The Cleanup Crew at the Western Wall

Josette Akresh-Gonzales



Twice a year, the custodians of the Western Wall brush the thousands of papers crushed into cracks between stones and sweep up the plaza. I don't think anyone believes that the prayers are somehow defunct once the paper is discarded. Whether or not there is a God to receive them is up to each person, don't you think? A story that before the ark, the temple, God was lonely, and once the people built a place for God, God dwelt there. Once a person's prayers are spoken/written and said/placed, I would guess the person praying feels that his urgent message is sent. In the story, when God was alone, God spoke . . . and God listened. I remember the times I scribbled a note and stuck it in the Western Wall, and I wondered how a fresh crowd of people each day could find space to squish their crumpled gratitude and self-pity into the wall. From the Middle Ages until the British Mandate forbade it, pilgrims drove nails into the wall and marked the wall with painted palm prints. In the story, if you are in the right place at the right time, you may be lucky enough to overhear God speaking to God's self . . . Creation echoing in Creation like your child's voice calling in a canyon. It also occurred to me at the time when I prayed at the wall that if there was a God, the mind of God would have to be able to easily expand to hold all the words in the universe, much less the spoken ones, much less the written ones, much less the high-priority ones scribbled on tiny scraps of paper and stuffed into both wide and thin spaces between the hewn stones of the Western Wall. I think about how, all over the planet, we face Jerusalem, because our people built this place for God, and God must see that we are facing God's face when we pray. And in the story, the canyon echoes/God and the voice/God and the ears/God and time/God and we/God enter and clean up and enter and clean up and enter the place in the story where God is.

This piece was originally published at Clarion.

Josette Akresh-Gonzales is the author of Apocalypse on the Linoleum, forthcoming from Lily Poetry Review Press. Her work has been published in Atticus Review, JAMA, The Pinch, The Journal, Breakwater Review, PANK, and many other journals. A recent poem has been included in the anthology Choice Words (Haymarket, 2020). She co-founded the journal Clarion and was its editor for two years. Josette lives in the Boston area with her husband and two boys and rides her bike to work at a nonprofit medical publisher. | @vivakresh.



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