagine they were meant for inert rocks you think they must be meant for you if you’re walking through the park and someone is singing. Michal Govrin, who writes about Jerusalem and Derrida and mysticism, said in a lecture here at Berkeley, "Jerusalem is the vagina of the world."

The bible doesn't really like cities or the decadent power-hungry people that live in cities, so Jerusalem is a kind of anti-city, a city without decadance, without Empire, without flashing lights – all white stone. The essence of city, Jerusalem's dark evil sister, is Babylon, seat of power and domination. The Book of Isaiah has a fantasy about Babylon: (chapter 47) Get down and sit in the dust, virgin daughter Babylon, Sit on the ground dethroned, daughter of Chaldea, they will no longer be calling you soft and dainty, Grasp the mill and grind flour, unveil yourself Strip your train, bare your leg, wade through rivers Your genitals uncovered,your shame also will be seen I will take revenge, and let no human get in the way. So, the end of Empire in this metaphorical system is also the rape of a beautiful well-dressed woman. Smash the flashing lights, smash the windows. Smash the whore on the beast. Babylon as Rome, as New York City, as Paris. Here is Henry James on Paris: (from The Ambassadors) "It hung before him this morning, the vast bright Babylon, like some huge iridescent object, a jewel brilliant and hard, in which parts were not to be discriminated nor differences comfortably marked. It twinkled and trembled and melted together, and what seemed all surface one moment seemed all depth the next." When I first moved to Oakland, everything seemed flat. Telegraph Avenue didn't have a secret body. I lived in North Berkeley and right near this little park strip, Ohlone Park, which was actuallythe green cover of the where the BART went. I wandered around thinking, this is not my life. I'm missing my life. Everyone I met seemed too thin, as if they would easily blow away. I saved a few empty computer files under the title: "Your beloved thin beloved."

I think I'm still looking for Oakland's body, which is sometimes the body of my exile from my parents and my first language. Here is a walk I took with my friend Maya around 2005. We walked from Woolsey & Shattuck up to college. It is really a shorter walk than I remember: The gardens darkened; its goes without saying we used to slide down a monster with red tongues. I’m making small maps of our everyday geographies. I’m layering memories like glaze on a painting.You said, aren’t I interesting enough? Memorizing the patterns of the art deco entrance-ways As if making an amulet, a shape with which to hold this day, tumbled out far from center. How to give Oakland a body? And how to make it a body not to be ravaged? I went on some important picnics with a crossdressing lover in Mountain View Cemetery and near the Chabot Space Center. One day you really see someone who was previously uninteresting, and suddenly they have these beams of light radiating out of them like a kindergartner's picture of the sun. Afterwards, I met the poets of Oakland, and we met the Black Panthers, and Occupy happened. [I will read you another poem I wrote where I think I am trying to find Oakland's body: ]

Rate of Exchange If all of Oakland was canals, scrambling off the boat to lock and unlock each level. Raise and drain the water. The boat having a certain buoyancy, ingenuity to float up to the fancy hills of Piedmont, Wildcat Canyon or Sibley: the magmatic labyrinths are flooded with this effort. The cows trundled up To the highest surface. Eucalyptus working overtime. If you could see through Oakland into other cities portal, palimpsest machine: the layers of barricades the old city of Oakland with its walls, its ruined temples. Cranking the locks at the cemetery, kitschy angels and pyramids getting covered in sea water. The water from Lake Merritt eddying around houses of mirth and mourning. If Oakland contained multiple academies of dead languages, (studied after the conquest) I'd ask you to enroll as a condition of our love-ship, the way you ask me to state a political position. If Oakland contained hanging gardens and water fountains in the shape of elephants, I'd say meet me for a talk about our relationship by the elephant fountain. If Oakland had large horse stables we could get horses to ride through the marshy mess. I remember myself now as more stupid than I must have been. If we reenacted Darger's battles in the downtown Oakland area – If bicycles could still ride with one wheel stolen off – If I met you at a demonstration against the war, against a war, surrounded by beautiful men, against a landscape of green-blue water – Would you even listen? Would you doff your hat to me? Would it still be impossible to conjugate redemption?

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