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Letters to the Living No. 3: What Book Was I Torn From?

Around 385 CE, a Galician woman named Egeria visited the Holy Land, walking from Sinai through Arabia into Palestine. She sent letters to a circle of friends and believers back home detailing her pilgrimage.

Having recently returned from my own pilgrimage to Israel/Palestine, I am in a reflective mood, especially considering the waves of violence in Gaza. I wanted to learn what another woman saw and felt as she walked these deserts and mountains.

Egeria’s account is available online, and while I was reading it, I noticed that a page was missing. This missing page was marked by the translator as…

[a leaf wanting]

A rush of identification with this “wanting leaf” washed me. We’re all floating around with ragged edges, full of fragmentary thoughts and selves.

I began to muse: What does a missing page want for itself? To be free. To be found whole and complete in all its broken-off beauty. And what does a leaf want? Only light. Only light, and a seasonal return to its roots, to touch earth before being ready to take in the light again. With so much musing going on, of course, I had to write a poem:

A Leaf Wanting
I am a page missing — a leaf wanting —
from an old, a very old manuscript.

I accompanied her to Sinai, then
Palestine. My fellow pages held

the most glorious names and landmarks —
cities and deserts of magic and wrath

Goshen, and Etham, and Belsefon,
with pillars of salt and Sabbaths spent

in the shadow of the holy of holies.
The Bishop of Arabia greeted us at Rameses

and took my mistress to the Tree of
Truth, a giant sycamore with healing bark

that lepers came to chew.

I was cast in the dirt as my maker dozed
against its tarnished silver torso.

And though my tome was full of rustling words —
and I was nestled among the breathless, looping script —

it was too much of a tomb for me.
I loosened my bindings, tore myself free,

and was lost among the sycamore’s
wounding roots.

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