Friday, September 30, 2016
You held out your hand, expecting (on the average)
But when I crossed your palm with copper in an alloy
Newly minted by God's Country, you laid a misfortune
On me not even a prime-time gypsy would have
God bless me? Me be one for the cloud-capped, holy-
For-showbiz, smug, sharkskinny, hog-certain, flowery
I couldn't stagger, let alone clodhop, to such music.
You could have said, Heaven tempers the wind to the
Or Heaven will protect the working girl or Heaven
Lies about us in our infancy. I half-swallowed those saws
Once. Their teeth stuck in my craw. Now I take wisdom
Shorn lambs and working girls and infants over the years
Have taught me something else about Heaven: it exists
Maybe when the Corner-cutting Fleecer, the Punch
With the Time-clock, and the Unmilkable Mother aren't
If God knows what's good for Him, He won't listen to you
About my anointment. He'll oil some squeakier sinner
And pour me an ordinary straight-up natural disaster.
Here's two-bits more, palmer, to help I'll be worth a damn.
Thursday, September 29, 2016
of my perennially damaged
psyche, shoring up eroding
friendships, digging out
stumps of old resentments
that refuse to rot on their own.
No, this year I want to call
myself to task for what
I have done and not done
for peace. How much have
I dared in opposition?
How much have I put
on the line for freedom?
For mine and others?
As these freedoms are pared,
sliced and diced, where
have I spoken out? Who
have I tried to move? In
this holy season, I stand
self-convicted of sloth
in a time when lies choke
the mind and rhetoric
bends reason to slithering
choking pythons. Here
I stand before the gates
opening, the fire dazzling
my eyes, and as I approach
what judges me, I judge
myself. Give me weapons
of minute destruction. Let
my words turn into sparks
Wednesday, September 28, 2016
Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Today our congregation mourned the passing of past president Al Green. A few folks have asked me about my eulogy from today. I present it below
What do you stand for? That’s the fundamental question Torah asks us this week as we read parashat nitzvaim. We read: you stand this day...but the stand is not just a casual positioining of the self. To ‘natzav’ is to be firm and resolute, immovable, like a rock. It is to stand at attention, with intention; it is, in short, to stand for something.
Al Green stood for a great many things. He stood for responsibility. He stood for caring, for seriousness and service. He stood at his place in this congregation and this community to act as a role-model for others. He stood for what was right. And to many, to me especially, he seemed to be a permanent fixture, a tamid, alway here, immovable, ready to serve.
Where did this devotion to service and resolute determination come from? Perhaps it came from his father, a poor railroad worker, who himself was devoted to serving others, including volunteering to fight both in World War I and, as a forty-year old, in World War II. Perhaps it came from being the eldest of five siblings during the Great Depression, where his sense of seriousness and responsibility to his family was driven by the scarcity the family experienced. Perhaps he was just a serious and intense guy, which he was. Some, I would guess, would wither under the pressure that he placed on himself; instead, this drove Al harder. He graduated high school at 16, went to university at University of Delaware and had his masters degree by age 21. At this point world war II had broken out, so he entered as a lieutenant and served in the Pacific all the way through the end of the war, and continued in the reserves, finally retiring as a colonel. It was during the war while he was deployed that he saw a photo of Florence Ferber, who had just acted in the Wilmington High School senior play. He wrote to his sister that, when he returned from the war, he was going to meet and date this girl. And so, when he got back, he hopped a flight to Michigan to meet her at school. She was dating someone else, but when he saw Al’s persistence and determination, he quickly got out of the way. They were married in 1947, and he was profoundly devoted to her. He loved her deeply, fiercely, even at the end of his life worrying who was going to eat with her, or drive her, or take care of her. They would raise three children together: Penny, Karen and Andy.
While he had a head and an interest in medicine, and while Florence’s parents offered to help support that dream, he felt that, with a family, it was time for him to start his career, to take care of his family. So he went to work as a chemist, working for National Vulcanized Fiber for 35 years, eventually as a senior executive.
