Friday, September 24, 2010
Whoever puts on a tallis when he was young he will never forget;
Taking it out of the soft velvet bag, opening the folded shawl,
Spreading it out, kissing the length of the neckband (embroidered
or trimmed in gold.) Then swinging it in a great swoop overhead
like a sky, a wedding canopy, a parachute. And then winding it
around his head as in hide-and-seek, wrapping
his whole body in it, close and slow, snuggling into it like the cocoon
of a butterfly, then opening would-be wings to fly.
And why is the tallis striped and not checkered black-and-white
like a chessboard? Because squares are finite and hopeless.
Stripes come from infinity and to infinity they go
like airport runways where angels land and take off.
Whoever has put on a tallis will never forget.
When he comes out of a swimming pool or the sea,
he wraps himself in a large towel, spreads it out again
over his head, and again snuggles into it close and slow,
still shivering a little, and he laughs and blesses.
-- Yehuda Amichai
Sunday, January 13, 2008
You, God, who live next door--
If at times, through the long night, I trouble you
with my urgent knocking--
this is why: I hear you breathe so seldom.
I know you're all alone in that room.
If you should be thirsty, there's no one
to get you a glass of water.
I wait listening, always. Just give me a sign!
I'm right here.
As it happens, the wall between us
is very thin. Why couldn't a cry
from one of us
break it down? It would crumble
it would barely make a sound.
From Rilke's Book of Hours (trs. by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy)
Sunday, October 28, 2007
has turned into a vacant stare which nothing holds.
To him there seem to be a thousand bars,
and out beyond these bars exists no world.
His supple gait, the smoothness of strong strides
that gently turn in ever smaller circles
perform a dance of strength, centered deep within
a will, stunned, but untamed, indomitable.
But sometimes the curtains of his eyelids part,
the pupils of his eyes dilate as images
of past encounters enter while through his limbs
a tension strains in silence
only to cease to be, to die within his heart.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
The flowery bedspread had to go.
Then the voice. Hello. I taped myself
getting dressed, mouthing "I understand your concern."
I rose early. I read books
downstairs before anyone was awake.
My parents told me to go outside.
Diving downward through the river.
Glimpses of bridges; peering upward through the blue
as faces climbed away. I wrote it down.
On my hand, a pine tree, sap
you can't wash off. Love.
A line of cars humming down the road in silence. Then silence.
The ditch beside the empty house, the rivulets,
the sun just leaving, the red light
retreating, the sun, the ditch, the house.
Thursday, May 31, 2007
Or embodied by
When she was a sophomore
At Walnut Hills
In Cincinnati, Ohio,
I salute you
And thank you
For the fact
That she received
My kisses with tolerance
On New Year's Eve
And was not taken aback
As she well might have been
Had she not had you
And had I not, too.
Dark, complicated you!
Jewishness, you are the tray
On it painted
Moses, David and the Ten
Commandments, the handwriting
On the Wall, Daniel
In the lions' den
On which my childhood
By a mother
Who took you
Oh the soft smell
Of the pine
Trees of Michigan
And the gentle roar
Of the Lake! Michigan
Or sent you
I went to camp there
On vacation, with me
My counselors had you
My fellow campers
Had you and "Doc
Ran the camp had you
We got up in the
Mornings you were there
You were in the canoes
And on the baseball
Diamond, everywhere around.
At home, growing
Thrived, too. Louise had you
And Charles had you
And Jean had you
And her sister Mary
We all had you
And your Bible
Full of stories
That didn't apply
Or didn't seem to apply
In the soft spring air
Or dancing, or sitting in the cars
To anything we did.
In "religious school"
At the Isaac M. Wise
Synagogue (called "temple")
We studied not you
But Judaism, the one who goes with you
And is your guide, supposedly,
From you, though there
In the same building, you
In us children, and it
On the blackboards
And in the books Bibles
And books simplified
From the Bible. How
Like a Bible with shoulders
Rabbi Seligmann is!
You kept my parents and me
Out of hotels near Crystal Lake
In Michigan and you resulted, for me,
At which I felt
Was energized by you.
You went with me
Into the army, where
One night in a foxhole
On Leyte a fellow soldier
Said Where are the fuckin Jews?
Back in the PX. I'd like to
See one of those bastards
Out here. I'd kill him!
I decided to conceal
You, my you, anyway, for a while.
Forgive me for that.
At Harvard you
Landed me in a room
In Kirkland House
With two other students
Who had you. You
Kept me out of the Harvard Clubs
And by this time (I
Was twenty-one) I found
Kissing girls who didn't
Have you. Blonde
Hair, blue eyes,
And Christianity (oddly enough) had an
Aphrodisiac effect on me.
And everything that opened
Up to me, of poetry, of painting, of music,
Of architecture in old cities
Didn't have you
Though I knew
Those who had you
Had hardly had the chance
To build cathedrals
Write secular epics
(Like Orlando Furioso)
Or paint Annunciations—"Well
I had David
in the wings." David
Was a Jew, even a Hebrew.
He wasn't Jewish.
Something else. I had Mahler,
Einstein, and Freud. I didn't
Want those three (then). I wanted
Shelley, Byron, Keats, Shakespeare,
Mozart, Monet. I wanted
Botticelli and Fra Angelico.
Chosen some hard ones
For me to connect to. But
Why not admit that I
Gave you the life
Of the mind as a thing
To aspire to? And
Where did you go
To find your 'freedom'? to
New York, which was
Full of me." I do know
Your good qualities, at least
Good things you did
For me—when I was ten
Years old, how you brought
Judaism in, to give ceremony
To everyday things, surprise and
Symbolism and things beyond
Understanding in the
Synagogue then I
Was excited by you, a rescuer
Of me from the flatness of my life.
But then the flatness got you
And I let it keep you
And, perhaps, of all things known,
That was most ignorant. "You
Sound like Yeats, but
You're not. Well, happy
Voyage home, Kenneth, to
The parking lot
Of understood experience. I'll be
Here if you need me and here
After you don't
Need anything else. HERE is a quality
I have, and have had
For you, and for a lot of others,
Just by being it, since you were born."
(Thanks Bill Cohen for introducing me to this poem)
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that's what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of the world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil,
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafes and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.
From "Refusing Heaven" Knoff 2005
Friday, April 06, 2007
are a problem for him. He could tell by their eyes
they have seen Christ. They make the kernel
of his being and the clarity around it
seem meagre, as though he needs girders
to hold up his unusable soul. But he chooses
against the Lord. He will not abandon his life.
Not his childhood, not the ninety-two bridges
across the two rivers of his youth. Nor the mills
along the banks where he became a young man
as he worked. The mills are eaten away, and eaten
again by the sun and its rusting. He needs them
even though they are gone, to measure against.
The silver is worn down to the brass underneath
and is the better for it. He will gauge
by the smell of concrete sidewalks after night rain.
He is like an old ferry dragged on to the shore,
a home in its smashed grandeur, with the giant beams
and joists. Like a wooden ocean out of control.
A beached heart. A cauldron of cooling melt.
Published in the January 10, 2005 New Yorker