The Consolation of Judah

We will sit on a wall and watch
as the hills of Jerusalem
beneath our worried boots
press forgotten family
to their breasts,
Dan slithering in the dell,
flashing fangs of Benjamin
ivory in the hidden light,
sons of Asher spilling like coins
under Yissaschar’s wise gaze,
burying the Mount
like an undamned river.

 

We will bow our heads in shame
when the myths part the mists,
brilliant as amethysts,
fresh as tomorrow’s morning,
untasted as Leviathans,
perfect as a fifth-grade friend,
their eyes still limpid gold,
from the face of Chizkiyahu.

 

Like gems in a breastplate
will fly the dappled banners,
like bright acacia beams
will their columns march,
as we suddenly notice
the mud on our soles.

 

But undeserved mercy,
the smile on the face of a mourner,
reinforcements from over the ridge,
are the cloaks of argaman
they will place over our shoulders.

 

They will kiss our humble tears, saying:
Though you were alone
and weary,
and your pieces mortared with hatred—
though your children were lost,
and you backs raw from each other’s grip—
you, little lion,
Judah cub,
lowly and empty,
orphan of kings,
have done it.

If Really You Doubt

If really you doubt
the midrashic tortoise
or the slaying banquet,
feel free to take,
my host,
mezuzah from post,
and let my friends
come pouring in.

If really you’re safe
without the wrapped gauntlet
or your plaited mail,
then blunt black corners,
let your threads flail,
and come dance with us.

If you fear nothing
but G-d alone,
then why have you pled
in words of fire?
Slip inside your head,
and meet my eyes.

If really you reject
all this worthless ritual,
then drink the water
beside your bed!
Drink to kings,
drink to nations,
and when the wolves
prowl your foundations
in a chill October,
let them know
in the crimson snow
that hey, at least you’re sober.

 

Originally posted on Hevria.

More Like The Big Whimper

We are afraid
He did it in six days.

We are too trifling
to be created
in anything less
than an eternity.

Cats, fine, His.
But Twitter?

Never, never,
in all His majesty
and His meaning
could He do
such a thing.

He deserves
a stern reprimand
once all our plans
have wound down
and we stick our slippered feet
up on the black, shriveled eons,
and take stock of our handiwork.

We will have saved ourselves
from destroying mother Gaia,
hubris averted, thank G-d,
and will turn to our Creator,
and scold:

“How dare you claim
that in Six days,
you created
something as worthless
as us?
We have spent decades now
painting you
as a function of biology
and a pragmatic tool,
but your name still has a certain ring.

Please stop your bragging,
crawl back within a text,
and leave the artisanal emptiness
to us.”

 

Originally posted on Hevria.

An Elul Lie

Elul.

Twenty grinning bosses
frocked and leering
come to tame you
with horns of Gabriel
blowing incantations
you first heard fall
like silver neutron hatchets
from your mother’s mouth
to pin your heart to the cracked timbers
of your cage.

They know naught
of the power
you peel
from the night
hidden from all eyes.

They plant you in a classroom
and appoint two lieutenants
to shovel truths into your mind
but these holy men,
masters of the word,
have never met you
in the alley
where men cut out their tongues,
use them as blindfolds,
and choke on each other’s fingers
for the joy
of never being told
to stop.

They ply you
in the drink
day and night,
the burning pool against your nakedness,
the fire holding up
the wall of your liver,
but you do not move.
You were there when first the waters split,
indeed, it was your request,
and their pale descendants
cannot compel you.

As the days pass
you shall wind your way through
meta-calamity
and malformed malignancy
and they shall call it self-destruction
and that shall make it all the sweeter.
Let them recite their psalm over your grave;
you shall live all the more.

If they wanted you to love
they should have admired
your cities
and if they wanted you to fear
they should have held
with gentle gloved fingers
the musket ball
that hangs in your chest
touching the tilt ring
that has shuttered
your eyes.

The day of judgement comes
when you will hold them in contempt,
stampede into yourself,
and forget this poem.

 

Originally posted on Hevria.

My Thoughts When You Quit Observant Judaism

Maybe you’re right.

If you’re right, why do I stay? Joining you would be moral.

You’re not right; you can’t be. All of a sudden, a profound personal philosophy? Yesterday you were chugging the power hour.

Oh, you quote professors now.

Did you specifically learn new Torah sources to reject them? What books have you been reading? I must read them. I must not read them.