But as ambitious as he was with his work, his devotion was to his family, and to serving others. His children were everything. He was there in his quiet, steady way, and often shared letters so they knew how he felt. He was eloquent in his writing in a way that he wasn’t as a speaker--always direct and to the point in conversation, he could express his feelings more freely on the page. This best illustrated his dual nature. Al could be tough--he had high expectations and high standards, worried constantly about others, and going against him was something you did very very carefully. He wanted what was best for his kids, and believed truly that his children, including his daughters, could be whatever they wanted to be, and supported their dreams and hopes. He could be tough on his kids and a tough person to talk to, but he also was upset when they were upset or hurt, concerned for their welfare. He could be loving and caring, and had a soft spot for babies. He had to be the first person to meet his first grandchild in the hospital, and would perk up whenever his great-grandson was brought up or came to visit. And it didn’t have to be in the family, either. He’d go over to babies in the restaurant to visit and have a chat.
As he was with his family, so he was with his community. His was a life of service to others, informed by his Jewish values. He volunteered at St. Francis well into his 90s, and was a beloved presence there. Florence remembered how one time, when she fell, he brought her to the emergency room and came in with her, nearly carrying her, and the staff rushed over to make sure HE was okay. He served as a volunteer with Federation well into his 90s and was given a lifetime achievement award in 1991. He was president of the Temple, president of the memorial park, volunteered with SCORE, Camp Pinemere, the JCC. Basically you name it, he did it, and was still hard at work doing it--signing checks, checking in with people--up until only a few years ago. And while he was awarded time and again for his efforts, he wasn’t interested in the accolades or the applause; it was the work that gave him the greatest satisfaction. It was doing what was right fulfilling the words of the prophet etched in our wall: doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God.
And he did walk humbly with God. He was, as I said earlier, always here. Friday nights with Florence, and Saturday mornings, wearing his tallit long before that was acceptable in Reform circles, eyes closed as we sang the liturgy, ready to cheer on the bar mitzvah student, as much there to support them as to derive support from the service. I always knew that, if I needed to check about a name on the kaddish list or find out how things were, I could rely on Al, as did the rabbis who came before me. In one of the notes he wrote Andy, back in 1982, he talked about Saturday, Shabbat morning, being a day of relaxation, of reflection and renewal, a chance to pray, to visit his mother-in-law in the Kutz Home (which he did every saturday), and ended the note: that it was a great day to be alive.
Al passed one week from his 96th birthday, a full life, an exemplary life, a life that was truly great.
Now it falls to us to stand as, once, he stood, in the place he stood, to live up to his memory and his example, to be inspired by his devotion and his determination, to stand as he did, fulfilling the words we say to each of our b’nai mitzvah students, bowing low before God, standing upright before mortals, loving peace and pursuing it, and bringing all to God’s Torah. May this be his blessing to all of us as we say, amen.
Monday, September 26, 2016
Saturday, September 24, 2016
The New Moon
If God were the sun, then Israel might be
her face reflecting His eternal light.
Yes, Israel is like the moon, the moon
who waxes and wanes,
grows old, and then renews herself,
yet never leaves the skies.
Faithfully, she reappears to walk the night,
glimmering, silver, in the darkened sky.
Faithfully, she spreads her pale and ghostly light
on every room and tree and blade of grass
Until the whole world turns to silver,
transformed from darkness to shimmering beauty.
Yes, Israel, be like the moon,
renew your faith each generation.
Even when the earth casts its shadow of
faithfully reflect the light of God;
Pour over the whole world
the moonlight beauty of holiness.
By Mahmoud Darwish
Translated by Fady Joudah
In Jerusalem, and I mean within the ancient walls,
I walk from one epoch to another without a memory
to guide me. The prophets over there are sharing
the history of the holy ... ascending to heaven
and returning less discouraged and melancholy, because love
and peace are holy and are coming to town.
I was walking down a slope and thinking to myself: How
do the narrators disagree over what light said about a stone?
