At the Wailing Wall + In A Circular Room – Rachel Gellman

At The Wailing Wall  

a small woman is crying, her head pressed to tall stone.
A blue & bone shawl shrouds her dark long hair,

her braid oscillates there as she sways, as she plunges
her body toward peace. I don’t know how to pray.

What to say? This woman. The other women. Our side
of the wall floats back & forth. A sea. Papers poke

out of every rock, every hole in the wall. The holes hold
scribbles slipped from little hands that know what they see

but not what to say. They sway. The women & I don’t know
what to do. We keep rocking. Like a bee a woman chants

in her throat, reaching for a note that knows. When she
gets a call—her phone louder than the prayers,

than the rocking, than the guttural hums, the throats—
she answers it & for more than a moment, speaks, keeps

her forehead to the wall. More women fall in line
to kiss the wall, kiss their books, then turn around.

Perhaps they pray for progress. What is progress—here,
at the wall, in this country where most everyone looks down?

Here, they look to books; they read from right to left. Here,
what is right? Who is left? I close my eyes. They open.


In A Circular Room With Shelves

As High As Eyes Can Crane

the shelves sulk under thousands of black
binders with spines holding 4 million heights,
weights, family names—all tracked & stacked
systematically in neat German hand.

I look down in this room, my body held up
by a metal railing as a pond below
curdles me: in the water, amid refracted light
from above, the image of shelves,

of binders, obscures, blurs. Minds,
like water, can ripple with time.
A voice chimes that the pond-image
mimics the eyes of deniers. How easy

to view history through a fogged lens,
like tearing paper from a binder—watch
how the three holes become slits. Yes,
paper rips; and so, we must keep writing.

Rachel Gellman is a Bay Area-native poet who lives in San Diego, where she teaches college writing and literature. Her work has been published in World Literature Today, The Found Poetry Review, and Poetry International, among other journals. You can follow her at

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