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Coexistence: A Lost and Almost Found Poem

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And the Levites shall speak, and say
unto all the men of Israel, with a loud voice:
—Deuteronomy 27:14

Over the border the barrier winds,
devouring orchards of various kinds.

Cursed be he that taketh away   
          the landmark of his neighbor.
And all the people shall say, Amen.

The road was blocked in a battle of wills—
as the lame and sightless trudged through the hills.

Cursed be he that maketh the blind   
          to go astray in the way.
And all the people shall say, Amen.

The army has nearly written a poem:
You'll now need a permit just to stay home.

Cursed be he that perverteth the justice   
          due to the stranger (in Scripture).
And all the people shall say, Amen.

Taken away—in the dead of night—
by the secret policeman, who might be a Levite.

Cursed be he that turneth to smite   
          his neighbor in secret murder.
And all the people shall say, Amen—

as peace is sought through depredation,
living together in separation.

Cursed be he that confirmeth not
          the words of this law—to do them.   
And all the people shall say, Amen.

Source: Poetry (June 2008)

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This poem originally appeared in the June 2008 issue of Poetry magazine

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Coexistence: A Lost and Almost Found Poem

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  • Poet and translator Peter Cole was born in Paterson, New Jersey. His collections of poetry include Hymns & Qualms (1998), Rift (1989), What Is Doubled: Poems 1981-1998 (2005), and Things on Which I’ve Stumbled (2008). With Adina Hoffman, he wrote the nonfiction collection Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza (2011). Described by Harold Bloom as a “major poet-translator,” Cole has translated important writers in Hebrew and Arabic, including Aharon Shabtai and Taha Muhammad. His anthology, The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, 950–1492 (2007), was heralded as a new classic. He also edited The Poetry of the Kabbalah: Mystical Verse from the Jewish Tradition (2012).
     
    Cole’s many honors and awards include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, and a genius grant from the MacArthur Foundation. He is the recipient of a National...

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