Epissedoffmology.

How can you do this to me? You call me blind to everything you see.

Am I supposed to just sit here while you mock what’s most important to me? I’ll wipe that self-righteous grin off your faces.

I can convince you to stay.

I can martial arguments I find convincing. I will put them forward in my most reasonable voice. My tone says, “You’re hurting me.”

At least you’re now following the authentic Judaism of the Talmudic sages to the letter, unhindered by the reforms of Moses.

If it’s all just a choice, choose to be with me.

I love you and everything, but stop pretending this changes nothing.

There are three of us now, you, me, and the Torah, and you cannot speak without sounding jealous, but I remember when the Torah was our love-letter, not my mistress.

I choose Torah over you? Who is this “you” and when was it born?

I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

I can’t convince you of anything.

Faith is all I have, and I cannot give it to you. Before, you saw that as wealth. Now, you think I’m poor. I have not changed.

Retreat, retreat. To the small keep, inside.

I can roll my eyes as high as you.

We can still be friends. If we can’t still be friends, you’ll say it’s my fault.

You say you’re “just asking questions” but they all run in one direction.

Well, this hurts.

Maybe I don’t get it because I wasn’t raised religious.

You’re so powerfully authentic, to question. Thank you for joining the club. Thank you for questioning every day, for struggling, for plumbing ever-deeper into what belongs to you. Oh, you’ve left.

I liked you better as I imagined you, sitting before the feat of our shared sages, appreciating the same light, before you opened your mouth and leaped from the tapestry demanding that you, too, were to be encountered.

Repent before me.

Why am I not leaving?

Maybe I’m brainwashed.

I don’t think I’m brainwashed.

You say I’m full of wishful thinking.

I don’t think so.

Don’t you see it’s personal for me?

Why is it all so personal? I need it to be. I hate that it is.

It’s all just labels. We’re really the same, maybe? I hope it doesn’t talk about souls anywhere in Judaism.

I can see in your eyes you’re ready for the part of the movie where we realize loving each other is more important than our intransigent ideological commitments. I’m not ready. I hate those movies.

I probably sin more than you do, but for me it’s unofficial.

You probably care more about Judaism than I do.

You probably have a deeper relationship with G-d than I do. The screenwriters were always on your side.

It’s all just group identity, and you didn’t care to stay in my group. What now? Shall I impale you upon a spear?

I can’t wait for you to abandon the restrictive social codes of religious society so you can acquire better restrictive social codes you apply to all my actions. When did I ever judge you, by the way?

I have never encountered more restrictive rules in my life than in trying to navigate a conversation with you since the fall.

Perhaps I’m your heretic.

I’m sorry. I’m not at fault here. Just thoughts.

You make me feel every time I mention Judaism I’m an evangelist. I hope you’re fooled by my smile/grimace when you bring up psychology.

How can we be having a genuinely angry argument over Artificial Intelligence? The joke is obvious.

You didn’t stick around long enough to observe the strange unfolding of the blossoms from bitter and rejected seeds.

You can’t be fixed. Judaism can’t be fixed for you. Fixing them is breaking them. And you’re meant to be an end, not a means.

You can bring the horse to water but you can’t make him read a book without a million catty comments.

Agony! Can we not step into the past, wrap it around ourselves, and settle among its answers? Religion comes between us? What we imagine comes between us. The future comes between us.

Maybe I don’t get it because I never did hallucinogens.

You tie it to who you are, lay down before me, and dare me to tread on you, but you crouch behind objectivity like a shield. The day is young, but, before sunset, you’ll pick one.

I don’t want to think I’m better than you, but if you dare me…

Even the old songs wither in your mouth. Not because you intend it. Because I can’t slip my mind, in order to find you, past the ironic remove at which you’ve set yourself.

You seem not to like it when I take your choice too seriously.

Why are you still living in this neighborhood?

You don’t want me to define you even by the definitions you provide. You want to float unmoored in pure self-definition. You want to be worshipped, not evaluated.

I know the way is true. I still don’t doubt it’s true. Yet we also stand apart, and so I pause. Must it last forever?

Fine, don’t stay for the experience. Stay for the struggle with the experience. Fine, stay for the struggle with the struggle. Stay for the struggle with the struggle with the –

Am I supposed to pretend I don’t want you to be observant?

I disagree but can’t argue.

Maybe I don’t get it because I’m not handsome enough.

