When I die, my friend Larry said one morning in the third inning of a double header of stoop ball, I want to be burned, not that I intend it to happen any time soon, but when it does. They burned my grandfather I think it was Dachau, but unlike him, I want to kick some ass before it happens. Just let them call me Jew boy I’d like to hear the sound of their balls imploding up into their bladder. They burned my grandmother too, years later, until all that was left was the cancer eating her stomach, but I want to be burned in an oven set up properly for the job, my ashes cast into the wind or maybe in the infield of Buffalo’s War Memorial Stadium if Luke Easter is still playing first base for the Bisons. It was only two days later that Larry tripped on the curb outside the variety store on the way home from school and later that day they took his kidney and laid it, all bloody within, on the steel tray. When he came home his mother said he had to be careful when you have only one kidney you can’t fool around and you certainly want to avoid the strain that comes from kicking any ass.
First Appeared in Afterthoughts (Canada), Vol. 2, No. 4, Autumn, 1995.
It is almost Pesach, early this year so I will get a birthday cake not the rubbery sponge cake of matzoh meal, eggs and ginger ale, covered in fruit. We are peeling the applies and chopping them for the charoset for the communal seder most to be thrown away along with the paper plates and chicken bones, and shards of matzoh, dry as the winds of the desert, the memory we drag out each year as the last snow fades slowly from the streets and trees. My friend enters the church as he does each holy week and stops at each station of the cross, imagining what it must have been like to carry the great cross up the hill, knowing that atop the centurions stood with spikes in hand waiting to pierce his wrists and ankles, ready to watch him droop against the wood as the heat licked between his toes. I imagine what it was like pushing the stones up the ramp the taste of sand and the whip burning my tongue. In ten days we can again eat sweet and sour pork and shrimp in lobster sauce and wait another year for the bits of horseradish, and he will imagine the fires of hell as he slips the five into the waistband of her G-string.
First Appeared in Kimera, Vol. 3, No.2, Winter, 1998. Reprinted in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 29, No. 1, 2005
Faith, or is it hope, seems directly proportional to the need we have to believe in what some would call a miracle. In Hebrew the word for charity can also be translated justice. Faith, he says, is hope with a Godly intervention for hopes can easily go unfulfilled, but faith lingers, and isn’t given up willingly, for even when hope is gone, faith in a miracle remains for those most in need. No one seeks charity, everyone seeks justice, and most hope and have faith that there is in the final analysis no real distinction.
“Trying to explain the Old Testament is like trying to untie a series of Gordian Knots.” He said that often, and few argued with him. Whether they did not argue because they agreed, or simply wanted to avoid his unwillingness to cease pushing until the other or others conceded whatever point he was making hardly mattered. He knew nothing about the New Testament. He wasn’t even sure to what it was a Testament, though he could say that of the Old as well. It was just that one set of Gordian knots was enough, unless and until he could find his philosophical scissors, and God only knew where they had gone.
It was inside Nara that it finally slipped away. Its tether had grown ever weaker, the first slip was decades before, a book, brief meetings an answerless question. It stretched further in Tokyo, basin incense under the watchful third eye and hung perilously by fewer and fewer threads until, with the monks’ gentle bow, it broke and I found home.
His is six and deeply confused, and asks questions to end that state. He wants to know if Adam and Eve had two sons, and one killed the other, where did all of the people come from? Ask your father seems and easy answer, but one he cannot accept, too easy for a mind that needs timely response. I stumble around, try to deflect, and finally admit I don’t know but that some stories cannot be taken literally. He knows what that word means, and it is a sufficient explanation for now. In a week we’ll have the conversation once again, this time not Adam, not Eve, but Shem, Ham and Japheth, and how the three sons of Noah repopulated the entire planet, and I will once again admit to my sad lack of knowledge, and silently curse the Religious School for creating the abyss into which my grandson is all to pleased to lead me.
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.