Fourth floor, Antwerp Hilton, night encasing the Schelde, ragout of boar and claret slowly regurgitating, I pause ancient words, stutteringly said, hand on my head a shoddy cover two parts of eight fully remembered one section only in part, turning East or a best guess. I ask nothing, or perhaps too much it is hard to know, CNN International offers no clue, no guidance, head bowed, knees bent the carpet has a burn hole, Ani, I am, I do hear I always hear, now rest and share my peace.
First Appeared in Oasis: A Literary Magazine, Vol. 6, No. 2, October-December 1997.
The old man peers at the yellowing book
then places it on the arm of the chair.
He gives the walker a sad, angry look,
and still struggling, looks up in mocking prayer.
Clutching the book, he limps to the table
and sinks onto the chair, risking a fall
that could reshatter his hip. Unable
to hear, he shouts to his wife, down the hall,
who brings the hearing aid and his glasses.
His eyes glow as the ancient words bring fire
to his voice, arms dance as though his class is
full of young minds that are his to inspire.
He settles into the chair, bent by age
and curses his body, now more a cage.
First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008)
Third grade, religious school kikes, us, then a backhand raised, drawn, quickly dropped, below a reddened face, sleeve pulled up 145233 in black between elbow and wrist and a tear, perched fearing to fall. Never again, and nothing more, later, same arm ruffling hair, smoke clinging to aging skin, no older when he walked in her arms into infernos then smoke rising slowly as he labored, no more free than on cattlecars shivering in winter. No hell to come, never again, not Juden. Mahogany doors opened on oiled hinges ancient scroll to be touched, here is you, me, us, always on Massada, in Vilnius. Never again kikes, dying only once.
First published in SNReview Vol. 9, No. 2 (2007)
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June 13, 1896, Prague a warm day, old stone schul you stood before the minyon wearing the skullcap repeating ancient words that lay on paper, rehearsed sounding false on a tongue swollen in anxiety. Your tallit, white woven with blue threads hung at your knees fringe fingered, rolled and unrolled, twisted until touched to skin words inscribed, etched into collective memory. Seventeen years later sitting with Buber did words come back and stick on your tongue and later still when you studied under Bentovim, did words take form, shape, dredging up a past kept suppressed walking in desert heat knowing salvation was down a hill, entry forbidden. Lying in your bed in Hoffman’s Sanitorium, the trees of Kierling blooming did you recite Kaddish as endless night engulfed you.
First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008) and reprinted in Legal Studies Forum Vol. 32, No. 1 (2008)
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Hell is a place where what you least desire becomes eternally yours, or so we were told as children, well not us, not the Jewish kids, for us Hell was our mothers’ finding that copy of Playboy we stole from our father’s stash our mother didn’t know about, and which he would deny, throwing us under the bus or any large vehicle she found
If we buy into Hell, and given that ours is an aging population, many of whom have landed in Florida and Arizona to avoid the winters that are hell on the ubiquitous arthritis, and all those who have joyously consumed the evangelical Kool-Aid, when the final bell rings, they may be surprised to discover there is far, far more of a chance of a snowball in Hell.
He is four, has been for five months now, but when you ask them how old he will be at his next birthday he doesn’t pause, says, “thirteen,” with a smile that shouts, “yes I know how to count quite well, but sometimes I just choose not to!” He is slowing down, actually, the last week he decided he was seven and decided he would be 27 on his next birthday. I am certain it has nothing at all to do with the presents his classmate’s brother got his Bar Mitzvah, but there is something in the smile of a Jewish four-year-old that reminds even a grandfather who long ago gave up the faith that there is something magical about turning thirteen despite the ever dreaded thank you notes.
I am honored that this poem was just published in the Fall/Winter Issue of the Atlanta Review,
I had dinner the other night with Rav Hillel in a small Chinese place just off Mott Street. I asked him what it was like in the afterlife, after all the years. It gets a bit boring, he said, now that old Shammai has lost his edge, just last month for each Chanukah night he lit four candles from the center out in each direction. I told him the steamed pork buns were beyond belief, he said try the shrimp dumplings even better if you eat them standing on one foot. I asked him how he spent his days and he only smiled, most days I search for Van Gogh’s ear though that alte cocker Shammai says it was Theo’s ear that Vincent lopped off, although Vincent wore a bandage around his head. It’s really not so bad he said, there’s even a lovely sculpture just inside the garden gate that bears a striking resemblance to old Lot’s wife, not that she was ever capable of sitting still all that long. He bid me farewell and though I looked for a fiery chariot, he climbed into his ’91 Taurus with the hanging bumper and rust spots, and drove slowly off. Thanks for dinner, he shouted, as I footed the bill yet again.
In Riga, my grandfather
was a master tailor,
the great and the rich
would come to his shop
some bringing bolts of fine cloth
and others trusting him
knowing that wools and silks
were not beyond his reach.
Even after they marked
his home as that of the Jew,
the Captain, who rode
through the city with his men
torches thrown through windows
would come to him,
late in the night,
seeking a new dress uniform.
Eventually they took his needles
threw his spools of thread
into the river, he could stand no more
and with the few kopecks that remained
he left for New York
where, he though, even
a poor tailor could walk
on golden streets and create
garments the likes of which
a Tsar could only imagine.
Each morning he would arise
and strap on the scarred phylacteries
to recite his morning prayers
then go out into the cold
in his threadbare coat
to the factories and couture houses
only to return before noon
to a bowl of bread soup
awaiting the visit of one
of the men or women in his tenement
who would ask him to sew
a new patch into a worn jacket,
a fraying dress, all
for a few pennies
He was, he said, the new Moses
free of bondage, told
that milk and honey
would be his portion
wandering the desert
of this new land, free
at last of the bonds
that had enslaved him
plucking the bitter manna
from among the sands
but free he would shout
to starve on the cliffs
overlooking the land
promised to him.
First appeared in Aura Literary Arts Review Vol. 26, No 1 (2000) and later in Legal Studies Forum Vol. 30, Nos. 1-2 (2006)
We bow our heads and utter words not to the cicada speaking through a spring night or the beetle crawling slowly across the leaf searching for the edge. We bid the crow silent, the cat mewling his hunger, just to crawl under a porch awaiting morning, the child to sleep. The stream flows slowly by, carrying a blade of grass and the early fallen leaf.