ANOTHER GHETTO

She sits
in the bookstore cafe
her head covered
by a linen kerchief
bobby pinned to the
mass of walnut curls.
She cradles the cup
of cooling coffee
and stares down
at the slim book
of Amichai, yielding
to the Hebrew letters
that seem to dance
across the page.
I sit at the adjoining table
with my used
copy of Bialik, translated.
I glance at her
“I’ll miss him”
with a nod to Amichai
then “where are you from?”
She shifts
in her seat, legs
crossing, pulling back
staring over
my shoulder at
the slowly spinning fan,
then at the book.
I look for her eyes
but they dance away,
my hands clasp
and                  unclasp,
fingers drum on the table.
She mutters,
“Atlanta.”
“What part?”
“Warsaw, inside
the walls and wire,
that place
from which so few of us ever
manage to escape.”

LISTEN UP, ABRAHAM

A commentary on a holy book
suggested snakes
cannot hear one another.
Perhaps their deafness goes
beyond family and species.
It would do much
to explain God’s rejection
of Eve’s proffered excuse
that despite her protestations
and those of Adam
the snake would not
take no for an answer –
a deaf snake, after all
having spoken, has little
to do but move along
to the next monologue.

THE WATCHER

He stands transfixed
on the bridge,
arms outstretched,
staring at the river
always flowing slowly by below.
He wears a garland of gold,
an inscription in Hebrew,
the holiest of holies,
mocking those
who hold him a man.
Did he peer out
of the corner of his eyes
as they marched them
across the bridge
to the trains
to the camps
from which they
would never return,
never have headstones
in small, ghetto cemeteries,
would be merely names
on a wall of remembrance?
What did he want to say,
what would they not hear,
for surely
he must have known,
in the way a son
knows so much more
than a father imagines.
They are gone,
he remains, forced
to be ever silent,
and the river flows
under the bridge
beneath his ever constant,
mournful gaze.

THIS IS HOW WE MOURN

This is how we mourn:
we don’t berate the clouds for gathering,
nor begrudge the rain’s ultimate descent.
Our tears fall to the earth as well,
and there are moments when we need the gray,
moments when the sun would
be an unwelcomed interloper.
This is how we mourn:
we wipe the walls clean of history,
we whitewash them for they, too,
must be a tachrichim* and when done
we add the names, each lettered carefully,
this a plaster scroll
of those we dare not forget
requiring the perfection
they were denied.
This is how we mourn:
by walking out into the sunfilled sky,
having given them the grave
once denied them
freshly dug into
our souls and memory.


*tachrichim is the traditional white linen Jewish burial shroud.

Written following a visit to the Pinkas Synagogue in Prague, where  the 80,000 names of Czech and Moravian Jews who perished under the Nazis were hand-written on the walls of the synagogue.

THE WORLD HONORED ONE ASCENDS

The student may comment,
“Hillel was asked to sum up all
of the teaching while standing
on one foot and did so.”
If this student asks
the teacher to provide
the essential nature of Dharma
in one sitting, what
choice does the teacher have
but to rise and leave the room.
The teacher may comment,
“Can you see the treasure
I have left for you,
and what will you do with it?”
Hillel, hearing this,
bows to the teacher
and both smile over a cup of tea.

AN OFF YEAR

The was a winter, once,
where even in the north
the snow refused to fall,
ice rejected jamming the culverts,
and the sky stared down in amazement.
That was the year trees would not bud
and flowers fled deeper
into the sweetness of the earth,
grass sighed and lay indolent.
It was a year my coat of many colors
was taken, pieced out among brothers
until each had a color and none a coat.
I would sit at the right hand of kings
imagining a day when dreams
might refuse to visit,
and then starved of images,
I could reinforce foundations
preparing for their visit.
I am strapped to the altar
and the knife is poised in the hand
of a man who would like to be a father,
both of us looking up for intervention.
There was a year, once
when the ram broke free
of the thicket and picked his way
down the hill to his young.