There is some ending to this story where you come over to my side, right?

I can step back and see how we’re united in our opposition. I can step back further and see how that’s not good enough. Stop me when I hit a wall, if you still believe in those.

G-d has made it in such a way that it matters a lot that you’re doing this together with me.

Why can’t we be together?

Why don’t I leave?

Maybe you’re right.

But I won’t.

What do you know about being religious that I don’t?

At least you can go to those deep rebel farbrengens without being sniffed out as a fascinated impostor.

I’m insulted.

What about my worship of G-d was so fake and so horrible it couldn’t inspire you to stay?

You’re going to swear a lot now to prove how real you are, aren’t you?

At least you made a choice.

Infinite questions, no acceptable answers.

Let’s play the game where we guess which book fuels today’s rebellion.

Almost anything is forgivable, except that you’re more forgiving than me.

I hope it changes nothing.

In the end, perhaps we’re all in the cradle or the grave.

You say my whole life is built upon a mistake you made in your teens.

Make me hate you, then explain how it’d all be so much more peaceful if no one believed in anything.

The one who gets angry first loses.

Are you going to be a good person now? Weird. I thought you were a good person from the day we met.

I’m sorry.

It’s a mitzvah to love you, to rebuke you, to draw you closer. If I don’t do any of these things, and let the relationship atrophy, perhaps finally, finally, we would be alike.

I hold out secret hope that I’ll stumble over the key to winning you over. You hold out the same hope. This is how we love each other now.

Maybe I care about these things more than I love you. Perhaps it was a conditional love. Perhaps it was what we had in common that kept me from your depths. Perhaps this is our long-short road.

 

Originally posted on Hevria.

Peace Be Upon You, Traveler

Peace be upon you, traveler,
through night’s fevered exhale
or sun-charred road,
to lover’s threshold
or the white citadel!

Perhaps you drive through the bank at midnight
because your daughter has a cough
or to hasten morning’s commute.
But maybe you bear
as rushing blood
to foreign lands
circulating dollars
through Taipei’s tunnels
or the flowering alleys of Sao Paulo.

You did not ask my permission,
did not show your face,
real and stubbled red as Capistrano,
or smooth-chinned as the Lotus Temple,
and risk the fleeting.

You were wiser –
like rain cobbling the paths at Sarnath,
like feet smoothing the slopes of Jerusalem,
you chose eternity
and did not show your face.

That’s alright.
This, too, is just a game
of hopscotch
with G-d clapping the time.
If-you-miss-one,
that’s-o-kay,
your-life-leads
else-where
a-ny-way.

Leave.
Forget the rules
and the electric bill!

Can I really blame you
for sneaking out
when all implied authority,
though not declaring it illegal,
finds this smuggling, well,
irresponsible?

Do not fret at our parting.
Your headlamps thirst for the mile;
your ticket pulls you forward.
There is an edge even to this circle;
bless me, and traverse it.

 

Originally posted on Hevria.

A Maamar I Do Not Understand

The sukkah is makkif, and we bring it b’pnimius.
Ignorance, young man, is no excuse.
Run your fingers across the footnotes’ gleanings, and realize you ought to pray.
What affliction, bread of hunger —
eat it, and you are eaten away —
the vodka laps you,
and in understanding is a leather sole on your forehead.
The holiday is just a break-tide
set against the year-sea.
Sit within it,
weave its six-fold gestures.
It won’t help.
The year will flood us,
the ark will not be ready,
and salt water will get in your porridge.
Climb into the words,
wrap them around yourself,
and ignore the ravens insisting
that G-d wills your drowning.
You cannot stop the crowing.
Wave the white flag tied to the olive branch,
never write the damn book,
and retreat beneath the sheets.

 

Dream the night is full of holes,
a smashed idol.
The father of the inch of you that will not settle
makes a promise, and we are its words.
His wife slays a snake
with a laugh.
They are larger than time
and heavier than the earth,
but their eyes sparkle.
They,
–in your dream, of course;
do not settle–
dry you with scorching niggun,
explain the suffering,
and reject it all the same.

 

Choices must be made;
____  believes in you.
You wake not because you must,
but because you should;
your family misses you.

 

Trust me: One day it will all stop lying,
and show you your true worth.

 

Originally posted on Hevria.

For the Messiah, or Whomever

Some aren’t born to yearn or fear,
nor to grip the grasping thought,
but to place their dead bones here
and ignore what through them’s wrought.

