HOLY MOSES

Consider, for a moment                      
                                     he said
                                                           the absurdity of it all
a guy with brains enough
                                                                                           to shape universes
               who can flick on stars
                                                       with a thought
                                                                                         faster than you or I
                    can throw a switch who,
                                                                            worst case
                                                                                              gives a lizard a kick in the ass
and ends up with man
                                                           that a guy
with this kind of power

                             is going to write his story down
                                                                                             on a bunch
                                                          of tablets
                                                                                        or have an old coot
                            wander the desert endlessly
                                                                    pen and parchment in hand
                                                                                                                         taking dictation
           and then leave the scrolls
                                                               scattered in caves
                                  it makes no freakin’ sense.

If it was me
                                   he said
                                                        standing on a hill
                      watching some scrub pine
                                                                                            slowly burn onward
           no ashes, no embers
                                                               just keeps on burning
                             and if I heard a voice
                                                                              giving me orders
                when I couldn’t see anyone
                                                                             to go and slap

                                                                                                                        some soldier
                  upside the head
                                                               or march into a river hoping
                                                                                                          to find the stones
                            followed by miles
                                                                       of lemmings lined up
                                                                                                                        behind me
               not this kid
                                                me, I’d look for a screen
                                                                                                             and some short professor
                            from somewhere
                                                                               in Kansas.

Do you buy for a minute
                                                     he said
                                                                                that he would wander
                sucking sand from his navel
                                                                               and getting called
                                              to haul his ass up a mountain
                                                                                                                     for a crisis meeting
             and then have
                                                       to schlep tablets down the hill
                             eating hardtack
                                                                   and pretending to like it
            then telling his wife
                                                       he knew where he was
                         he wasn’t lost
                                                                   so what if it was forty years
            Miriam was
                                               really going to buy that
                                                                                                              and Aaron
          had to be
                                               thrilled
                                                                                   dragging the damn ark
                               like a bloody albatross
                                                                                       then looking down 
                   into the valley
                                                               he’s gonna say
        okay, that’s it
                                            go on without me
I just got word
                                           I gotta croak here
                   but keep a kind thought,     
                                                                                    fat chance of that ever happening.

BECAUSE

“Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”-Shelley

I write
                                                                    because words must be said
words must be said
                                                                    because they eat at my tongue
they eat at my tongue
                                                                    because they recall the flames of the ovens
they recall the flames of the ovens
                                                                    because they were forced to shower
they were forced to shower
                                                                    because they were Jews
they were Jews
                                                                    because they embraced Torah
they embraced Torah
                                                                    because they walked through the desert
they walked through the desert
                                                                    because they followed the trail of manna
they followed the trail of manna
                                                                    because it led to freedom
it led to freedom
                                                                    because I saw it in a dream
I saw it in a dream
                                                                    because a voice whispered it to me
a voice whispered it to me
                                                                    because I write

BEGGAR’S TALE

I speak clearly, concisely
in an ancient, long forgotten
tongue that none understand.

I tell my tale, leaving out
nothing, a summoner
in a deaf world, whispering

of coins, pulled from
an empty pocket and cast
at your feet, soundless.

I point to signs, lettered
in my careful hand, without
meaning, cryptic to you

You urge me to trust
in your god even as
you deny me my own

who sits by the gate
wrapped in rags, waiting
to for rain to melt the pillar.

PAPAL EDICT

She said “now what they’ve taken away limbo”
sounding a bit depressed,
“not that you proceed express
to the ferry dock, but
that was a snap, all
you were carefully taught
is suddenly wrong or irrelevant.
“It would be like Isaac,”
I say, “climbing Mount Moriah
with Abraham finding a ram
tethered to a waiting altar.”
My mother wants to know
how I can claim to be once Jewish
as though the moyel
also took my freedom of religion.
“We have no hell” she reminds me
“at least after death.”
I silently respond
and try to tell her that
I still don’t have a hell,
at least not as she conceives it.
“But I read,” she says, “the Tibetan
Book of the Dead, and hell
is very, very real.”
I tell her my Buddhism is Chinese
through a fine Japanese filter
and it is the next life
in which I will pay for this one.
She says “I wouldn’t want
to come back again,” and
on that point we find
the beginnings of common ground.

YIDDISH

My grandmother lapsed
into Yiddish only on special occasions
“where other words won’t fit”
she said, where there is
no English to describe
the indescribable, blessed
be He, but we knew
that it was merely
a convenient way to keep
us out of the conversation,
while they clucked.
Mah Johng is a game
that can only be played
in Yiddish, she said,
to hell with thousands
of years of Chinese history.

She remembers the Golem
she met him once
on Fourteenth Street
when she still had
the liquor store.
She thought it strange
that he wanted gin
and not Slivovitz
but Golem can be strange
under the right circumstances,
and he did speak Yiddish.

PLEASE CONTINUE TO HOLD

 

The thing I don’t get, he said,
is why whenever I put in a call
to heaven a male voice answers,
and says he will transfer me.
Usually the wait time is too long
but occasionally a woman will answer
and tell me the Queen
of Queens, blessed is she, is busy
but she knows my wishes and those
with enough merit will
be granted in due course.
She does, always, thank me for calling.

HOLOCAUST

Years later on, having walked
calmly away from my former faith,
I am left still pondering
where you find the words
to describe, to teach the unspeakable,
and how you use them to reach
children who have no right to know
the unspeakable, but who must,
lest they later speak it.
It was a generation ago for me, two
for them, three now for my own
grandchildren but the losses
they know are staggering: Las Vegas,
9/11, Manchester, Sandy Hook,
and on and on and on and on
and how do you help them grasp
the number six million, 10 million, when
they have but ten fingers,
shielding their eyes from the horror.