He is, he claims, a practitioner of feng shui, and will, for a nominal fee, arrange our home in the harmony it requires.
His fee, of course, is nominal to him only, and hardly one we would incur with the expenses of a new home, with two of too many things, and none of some necessities, which our local merchants will provide for their own nominal fees.
And I don’t know that I want to pay to watch him move two small pieces of pottery and rehang our art so that whatever Chinese gods he channels will be pleased, all while taking our home away from us and leaving a place of his we merely inhabit.
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.
We should stop blaming the snake. First, do we really want to admit the reptile was that much smarter than we were? More importantly, how long could we have survived wearing the leaves, if anything at all, and eating fruits and vegetables? Okay, I grant you that is all I eat, but by choice and after considerable thought. And, by the way, never tell a Jewish male he can’t eat something. We all know full well that even shrimp and pork are kosher in a Chinese restaurant. At least on Friday night.
He says that in his prior life, this being second he knows of, he was Japanese, although he did have a cousin in China, but he doesn’t know his name anymore. He wasn’t there for the war with Okinawa, but he knows that karate was developed then, and it’s why, in this life he studies karate, because it’s part of his heritage. He says he has many more stories to tell of his prior life, he remembers it quite well, but that’s all he will tell us today, for a six-year-old needs to dole out stories slowly.
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.
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.
Each day I walk out into the sea. Each day the sea engulfs me. I cannot walk on the water, nor does the water part before me. Each day I walk out into the sea and reconfirm my humanity.
In my prior life as a Corporate attorney, I was profiled in the ACC Docket, the publication of the Association of Corporate Counsel as a lawyer/poet. They included the above poem. Oddly, and no one quite knows how, the article later appeared in translation in a Shanghai Legal magazine. The above is their translation (and their photo), although I have no idea how accurate it may be.