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Set me as a Seal Upon thy Heart - Peter Malakoff

Once upon a time in the Negev desert

where the wind does not cry during the day, because of the unblinking sun,

where a land stands open-mouthed and gaping.

Once upon a time, when the night had come and the clear rejoicing of angels was heard singing

in the infinitely crowned candelabra of stars and deep black silences,

stunning our soul in wondrous rejoicing . . .

Once upon a time, a young, black haired Jewish boy, the goatherd- keeper of his Fathers flock

had taken his herd to Bar Es Salaam, a small oasis, set down below sand dunes so securely

that one could be within a quarter mile and still not see the date palms growing and drinking

the sweet scented water which poured out of a rock and spread out into beautiful pools.

Once upon a time . . . He saw her

and . . .

Once he had seen her, Moishe continued to see her . . .

and Like unto The Song Of Songs

Which is Solomon's. . .

This Shulamite girl poured out a constant remembrance

"The joints of thy thighs are like jewels, the work of the hands of a cunning craftsman


"Thy navel is like a round goblet which wanteth not liquor

Thy belly is as a heap of wheat set about with lilies.


"Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins

Thy neck is as a tower of ivory;


"Thine eyes like the fish pools of the Heshbon, by the gate of Bathrabbim"

She beckoned to him like water beckons to a traveler in this desert in which we stand.


Her family had camped there. A distant tribe, wandering for the first time in this part of the desert. He had no idea of who she could be.

He had never seen anyone but his own tribe at the oasis.

They were here. She was here. SHE WAS HERE!


Her dark eyes rested in his,

and gracious love

and secret sweetness flowed between them.


The cooling warmth of the desert evening was between them.


The stark brightness of many a midday sun was between them.


The camels with their musty smell was between them.


The stories of lovers and children and death and passion was between them.


The sounds and voices of their tribes withdrew and


Grace covered them like a shawl.


And then he remembered his Mother . . .

She had told him he would meet someone like this.

She always just seemed to know these things.

But he could not remember anything else she had told him, or now,

if she had really ever told him anything,

but it seemed like she did,

and as he considered this . . .

A scarab beetle, which he had been absently watching as it crawled along a mud wall, fell, when some dirt crumbled beneath it and landed on its back, legs whirling vainly in the air.

Moishe immediately got up and placed the beetle on its feet again and watched it crawl off.

"I shall remember", the scarab beetle said, "I shall be a seal upon your heart."


'Thine eyes like the fish-pools of Heshbon . . .'


His eyes wandered across the sands to where his ears had heard a rustling, and there, twisting and rolling behind a bush, he saw a strange sight. A snake had twisted its body tightly about a Hoopoe bird several times and had its fangs sunk deeply into the breast of the bird.

The snake could not kill the Hoopoe and the bird could not escape.

They were both alive and suffering from their strange relationship.

Moishe approached and watched, and then,

feeling compassion for the bird, took a stick

and began to unwind the tail of the snake from around the bird

until all of a sudden the snake let go of the bird with its fangs and struck out at Moishe. . .

At that same instant, the Hoopoe flew off. "I shall remember", said the bird.

"I shall be your protection against evil."

And as the snake slithered off it cried, 

"I shall remember. I shall cure you of your 'kindness.'

In saving the bird you have deprived me of my desire,

and just so, I shall deprive you of your own."

And suddenly the snake was gone.

"Set me as a seal upon thine heart as a seal upon thine arm:

for love is as strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave."


And rocks were being thrown and the women of the tribe were screaming

and a wild desert anchorite, a nomad, a crazy religious man

who had been pointed out to Moishe by his Father, who was naked, who was dirty,

who had matted hair and blackened skin and was covered with mud

was being driven away by the women of the tribe.

He had come down from who knows where,

to drink at the pool and roll in the mud.

Now, scared of him they were driving him out into the desert.

He walked nobly away, hardly heeding them,

as if they were but a mosquito, bothering a lion.

And Moishe came to him, out of sight of the women and their eyes met, the Wild Man's eyes glowed like diamonds and ruby

and Moishe took from his pocket some goat cheese and offered it to the Wild Man

and he took it slowly like an elephant, and ate it slowly, mouth open,

bits of cheese falling out, standing in front of Moishe,

never averting his gaze from Moishe's eyes.

Then the Wild Man walked over a few paces and squatting, shit upon the ground.

Then he rose and looking at Moishe he seemed to smile and then strode off into the desert.

"Remember God!" Moishe heard him say.


"Make haste my beloved and be thou like to a roe or a young hart

upon the mountains of spices."


Tonight he would become a man, tonight he would go down among her people.

Tonight he would choose her. Tonight he would take her to wife.

He knew the one.


"How fair and how pleasant art thou, O love, for delights."


And behold it was a magical night in the Negev.

The sky sparkled deep into Nothing and the vast endlessness of Space came

and delighted in this dream we call life.

On this night Moishe went out to claim his beloved

as the full moon of Love rose over the hills of sand

surrounding the oasis at Bar Es Salaam.


He saw her at once and then again and again and again and again

until Moishe was spinning around and around in his desiring

and attraction and confusion came and sat on his shoulder;

For everywhere he looked was his Shulamite Girl.

There were hundreds of beauteous girls all looking at him;

Every one of them saying:

"I am my beloved's and his desire is towards me."

And he was paralyzed in his desiring.


"Open to me my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled;

For my head is filled with dew and my locks with drops of the night."


And Moishe remembered what the snake had said: 

"Of your own, I shall deprive you."


And Moishe remembered what the scarab beetle had said: 

"I shall be a seal upon your heart." 


And behold!

Upon one girl's heart was a locket different from the rest

and it was in the shape of a scarab.

Moishe ran to embrace her and a hundred beautiful girls

began to sing wondrously and dance and undress before him,

and he was overcome with so much beauty,

and he again became lost.


"Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth for thy love is better than wine."

"Make haste my beloved, Make Haste."


And all of a sudden a bird appeared in Moishe's heart and it began to fly

and his heart was lifted up beyond his desiring

and his Love was better than wine.

He became his beloved.

And Moishe remembered what the bird had said: 

"I shall be your protection against evil."



And at that moment Moishe's arms were lifted up in ecstasy and

he began to dance and whirl in joy,

and when stepping back a few paces he stepped on the shit of the Wild Man

and fell, dirtying himself. . .

And a hundred maidens withdrew in disgust.

But one stepped forward.

The one with Scarab Beetle for a locket. She took pity on him. She felt with him.

She brought him her grace and comfort. She cleaned him. She Loved him. . .

And Moishe remembered what the Wild Man had said:


"Remember God."


And Moishe remembered The Great One

Covered with the shit of his saint

Attended by the love of his life

"I will go up to the palm tree. I will take hold of the boughs thereof,

and thy breasts shall be clusters of fruit

and the smell of thy nose like apples.

I am my beloved's and his desire is towards me."

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