Is it from a dimly lit stone that wars flare up?
I walk in my sleep. I stare in my sleep. I see
no one behind me. I see no one ahead of me.
All this light is for me. I walk. I become lighter. I fly
then I become another. Transfigured. Words
sprout like grass from Isaiah’s messenger
mouth: “If you don’t believe you won’t be safe.”
I walk as if I were another. And my wound a white
biblical rose. And my hands like two doves
on the cross hovering and carrying the earth.
I don’t walk, I fly, I become another,
transfigured. No place and no time. So who am I?
I am no I in ascension’s presence. But I
think to myself: Alone, the prophet Muhammad
spoke classical Arabic. “And then what?”
Then what? A woman soldier shouted:
Is that you again? Didn’t I kill you?
I said: You killed me ... and I forgot, like you, to die.
Thursday, September 22, 2016
--WS Merwin (as appears in Mishkan HaNefesh)
We were not made in its image
but from the beginning we believed in it
not for the pure appeasement of hunger
but for its availability
it could command our devotion
beyond question and without our consent
and by whatever name we have called it
in its name love as been set aside
unmeasured time has been devoted to it
forests have been ereased and rivers poisoned
and truth has been relegated for it
we believe that we have a right to it
even though it belongs to no one
we carry a way back to it everywhere
we are sure that it is saving something
we consider it our personal savior
all we have to pay for it is ourselves.
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
After a Rainstorm
By Robert Wrigley
Because I have come to the fence at night,
the horses arrive also from their ancient stable.
They let me stroke their long faces, and I note
in the light of the now-merging moon
how they, a Morgan and a Quarter, have been
by shake-guttered raindrops
spotted around their rumps and thus made
Appaloosas, the ancestral horses of this place.
Maybe because it is night, they are nervous,
or maybe because they too sense
what they have become, they seem
to be waiting for me to say something
to whatever ancient spirits might still abide here,
that they might awaken from this strange dream,
in which there are fences and stables and a man
who doesn’t know a single word they understand.
Monday, September 19, 2016
From Song For Dov Shamir
By Dannie Abse
Working is another way of praying.
You plant in Israel the soul of a tree.
You plant in the desert the spirit of gardens.
Praying is another way of singing.
You plant in the tree the soul of lemons.
You plant in the gardens the spirit of roses.
Singing is another way of loving.
You plant in the lemons the spirit of your son.
You plant in the roses the soul of your daughter.
Loving is another way of living.
You plant in your daughter the spirit of Israel.
You plant in your son the soul of the desert.
Sunday, September 18, 2016
Saturday, September 17, 2016
How to Be Perfect
By Ron Padgett
Everything is perfect, dear friend.
Get some sleep.
Don't give advice.
Take care of your teeth and gums.
Don't be afraid of anything beyond your control. Don't be afraid, for
instance, that the building will collapse as you sleep, or that someone
you love will suddenly drop dead.
Eat an orange every morning.
Be friendly. It will help make you happy.
Raise your pulse rate to 120 beats per minute for 20 straight minutes
four or five times a week doing anything you enjoy.
Hope for everything. Expect nothing.
Take care of things close to home first. Straighten up your room
before you save the world. Then save the world.
Know that the desire to be perfect is probably the veiled expression
of another desire—to be loved, perhaps, or not to die.
Make eye contact with a tree.
Be skeptical about all opinions, but try to see some value in each of
Dress in a way that pleases both you and those around you.
Do not speak quickly.
Learn something every day. (Dzien dobre!)
Be nice to people before they have a chance to behave badly.
Don't stay angry about anything for more than a week, but don't
forget what made you angry. Hold your anger out at arm's length
and look at it, as if it were a glass ball. Then add it to your glass ball
Wear comfortable shoes.
Design your activities so that they show a pleasing balance
Be kind to old people, even when they are obnoxious. When you
become old, be kind to young people. Do not throw your cane at
them when they call you Grandpa. They are your grandchildren!
