The Amen Stone
By Yehuda Amichai
Translated by Chana Bloch and Chana Kornfeld
On my desk there is a stone with the word "Amen" on it,
a triangular fragment of stone from a Jewish graveyard destroyed
many generations ago. The other fragments, hundreds upon hundreds,
were scattered helter-skelter, and a great yearning,
a longing without end, fills them all:
first name in search of family name, date of death seeks
dead man's birthplace, son's name wishes to locate
name of father, date of birth seeks reunion with soul
that wishes to rest in peace. And until they have found
one another, they will not find perfect rest.
Only this stone lies calmly on my desk and says "Amen."
But now the fragments are gathered up in lovingkindness
by a sad good man. He cleanses them of every blemish,
photographs them one by one, arranges them on the floor
in the great hall, makes each gravestone whole again,
one again: fragment to fragment,
like the resurrection of the dead, a mosaic,
a jigsaw puzzle. Child's play.
"To write about history is to write about forgetting," writes Robert Pinsky in Poet's Choice in The Washington Post Book World. "The historical account of any nation, family or lifetime must acknowledge gaps and omissions, violations and losses. Fragments must be honored as fragments. The great Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000) begins and ends his last collection, Open Closed Open, by considering an actual, physical fragment, 'The Amen Stone'...the ironic, understated phrase 'child's play' ends the first poem by denoting simplicity after invoking an infinity of loss."
Just a quickie, since I am wrung out from watching part two of The State Within, only to learn that part three does not air until next Saturday (the good news: I can watch Heroes tomorrow and record the encore of The State Within on BBC America late in the week, the bad news: I have to wait six freakin' days to find out what happens OMG). Jason Isaacs is still amazing but Sharon Gless freakin' rocks my world -- I can't believe I didn't realize that was her until the credits ran earlier (was so tired last night I didn't look it up). I want whoever cast scripted and cast this miniseries to be responsible for developing female roles for a major US television network ASAP. My kids were still awake for the Death Row sequences and while I thought about shooing them out of the room, their reactions were such that I am not sorry I let them watch. I don't even rant about the death penalty anymore because it feels like such a lost cause, nearly 70% of Americans favor it in some circumstances and I have other electoral issues that are even more important to me, but it's pathetic that most of our best reality checks about it come from entertainment and having kids expressing horror at the idea that executions can be used for political purposes right here and now is not a bad thing.
We spent much of the day at the State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg, across from the state house and near the Whitaker Science Center which we have visited several times before. The museum is free and pretty fantastic -- one enormous level devoted to natural history, geology, flora and fauna of the state, another enormous level devoted to Native American history, industrial history and the Civil War (the latter section is under construction but there are paintings of the battles at Gettysburg and some of the weapons used to defend the cities), and a third level devoted to Pennsylvania crafts, steel and the inevitable First Ladies' gowns. The Maryland Historical Society is not so comprehensive and it isn't free, either.
Here it is in close-up; I just couldn't resist the sign above. It's so very Slytherin.
And the vital statistics, though the specimen was found in South Dakota and is currently in the Children's Museum of Indianapolis.
This is the extinct prehistoric armored fish Dunkleosteus, which lived in Pennsylvania about 350 million years ago.
A fragment of the coral reef that once covered parts of Pennsylvania.
Metamorphic gneiss and intrusive igneous pegmatite from ancient rock layers of Pennsylvania. The gneiss may have originally have been sandstone.
It's always nice to drive to Harrisburg over the Susquehanna River, which looks particularly lovely with ice covering much of it, the presence of smoke from the reactor stacks at Three Mile Island notwithstanding. And a historical museum seemed like a good place to spend part of President's Day weekend...better than the mall, anyway. The rest of my Sunday mostly involved talking to relatives and grinning because people kept calling my in-laws to ask whether they knew that my photo of their dog was in the local newspaper. Ginger seems unconcerned with her fame, however, as we had forgotten to put her bed in the sun coming through the living room window so she could "lie on the beach," which is her favorite thing to do in her dotage.