HILLEL AT THE GOLDEN DRAGON

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.

HANGING BY A THREAD

In Riga, my grandfather
was a master tailor,
the great and the rich
would come to his shop
some bringing bolts of fine cloth
and others trusting him
knowing that wools and silks
were not beyond his reach.
Even after they marked
his home as that of the Jew,
the Captain, who rode
through the city with his men
torches thrown through windows
would come to him,
late in the night,
seeking a new dress uniform.
Eventually they took his needles
threw his spools of thread
into the river, he could stand no more
and with the few kopecks that remained
he left for New York
where, he though, even
a poor tailor could walk
on golden streets and create
garments the likes of which
a Tsar could only imagine.
Each morning he would arise
and strap on the scarred phylacteries
to recite his morning prayers
then go out into the cold
in his threadbare coat
to the factories and couture houses
only to return before noon
to a bowl of bread soup
awaiting the visit of one
of the men or women in his tenement
who would ask him to sew
a new patch into a worn jacket,
a fraying dress, all
for a few pennies
begrudgingly spared.
He was, he said, the new Moses
free of bondage, told
that milk and honey
would be his portion
wandering the desert
of this new land, free
at last of the bonds
that had enslaved him
plucking the bitter manna
from among the sands
but free he would shout
to starve on the cliffs
overlooking the land
promised to him.


First appeared in Aura Literary Arts Review Vol. 26, No 1 (2000) and later in Legal Studies Forum Vol. 30, Nos. 1-2  (2006)

ASHES

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.

ALMOST PASSOVER

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

AND CHARITY

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.

KNOT WHAT YOU THINK

“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.

NARA

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.