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.
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
small cut-out doors, the meager height of history’s malnourished,
thru massive immobile ones
an afterthought means of entry
in a formidable barrier.
some restored 200 years ago
or by contemporary architects
pigment and finish faded
doors used for 600 years
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
traces to life in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries
soil seeped with blood and violence
ethnic purge and conquest
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
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
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 converted and passed
adding lard to centuries-old recipes
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
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.