Some live not as noble force,
acceleration summed and formal;
they find once they’ve run their course
they were friction and the normal.

Some don’t sup or pray
with half their parents’ devotion;
they will not see the sun-soaked bay,
only mud’s erosion.

They are tossed as pebbles beneath the tide,
weight against the flow,
and when dead rise it’s their only pride
that when pushed they did not go.

Not all stories share the wisdom of the sages,
nor all tales speak of ancient lovers.
Some yarns don’t deserve the pages,
but are bound to knit the covers.

Our hearts numb at the end of time,
we are prepared to wait for never.
We are the death that comes for death;
we fight for the Messiah, or whomever.

 

Originally posted on Hevria.

I Remember Jerusalem

First sleep attempt: Failure
12:15 AM
A thousand words in,
I have tea and I have time.
Classical guitar.
A light still burns in Jerusalem.
Come muse, show me the way
there is much to write ere break of day.

~~~

Yaakov our Eritrean janitor, mop in hand, dances across the meat kitchen while Louis Armstrong’s trumpet beseeches the pharaoh. Stars twinkling in the inky arches whisper the song of spring. Another Jerusalem night.

~~~

If you have never attended a Yeshiva you cannot know the sublime bliss of a nap between yeshiva lunch and dinner, skipping girsa seder. Then you wake up, eat, pray. The Jerusalem sun is setting but the stones retain their warmth. The street beckons; it leads anywhere.

You walk to the shuq on quiet feet, the sky a brilliant violet. A couple of young men with long sidelocks pass you, lost in thought, noble bearing of adulthood already shining in their posture and peaceful gait. A cat leaps to her family in a dumpster. You pass a falafel place, little more than a hole in the wall. Grease and cigarette smoke roll out and it is not unpleasant; the proprietor sits before pictures of holy rabbis and heckles his annoying customers.

From an overgrown courtyard you often pass, the sound of a skilled violinist practicing fills the cooling air. You cross over Yaffo street, full of men hurrying home from work, a synagogue overflowing onto the sidewalk, two female soldiers gossiping over their uzis.

You enter the shuq, the pandemonium of the day’s end coming to a close. They’ll nearly pay you to take the leftover pastries; their minds are elsewhere; so many mouths to feed on both sides of the counter.

The stalls pull down their shutters; the bars and restaurants begin to stir. There was a ramming attack last week, but that’s stopping no one; the endless summer night, holy and mundane, has just begun. You stay as long as you can, buoyed by your recent rest, tasting the special air, beloved of holy men, crusaders, and everyone in between.
You turn and start your way back; the study hall is its own universe, too, and there is much there to learn.

~~~

The voices of boys and men ring out, trying to move stubborn produce. I fish the tea I like off the top shelf. A Chassid in regalia argues with the pierced cashier over whom the song on the tinny store radio is about. “Gilad Shalit,” says earrings. “It’s about the messiah, that he should come,” insists sidelocks. I step into the sweltering heat. “I don’t think he’s coming,” I hear from behind me, said with bashful strength, with ardent humility.

Tonight it feels like summer, in Jerusalem.

~~~

The sun sinks all around.
I eat bad twenty sheq. pizza in the dusk,
not wanting to pick up and bag my strewn possessions.
The time has run up, the light is gone. One more sleep in this holy land I don’t appreciate. One more night with friends I wish I loved more. One more night alone.
Then, in the morning – to take flight, drift to the next world, the next life, with only this cage of a body and my trapped perspective, where I might finally choose the path of non-existence and be free.
A few more dusky Jerusalem breaths,
A few more beads of Jerusalem summer sweat,
then to the horizon,
always alone and always together,
whatever might come.

 

Originally posted on Hevria.

A Midnight Prayer

There is a profound hope we dare not utter
and a light of which we dare not speak,
and we ask you,
King of Concealment,
Master of dark technique,

to open the locks between the stars
and set out your final feast
where we will eat the distance that bars,
and smash goodbyes under our tankards,
and from the book You will read us our own story
and we will laugh at its glory
and cheer ourselves as we cheer the blindfolded.

The feast will go on and on,
and we won’t mind,
because the night is Yours and light,
and together our fear is delight
as long as it doesn’t have to end.

But until we hear Your answer,
ends do us ensnare,
and everything must finish,
even this small prayer.

 

Originally posted on Hevria.