Live with an animal.
Do not spend too much time with large groups of people.
If you need help, ask for it.
Cultivate good posture until it becomes natural.
If someone murders your child, get a shotgun and blow his head off.
Plan your day so you never have to rush.
Show your appreciation to people who do things for you, even if you
have paid them, even if they do favors you don't want.
Do not waste money you could be giving to those who need it.
Expect society to be defective. Then weep when you find that it is far
more defective than you imagined.
When you borrow something, return it in an even better condition.
As much as possible, use wooden objects instead of plastic or metal
Look at that bird over there.
After dinner, wash the dishes.
Visit foreign countries, except those whose inhabitants have
expressed a desire to kill you.
Don't expect your children to love you, so they can, if they want to.
Meditate on the spiritual. Then go a little further, if you feel like it.
What is out (in) there?
Sing, every once in a while.
Be on time, but if you are late do not give a detailed and lengthy
Don't be too self-critical or too self-congratulatory.
Don't think that progress exists. It doesn't.
Do not practice cannibalism.
Imagine what you would like to see happen, and then don't do
anything to make it impossible.
Take your phone off the hook at least twice a week.
Keep your windows clean.
Extirpate all traces of personal ambitiousness.
Don't use the word extirpate too often.
Forgive your country every once in a while. If that is not possible, go
to another one.
If you feel tired, rest.
Do not wander through train stations muttering, "We're all going to
Count among your true friends people of various stations of life.
Appreciate simple pleasures, such as the pleasure of chewing, the
pleasure of warm water running down your back, the pleasure of a
cool breeze, the pleasure of falling asleep.
Do not exclaim, "Isn't technology wonderful!"
Learn how to stretch your muscles. Stretch them every day.
Don't be depressed about growing older. It will make you feel even
older. Which is depressing.
Do one thing at a time.
If you burn your finger, put it in cold water immediately. If you bang
your finger with a hammer, hold your hand in the air for twenty
minutes. You will be surprised by the curative powers of coldness and
Learn how to whistle at earsplitting volume.
Be calm in a crisis. The more critical the situation, the calmer you
Enjoy sex, but don't become obsessed with it. Except for brief periods
in your adolescence, youth, middle age, and old age.
Contemplate everything's opposite.
If you're struck with the fear that you've swum out too far in the
ocean, turn around and go back to the lifeboat.
Keep your childish self alive.
Answer letters promptly. Use attractive stamps, like the one with a
tornado on it.
Cry every once in a while, but only when alone. Then appreciate
how much better you feel. Don't be embarrassed about feeling better.
Do not inhale smoke.
Take a deep breath.
Do not smart off to a policeman.
Do not step off the curb until you can walk all the way across the
street. From the curb you can study the pedestrians who are trapped
in the middle of the crazed and roaring traffic.
Walk down different streets.
Remember beauty, which exists, and truth, which does not. Notice
that the idea of truth is just as powerful as the idea of beauty.
Stay out of jail.
In later life, become a mystic.
Use Colgate toothpaste in the new Tartar Control formula.
Visit friends and acquaintances in the hospital. When you feel it is
time to leave, do so.
Be honest with yourself, diplomatic with others.
Do not go crazy a lot. It's a waste of time.
Read and reread great books.
Dig a hole with a shovel.
In winter, before you go to bed, humidify your bedroom.
Know that the only perfect things are a 300 game in bowling and a
27-batter, 27-out game in baseball.
Drink plenty of water. When asked what you would like to drink,
say, "Water, please."
Ask "Where is the loo?" but not "Where can I urinate?"
Be kind to physical objects.
Beginning at age forty, get a complete "physical" every few years
from a doctor you trust and feel comfortable with.
Don't read the newspaper more than once a year.
Learn how to say "hello," "thank you," and "chopsticks"
Belch and fart, but quietly.
Be especially cordial to foreigners.
See shadow puppet plays and imagine that you are one of the
characters. Or all of them.
Take out the trash.
