“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
Cats have more in common with snakes that we care to recognize. She said this with a straight face. He wanted to laugh at her, but dared not. She didn’t take laughter kindly when she thought it was directed at her. He calmly asked her to explain. It’s simple, she said, with feigned patience, both can slither around, are expert at hiding when they wish, and as you have now so clearly demonstrated, much as Adam did, both of you the hard way, both snakes and cats are smarter by far than your average male human.
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.
Birth, he said, is the first and only real terminal disease. You only realize that, of course, when it is far too late and there is nothing at all you can do about it. Cancer and all manner of diseases merely shift the timeline, but once you’re on the path, there is only one way off, and that is a step few are willing to take. For some, this is a source of terror, for others it is no more than a slow walk around the block, with the promise you’ll eventually arrive back at the place you began, although it is no longer the place you began but one from which you begin, not again but anew. Again. This is what the Buddha said 3000 years ago, more or less. He confirmed that the just the other day, outside the soup kitchen. “Hey,” Buddha said, “even the once or twice enlightened need to eat from time to time. Join me?”
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.