A Poem for S.

Because you used to leaf through the dictionary,
Casually, as someone might in a barber shop, and
Devotedly, as someone might in a sanctuary,
Each letter would still have your attention if not
For the responsibilities life has tightly fit, like
Gears around the cog of you, like so many petals
Hinged on a daisy. That’ s why I’ ll just use your
Initial. Do you know that in one treasured story, a
Jewish ancestor, horseback in the woods at Yom
Kippur, and stranded without a prayer book,

A little East of Jordan, (145)

A little East of Jordan,
Evangelists record,
A Gymnast and an Angel
Did wrestle long and hard –

Till morning touching mountain –
And Jacob, waxing strong,
The Angel begged permission
To Breakfast – to return!

Not so, said cunning Jacob!
"I will not let thee go
Except thou bless me" – Stranger!
The which acceded to –

Light swung the silver fleeces
"Peniel" Hills beyond,
And the bewildered Gymnast
Found he had worsted God!

The Lamps Are Burning

“The lamps are burning in the synagogue,
in the houses of study, in dark alleys....”
This should be the place.

This is the way
the guide book describes it. Excuse me, sir
can you tell me
where Eli lives, Eli the katzev —
slaughterer of cattle and poultry?
One of my ancestors.
Reb Haskel? Reb Shimin? My grandfathers.

This is the discipline that withstood the siege
of every Jew;
these are the prayer shawls that have proved
stronger than armor.

[The bread has become moldy]

The bread has become moldy
and the dates blown down by the wind;
the iron has slipped from the helve.
The wool was to by dyed red
but the dyer dyed it black.

The dead woman has forgotten her comb
and tube of eye-paint;
the dead cobbler has forgotten his knife,
the dead butcher his chopper,
and the dead carpenter his adze.

A goat can be driven off with a shout.
But where is the man to shout?
The bricks pile up, the laths are trimmed,
and the beams are ready. Where is the builder?

The Matyó Embroidery

On the platter set out in the center of the Matyó-embroidered tablecloth
was the syringe. And around it was silence. My father
gazed at my mother, and she back at him. Slowly,
faltering, he began to speak. I was seized by
an unusual shuddering. I recall that he used the word fate,
and that if   I consented to the injected dose,
we could all fall asleep. We would stay together
for all time. And evade the uncertainty in mortifying
desperation. A fifteen-year-old’ s desire to live
cried out in me: “No!” To which

Open the Gates

Open the gates — the gates of the Temple,
Swift to Thy sons, who Thy truths have displayed.

Open the gates — the gates that are hidden,
Swift to Thy sons, who Thy Law have obeyed.

Open the gates — of the coveted Temple,
Swift to Thy sons who confess and seek grace.

Open the gates — of the armies celestial,
Swift to Thy sons, Judah’ s tearful-eyed race.

Open the gates — the radiant portals,
Swift to Thy sons who are lovely and pure.

Open the gates — of the crown of fidelity,
Swift to Thy sons who in God rest secure.

Getting the Child to Bed

Getting the child to bed is awful work,
Committing that rage to sleep that will not sleep.
The lie rots in my throat saying, “O. K.
There is balm in Gilead. Go to bed.
Honey of generation has betrayed us both.”
And truly it is no wild surmise of darkness
Nor Pisgah purview of Canaan drowned in blood
But only my child saying its say in bed.

The Breaking of the Law

Strapped to the bed of circumcision lies
My son. This mutilation ties
You to the fathers. They will never let
You forget, or your flesh be enfranchised ever,
Though you pray all your life long.
They set you early on the rack, infect you with a fever
Of remembering. In the marriage bed,
When you are naked, there the sign is red.
There is neither meeting nor mating but the past
Cries that you've been waited for and wed already —
I will not bless this mark upon your body.
For you the hurricane is rising fast;

Zucchini Shofar

No animals were harmed in the making of this joyful noise:
A thick, twisted stem from the garden
is the wedding couple's ceremonial ram's horn.
Its substance will not survive one thousand years,
nor will the garden, which is today their temple,
nor will their names, nor their union now announced
with ritual blasts upon the zucchini shofar.
Shall we measure blessings by their duration?
Through the narrow organic channel fuzzily come
the prescribed sustained notes, short notes, rests.