Use exact change.
When there's shooting in the street, don't go near the window.
Friday, September 16, 2016
this (let's remember) day
this (let's remember) day died again and
again;whose golden crimson dooms conceive
an oceaning abyss of orange dream
larger than the sky times earth:a flame beyond
soul immemorial forevering am
and as collapsing that gray mind by wave
doom disappeared,and out of perhaps (who knows?)
eternity floated a blossoming
Thursday, September 15, 2016
Tuesday, September 13, 2016
--Yehuda Amichai (translation by Robert Friend; Hebrew below)
All the generations that preceded me contributed me
in small amounts, so that I would be erected here in Jerusalem
all at once, like a house of prayer or a charity institution.
That commits one. My name is the name of my contributors.
That commits one.
I am getting to be the age my father was when he died.
My last will shows many superscriptions.
I must change my life and my death
daily, to fulfill all the predictions
concerning me. So they won't be lies.
That commits one.
I have passed my fortieth year.
There are posts they will not let me fill
because of that. Were I in Auschwitz,
they wouldn't put me to work.
They'd burn me right away.
That commits one.
Monday, September 12, 2016
By Amit Majmudar
Off with the wristwatch, the Reeboks, the belt.
My laptop's in a bin.
I dig out the keys from my jeans and do
my best Midwestern grin.
At O'Hare, at Atlanta, at Dallas/Fort Worth,
it happens every trip,
at LaGuardia, Logan, and Washington Dulles,
the customary strip
is never enough for a young brown male
whose name comes up at random.
Lest the randomness of it be doubted, observe
how Myrtle's searched in tandem,
how Doris's six-pack of Boost has been seized
and Ethel gets the wand.
How polite of the screeners to sham paranoia
when what they really want
is to pick out the swarthiest, scruffiest of us
and pat us top to toe,
my fellow Ahmeds and my alien Alis,
Mohammed alias Mo—
my buddies from med school, my doubles partners,
my dark unshaven brothers
whose names overlap with the crazies and God fiends,
ourselves the goateed other.
Sunday, September 11, 2016
O incognito god, anonymous lord
O incognito god, anonymous lord,
with what name shall I call you? Where shall I
discover the syllable, the mystic word
that shall evoke you from eternity?
Is that sweet sound a heart makes, clocking life,
Your appellation? Is the noise of thunder, it?
Is it the hush of peace, the sound of strife?
I have no title for your glorious throne,
and for your presence not a golden word, --
only that wanting you, by that alone
I do evoke you, knowing I am heard.
Saturday, September 10, 2016
Friday, September 9, 2016
From "I Wasn't One Of The Six Million: And What Is My Lifespan? Open Closed Open." By Yehuda Amichai
I believe with perfect faith that at this very moment
millions of human beings are standing at crossroads
and intersections, in jungles and deserts,
showing each other where to turn, what the right way is,
which direction. They explain exactly where to go,
what is the quickest way to get there, when to stop
and ask again. There, over there. The second
turnoff, not the first, and from there left or right,
near the white house, by the oak tree.
They explain with excited voices, with a wave of the hand
and a nod of the head: There, over there, not that there, the other there,
as in some ancient rite. This too is a new religion.
I believe with perfect faith that at this very moment.
Thursday, September 8, 2016
By Yehuda Amichai
And what is my life span? I’m like a man gone out of Egypt:
the Red Sea parts, I cross on dry land,
two walls of water, on my right hand and on my left.
Pharaoh’s army and his horsemen behind me. Before me the desert,
perhaps the Promised Land, too. That is my life span.
Wednesday, September 7, 2016
A full year passed (the seasons keep me honest)
since I last noticed this same commotion.
Who knew God was an abstract expressionist?
I’m asking myself—the very question
I asked last year, staring out at this array
of racing colors, then set in motion
by the chance invasion of a Steller’s jay.
Is this what people mean by speed of light?
