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December 17, 2008

Learning to make an oud in Nazareth by Ruth Padel.

by quaesitor

This poem is jumped out at me, ingeniously weaving together an OT love poem (the Song of Songs), the life of Christ and contemporary agonies of the Middle East. Be transported, challenged and beguiled. I’d not come across Ruth Padel before, but now am definitely intrigued and want to read more…

Learning to make an oud* in Nazareth

by Ruth Padel  (New Yorker, Oct 27 2008)

The first day he cut rosewood for the back,
bent sycamore into ribs and made a belly
     of mahogany. Let us go early to the vineyards
     and see if the vines have budded.
The sky was blue over the Jezreel Valley
     and the gilt dove shone
above the Church of the Annunciation.
The second day, he carved a camel-bone base
     for the fingerboard.
I sat down under his shadow with delight.

The third day, he made a nut of sandalwood,
and a pick guard of black cherry.
     He damascened a rose of horn
     with arabesques
as lustrous as under-leaves of olive beside the sea.
     I have found him whom my soul loves.
He inlaid the sound hole with ivory swans,
each pair a valentine of entangled necks,
     and fitted tuning pegs of apricot
to give a good smell when rubbed.

The fourth was a day for cutting
high strings of camel gut. His left hand
     shall be under my head.
     For the lower course, he twisted copper strings
pale as tarmac under frost.
     He shall lie all night between my breasts.
The fifth day he laid down varnish.
Our couch is green and the beams of our house
     are cedar and pine. Behind the neck
he put a sign to keep off the Evil Eye.

My beloved is a cluster of camphire
in the vineyards of En-gedi.
     I watched him whittle an eagle feather, a plectrum
     to celebrate the angel of improvisation
who dwells in clefts on the Nazareth ridge
     where love waits—and grows, if you give it time.
Set me as a seal upon your heart.
On the sixth day the soldiers came
     for his genetic code.
We have no record of what happened.

I was queuing at the checkpoint to Galilee.
I sought him and found him not.
     He’d have been in his open-air workshop—
     I called but he gave me no answer—
the selfsame spot
     where Jesus stood when he came from Capernaum
to teach in synagogue, and townsfolk tried
to throw him from the rocks. Until the day break
     and shadows flee away
I will get me to the mountain of myrrh.

The seventh day we set his wounded hands
around the splinters. Come with me from Lebanon,
     my spouse, look from the top
     of Shenir and Hermon, from the lions’ dens.
On the eighth there were no more days.
     I took a class in carpentry and put away the bridal rug.
We started over
with a child’s oud bought on eBay.
     He was a virtuoso of the oud
and his banner over me was love.

* an oud = a Middle Eastern form of mandolin or lute


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