CHARMING

You said it was a lucky charm,
but I know my cereals and it
clearly wasn’t that, nor was it
a faked foot of some leporidae
sylvilagus, even you would never
be that cruel, you are a vegan
after all, even your shoes are
some unholy man-made material.

And I don’t believe in luck,
I’ve never had it, good or bad
although I do admit I look forward
to Friday the Thirteenths for
things always seem to go well
when they occur for some reason.

JUSTICE

The Rabbi always said that
the highest form of justice
would be to teach a man to fish,
rather than to donate fish to him.

The Rabbi in question is now
long dead, and in so many places
teaching a man to fish will only
enable him to poison his family.

We have laid waste to ouir world
assuming someone will clean it up
for us, and we do throw money
as our attempt at atonement.

So perhaps we should give
out brooms, and hope for the best.

HEAVEN CAN WAIT

A Rabbi once told me that
if you want to get to heaven,
something Jews don’t believe in,
you must atone to those you
have harmed, or injured
before you die.

I’ve started making a list,
and it feels like I am in
some wierd version of
High Fidelity, but mine
is more than a top five.

I’ve made a few efforts,
some accepted, some not,
but I have come to realize
that if I don’t believe in heaven
and I was a lawyer for years,
there is no way I am
getting in, atoning or not.

TRIPTYCH

A triptych hangs in the gallery of memory. Admission is by invitation only.

The first panel is a time fogged mirror into which I stare. The adopted image hides behind the tarnished silver. My adopted mother’s voice is heard from a hidden speaker: “You were named after my father.” I want to tape his picture to the glass, a face to share the empty space. She has no pictures, she says, he never liked being photographed, said it would steal his soul. She can barely remember him: “He died when I was five.” I ask questions. I need to know more about the giver of names. She falls silent, drawing in, secreting memory.

In the second panel a woman sits, fidgeting. She is a striking blond. I cannot see her as being sixty-one, though she is. I deny that I am fifty. As the Rabbis climb the few steps to the Bimah, she leans over. “You know,” Lois says, “just like you, I was named for your grandfather. She talks freely of herbalism, life in New York, places she wants someday to see. “It’s funny,” she whispers, “I’ve never seen a picture of him; like he had some kind of phobia of being photographed.” Outside the Temple she stands with my mother and sister, arms interlocked, embracing both. I snap the picture. I am not captured on the film. Lois and I drive back to my mother’s apartment, stopping at one of the unending lights on Wisconsin Avenue. She touches my hand: “You know there was one more person named after him, your other sister.” The light changes.

There is only a picture hook in the wall — not even the faint outline that marks the space from which a picture is removed, the wall beneath unbleached by the sun. Lisa, my my sister, like me adopted and as quickly withdrawn, left no outward marks. She is a footnote in my father’s obituary. She is cast off by family, an unmentionable. She is my mother’s deeply hidden scar.

I am repeatedly drawn into this room. It’s walls never change, the pictures periodically replaced. I need to visit, to assure myself of — what? Someday, too soon, this exhibit will close.

First appeared in Pitkin in Progress, Vol. 3, No. 1 (2002)

A PRAYER UNANSWERED

When I was a child, a Rabbi told me
that I did have the ability,
to be used sparingly always,
to petition God for some good.

I filed this away with other stories
from the Torah, pillars of salt,
stone tablets, a flood worse than
the one that filled our basement.

At some point I needed something,
recollections are fortunately vague
now, and petitioned God in the most
humble terms I could imagine.

Nothing, happened, of course,
and when I asked the Rabbi, he said
either you didn’t need it, or perhaps
God was busy meting out justice.

I hope whoever was meted out
justice that day really deserved it,
because all the stories said God’s
justice was the end all of you.

BUDDHA AND HILLEL DINE TOGETHER

The meeting occurred by chance,
two old men sitting in the same park
staring at the same empty chess board
as the waves of the Stygian Sea
lapped against the break wall,
the ferryman now at the helm
of the great cargo ship.
“So,” said Hillel, “you come here often?”
Old, bent Buddha paused
“as far as I know, I have
always been here, or perhaps
I am not here now, never have been.”
“I know the feeling” the ancient Rabbi said
“I’ve been here so long, I too
have begun to doubt my very existence.”
Buddha rubbed his great girth
and smiled placidly as a black bird
alighted on his shoulder.
The Rabbi stroked his beard
the stood on one foot,
only to have two bluejays
land, one on each arm.
“Would you care to join me,”
he asked, “for a meal at Ming’s
or if you prefer, we can do take out
from the Dragon Palace,
whatever suits your mood,
in any event, my treat this time.”
The saffron robed old man
unfolded himself, and erect
and bowing, said
“It would honor me to dine with you
but if you wouldn’t mind
I’d much prefer a bowl
of chicken soup with kreplach
and a pastrami on rye.”

First appeared here April 24, 2016

NIGHTLY PRAYERS

My mother always told me to say
my prayers before bed, which was odd
given that she never prayed, and didn’t
as far as we could tell, believe in a deity.

I knew, as my Rabbi taught, that you do not
seek something for yourself in prayer,
and world peace and harmony did not
seem on the horizon despite my entreaties.

Now I kneel, and face the wall before bed,
and listen to the prayers of the birds
in the wetlands, although it is not clear
if it is a deity or the moon to which they pray.

My mother is long buried now, I will join
her eventually, and there is still no peace
in the world, merely violence and poverty,
but the birds have greater faith than I ever did.

THE RABBI

The old man peers at the yellowing book
then places it on the arm of the chair.
He gives the walker a sad, angry look,
and still struggling, looks up in mocking prayer.
Clutching the book, he limps to the table
and sinks onto the chair, risking a fall
that could reshatter his hip. Unable
to hear, he shouts to his wife, down the hall,
who brings the hearing aid and his glasses.
His eyes glow as the ancient words bring fire
to his voice, arms dance as though his class is
full of young minds that are his to inspire.
He settles into the chair, bent by age
and curses his body, now more a cage.


First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008)

BEGINNING

“And God said, “Let there be light,”
and there was light.
And God saw the light that it was good.” — B’Reshit (Genesis) 1:3-4

I mean God is omnipotent and omniscient,
so why create it if God had even
the slightest doubt that it was good,
and is God even capable of doubt.
But that isn’t really the point,
for now I sit knowing that I could,
one day, sooner or later, lose my vision,
that a darkness would descend upon me
and I don’t know for sure what God
would think of it, but I would
not find it the least bit good.
A rabbi might say that I should
not blame God, that God giveth
and taketh away, but I have a long
list of things I would gladly
have God take away without a whimper
from me, but light and sight
are nowhere on that list though faith
may end up somewhere in the middles.
We’ll just see how things go.