My usually levelheaded mulberry tree
hurling arrows everywhere in sight—
its bow: the out-of-control Virginia creeper
my friends say I should do something about,
whose vermilion went at least a full shade deeper
at the provocation of the upstart blue,
the leaves (half green, half gold) suddenly hyper
in savage competition with that red and blue—
tohubohu returned, in living color.
Kandinsky: where were you when I needed you?
My attempted poem would lie fallow a year;
I was so busy focusing on the desert’s
stinginess with everything but rumor.
No place even for the spectrum’s introverts—
rose, olive, gray—no pigment at all—
and certainly no room for shameless braggarts
like the ones that barge in here every fall
and make me feel like an unredeemed failure
even more emphatically than usual.
And here they are again, their fleet allure
still more urgent this time—the desert’s gone;
I’m through with it, want something fuller—
why shouldn’t a person have a little fun,
some utterly unnecessary extravagance?
Which was—at least I think it was—God’s plan
when He set up (such things are never left to chance)
that one split-second assignation
with genuine, no-kidding-around omnipotence
what, for lack of better words, I’m calling vision.
You breathe in, and, for once, there’s something there.
Just when you thought you’d learned some resignation,
there’s real resistance in the nearby air
until the entire universe is swayed.
Even that desert of yours isn’t quite so bare
and God’s not nonexistent; He’s just been waylaid
by a host of what no one could’ve foreseen.
He’s got plans for you: this red-gold-green parade
is actually a fairly detailed outline.
David never needed one, but he’s long dead
and God could use a little recognition.
He promises. It won’t go to His head
and if you praise Him properly (an autumn psalm!
Why didn’t I think of that?) you’ll have it made.
But while it’s true that my Virginia creeper praises Him,
its palms and fingers crimson with applause,
that the local breeze is weaving Him a diadem,
inspecting my tree’s uncut gold for flaws,
I came to talk about the way that violet-blue
sprang the greens and reds and yellows
into action: actual motion. I swear it’s true
though I’m not sure I ever took it in.
Now I’d be prepared, if some magician flew
into my field of vision, to realign
that dazzle out my window yet again.
It’s not likely, but I’m keeping my eyes open
though I still wouldn’t be able to explain
precisely what happened to these vines, these trees.
It isn’t available in my tradition.
For this, I would have to be Chinese,
Wang Wei, to be precise, on a mountain,
autumn rain converging on the trees,
a cassia flower nearby, a cloud, a pine,
washerwomen heading home for the day,
my senses and the mountain so entirely in tune
that when my stroke of blue arrives, I’m ready.
Though there is no rain here: the air’s shot through
with gold on golden leaves. Wang Wei’s so giddy
he’s calling back the dead: Li Bai! Du Fu!
Guys! You’ve got to see this—autumn sun!
They’re suddenly hell-bent on learning Hebrew
in order to get inside the celebration,
which explains how they wound up where they are
in my university library’s squashed domain.
Poor guys, it was Hebrew they were looking for,
but they ended up across the aisle from Yiddish—
some Library of Congress cataloger’s sense of humor:
the world’s calmest characters and its most skittish
squinting at each other, head to head,
all silently intoning some version of kaddish
for their nonexistent readers, one side’s dead
(the twentieth century’s lasting contribution)
and the other’s insufficiently learned
to understand a fraction of what they mean.
The writings in the world’s most spoken language
across from one that can barely get a minyan.
Sick of lanzmen, the yidden are trying to engage
the guys across the aisle in some conversation:
How, for example, do you squeeze an image
into so few words, respectfully asks Glatstein.
Wang Wei, at first, doesn’t understand the problem
but then he shrugs his shoulders, mumbles Zen
... but, please, I, myself, overheard a poem,
in the autumn rain, once, on a mountain.
How do you do it? I believe it’s called a psalm?
Glatstein’s cronies all crack up in unison.
Okay, groise macher, give him an answer.
But Glatstein dons his yarmulke (who knew he had one?)
and starts the introduction to the morning prayer,
Pisukei di zimrah, psalm by psalm.
