Mizmor L'David Anthology 


Poetica Magazine
                                           Contemporary Jewish Writing

Bonnie Wolkenstein’s poetry, essays and photography explore what lies below the surface of everyday moments. She has been a featured reader in Seattle poetry events, and has published in literary reviews. Current work includes an upcoming poetry book and writer’s retreat in Guanajuato, Mx. 

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What the Doors Remember 
Bonnie Wolkenstein

From inside the courtyard

facing the cobble-stoned street

the view is picturesque:

a sleek black horse framed in an arched mudéjar doorway

pulling a carriage of tourists

their faces hidden behind an ancient stone wall.

I am drawn to doorways here

thick and imposing

tall, often arched

hinged with hand-hammered iron hardware

studded metal designs

doors behind wrought iron gates and bars

the second set of doors

ten feet within the exterior ones

creating an inner sanctum for natural cooling

and safety

small cut-out doors, the meager height of history’s malnourished,

allow entrance

thru massive immobile ones

an afterthought means of entry

in a formidable barrier.

Some modern

some restored 200 years ago

or by contemporary architects

some not

pigment and finish faded

doors used for 600 years

Muslim doors

gothic doors

baroque doors

post-Inquisition geometric patterns

intricate tile and brick

mudéjar beauty belying forced conversion

Muslim ancestors who didn’t flee or die

gold-gilded palace doors

sitting atop repurposed mosques

demolished synagogues

traces to life in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries

soil seeped with blood and violence

ethnic purge and conquest

messy -

now as always -

truth of the horrors washed away

by the victor’s historical rhetoric

rain, sun, time

descendants’ privilege and guilt

the erasure of those who lived and knew.

These doors could tell the stories

centuries of people

kept safe within

kept out

forced inside

forced to hide

heat managed through courtyards and windows and open spaces

heat blistering without relief behind shuttered doors

cold stone floors and walls unable to be warmed in winter

braziers burning smoky

charring and blackening walls, tapestries, lungs.

On the day after strong winds closed parks and gardens

wrought iron gates forged 100 years ago

remained padlocked

modern tendrils of the centuries-long practice

protection by exclusion

whole communities locked in

to protect the ones outside.

My ancestors lived within these doors and gates

knocked on the doors of neighbors

bought and sold vegetables and fruit in the gardens

built and decorated homes

placed modest food on tables

for hungry mouths

honored the feast days and rituals of Muslim and Christian families in their midst

lived with daily hardship of life in the 15th century

until the climate changed

and the ways of the few

were seen as a threat to the incoming regime.

My ancestors were confined to the walls of the barrio

some fled

some converted and passed

adding lard to centuries-old recipes

hiding observance

some retained their faith and customs

behind the walls

where they remained until they were killed

by plague or massacre.

And what if they weren’t my ancestors?

What extra claim do I seek

through personal connection to suffering?

Behind every wall -

every group targeted for extinction



restriction of access

restriction of entry -

is a descendant

an ancestor.

Centuries from now

when they tell the story of those behind today’s walls

descendants will walk freely

take photos of tourist attractions

stop for a moment to marvel in the beauty of a horse

framed in an archway

wonder what it means to be free

and the price paid by those who weren’t.