Nomi Stone, “Why I Came”

Why I Came
Nomi Stone

Djerba, Tunisia

Under amber, the nearly lost
city: I dream myself
here, to enter how I imagine
we had once lived, until our cities
were paved over, stones
from our graves laid
in the new city’s walls.

I came because here,
amber flooded and
cooled over the homes, over
hands blessing candles inside.
And breath from the lost
cities kept moving in living
throats.

Comment:

“I dream” / “I imagine” / “I came” – self-knowledge is had through what is other; “we” occurs once, as part of “had once lived.” The character of this self-knowledge is peculiar: “the nearly lost city” – in both time and space this city was lost. Our speaker is near to it perhaps, but it was covered by amber. Certainly others had missed it. And we need not mention how much time has lapsed since the city was active.

“I dream myself here / to enter how I imagine:” the speaker is three times removed from the physical reality of the place. She must dream herself “there;” she is only entering where she has located herself; where she will enter is what she imagined. To what degree is “we” a construct of one’s own mind? To what degree is the attempt to recover the past only a further obscuring of it?

Still. “We” seems to be a guard of sorts against “them:” “until our cities / were paved over, stones / from our graves laid / in the new city’s walls.” “They” were explicitly imperial; cities were just a means, reducible to roads, needing perpetual updating. More importantly, the past was sacrificed for the present: graves were turned into walls.

The difference between us and them turns out to be “I.” Dreaming allowed our speaker to travel; imagining accessed a past different from literal history, the building of roads and walls. The speaker now steps forth, but it is not necessarily a literal step forward. She articulates a reason for being here:

amber flooded and
cooled over the homes, over
hands blessing candles inside.
And breath from the lost
cities kept moving in living
throats.

The same amber that obscured the “nearly lost city” preserved it. Perhaps this was a tragic answer to the most personal of prayers and hopes, that “we” survive. Other hands had paved over cities, built walls from graves; perhaps the difference between “us” and “them” consists in a sameness – we want the same thing. The quiet creation of light parts amber for “breath.” The air had moved the amber before, but that same air is moved now.

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