Wang Wei is spellbound, the stacks’ stale air
suddenly a veritable balm
and I’m so touched by these amazing goings-on
that I’ve forgotten all about the autumn
staring straight at me: still alive, still golden.
What’s gold, anyway, compared to poetry?
a trick of chlorophyll, a trick of sun.
True. It was something, my changing tree
with its perfect complement: a crimson vine,
both thrown into panic by a Steller’s jay,
but it’s hard to shake the habit of digression.
Wandering has always been my people’s way
whether we’re in a desert or narration.
It’s too late to emulate Wang Wei
and his solitary years on that one mountain
though I’d love to say what I set out to say
just once. Next autumn, maybe. What’s the occasion?
Glatstein will shout over to me from the bookcase
(that is, if he’s paying any attention)
and, finally, I’ll look him in the face.
Quick. Out the window, Yankev. It’s here again.
Tuesday, September 6, 2016
From "Gods Change, Prayers Are Here To Stay"
In the street on a summer evening, I saw a woman writing
on a piece of paper spread out against a locked wooden door.
She folded it, tucked it between door and doorpost, and went
on her way.
And I didn't see her face, nor the face of the man
who would read what she had written
and I didn't see the words.
On my desk lies a stone with the word "Amen" on it,
a fragment of a tombstone, a remnant from a Jewish graveyard
destroyed a thousand years ago in the town where I was born.
One word, "Amen," carved deep into the stone,
a final hard amen for all that was and never will return,
a soft singing amen, as in prayer:
Amen and amen, may it come to pass.
Tombstones crumble, they say, words tumble, words fade away,
the tongues that spoke them turn to dust,
languages die as people do,
some languages rise again,
gods change up in heaven, gods get replaced.
prayers are here to stay.
Monday, September 5, 2016
By Billy Collins
This is the beginning.
Almost anything can happen.
This is where you find
the creation of light, a fish wriggling onto land,
the first word of Paradise Lost on an empty page.
Think of an egg, the letter A,
a woman ironing on a bare stage
as the heavy curtain rises.
This is the very beginning.
The first-person narrator introduces himself,
tells us about his lineage.
The mezzo-soprano stands in the wings.
Here the climbers are studying a map
or pulling on their long woolen socks.
This is early on, years before the Ark, dawn.
The profile of an animal is being smeared
on the wall of a cave,
and you have not yet learned to crawl.
This is the opening, the gambit,
a pawn moving forward an inch.
This is your first night with her,
your first night without her.
This is the first part
where the wheels begin to turn,
where the elevator begins its ascent,
before the doors lurch apart.
This is the middle.
Things have had time to get complicated,
messy, really. Nothing is simple anymore.
Cities have sprouted up along the rivers
teeming with people at cross-purposes—
a million schemes, a million wild looks.
Disappointment unshoulders his knapsack
here and pitches his ragged tent.
This is the sticky part where the plot congeals,
where the action suddenly reverses
or swerves off in an outrageous direction.
Here the narrator devotes a long paragraph
to why Miriam does not want Edward's child.
Someone hides a letter under a pillow.
Here the aria rises to a pitch,
a song of betrayal, salted with revenge.
And the climbing party is stuck on a ledge
halfway up the mountain.
This is the bridge, the painful modulation.
This is the thick of things.
So much is crowded into the middle—
the guitars of Spain, piles of ripe avocados,
Russian uniforms, noisy parties,
lakeside kisses, arguments heard through a wall—
too much to name, too much to think about.
And this is the end,
the car running out of road,
the river losing its name in an ocean,
the long nose of the photographed horse
touching the white electronic line.
This is the colophon, the last elephant in the parade,
the empty wheelchair,
and pigeons floating down in the evening.
Here the stage is littered with bodies,
the narrator leads the characters to their cells,
and the climbers are in their graves.
It is me hitting the period
and you closing the book.
It is Sylvia Plath in the kitchen
and St. Clement with an anchor around his neck.
This is the final bit
thinning away to nothing.
This is the end, according to Aristotle,
what we have all been waiting for,
what everything comes down to,
the destination we cannot help imagining,
a streak of light in the sky,
a hat on a peg, and outside the cabin, falling leaves.
Sunday, September 4, 2016
You are a girl standing in a pool
of clouds as they catch fire in the distance.
There are laws of heaven and those of place
and those who see the sky in the water,
angels in ashes that are the delta’s now.
They say if you sweep the trash from your house
after dark, you sweep away your luck.
If you are going by foot, bring a stick,
a third leg, and honor the great disorder,
the great broom of waterfowl and songbirds.
Prepare to voodoo your way, best you can,
knowing there is a little water in things
you take for granted, a little charity
and squalor for the smallest forms of life.
Voodoo was always mostly charity.
People forget. If you shake a tablecloth
outside at night, someone in your family
dies. There are laws we make thinking
it was us who made them. We are not us.
We are a floodplain by the Mississippi
that once poured slaves upriver to the fields.
We are a hurricane in the making.
We could use a magus who knows something
about suffering, who knows a delta’s needs.
We understand if you want a widow
to stay single, cut up her husband’s shoes.
He is not himself anyway and walks
barefoot across a landscape that has no north.
Only a ghost tree here and there, a frog,
a cricket, a bird. And if the fates are kind,
a girl with a stick, who is more at home,
being homeless, than you will ever be.
Source: Poetry (July/August 2013)
Friday, September 2, 2016
There's a beautiful tale found in the Zohar, that central text of Jewish mysticism. We read there of a Rabbi Abba who once sat at the gateway of the town of Lud, which is now the home to Ben Gurion Airport. He saw a traveler sit down on a pile of rocks at the edge of a mountain overlooking a cliff. The man was exhausted from his long journey and immediately fell asleep. Rabbi Abba watched this innocuous scene for a bit until to his dismay he saw a deadly snake slither out of the rocks making its away toward the sleeping man. A giant lizard suddenly jumped out between the rocks and killed the serpent. Then the man awoke and stood up, perplexed to see a beheaded snake lying in front of him. He quickly gathered his posessions and rose to continue his journey. As he did so, the pile of rocks he was sitting on collaped and fell into the ravine below.
Rabbi Abba ran after the man and recounted everything he had witnessed. He asked, "My friend, to what do you attribute all these miracles that just transpired?" The traveler responded as follows...
"...Never have I gone to sleep without forgiving someone for hurting me in any way. If anyone ever hurt me, I always endeavored, with all my heart, to resolve whatever animosity was between us, and...I would turn the hateful situation into an opportunity to do acts of kindness for the person involved in the misunderstanding." (From Rosh Hashanah Readings)Of course, this is a fairy tale; a fable, meant to inspire us and perhaps hit us over the head with the idea of forgiveness. And yet, and yet...isn't it true that forgiveness--real forgiveness, the real act of turning and responding to another's actions with love, creativity and gentle rebuke--saves us from harm, real and imagined? Or, to put it another way, how many of us know people who are still torn up, torn apart, having never been forgiven or never offered forgiveness, the corrosion of anger still eating them away?
In parashat Re'eh, we read a series of blessings and curses, and the S'fat Emet, in his reading, remins us that the blessings begin with the word, "when", and the curses with the word "if"; that is to say, Goodness exists by our nature; sin is only incidental. Art Green points out that this is God being generous and forgiving of Israel; shouldn't that be true for us as well? Shouldn't we be able to see the goodness in people's intentions and judge them accordingly, while also find a way to forgive the actions when they go astray, and lead people back toward blessing?
The month of Elul begins on Sunday; that means we're right around one month to Rosh Hashanah. Now is the time, if we haven't done so already, to begin the hard work of asking forgiveness, of forgiving others, and for finding a way to turn hateful situations into acts of kindness, and to make curses into blessings. May we do so, and find ourselves sleeping soundly and without incident.