There are tunnels crawling through the earth
where worms and bullets in the afterbirth
fester, stew in the noxious fumes of hate
creep in a cartel’s slime to desecrate
the land of playgrounds, parks, prayers and schools -
beware reporters’ outrage, false as fools,
frenzied, mistake the reason for the cause,
proclaim in pompous blindness, ‘pause, oh pause’ -
let your blood, like sacrifices of yore,
flow from the Wall, and on the altar pour -
No, and no, and until when, the Jew replies-
deceive yourselves with evil in disguise,
cry peace, peace, you prophets without peace,
honor is a stain, empathy caprice.
beware the god in the chamber of a gun,
the idol worshipped that worshippers shun -
There is a time for war, for war to end,
a time for the garden and the friend
but against the truth, like a solar flare,
you cannot stand, hide in a liar’s lair.
wail, distort, prevaricate and cry
Israel lives, endures - Am Yisroel Chai
I saw my past in the park today
between the lilacs and the evergreens
strolling on the lane in the evening glow-
I on the north loop around the lagoon,
a weekly walk or two to stay in shape.
I almost didn't see it, or him me
so focused I on my walking breaths
and my past on - well, I couldn't say.
We stopped and double-checked with stares,
my hands too sweaty for a proper shake.
"I did not think to see you here." I hope
I did not sound chagrined. "I come and go,"
was all he said, yet did not move, but stood
as if the standing - just there - might do some good.
I had no invitation left to give,
so said, "you're looking rather pale, you know."
"Truth be told," my past replied - it might have winked,
twas hard to tell in the fading light -
"I've been away, a vacation roundabout."
"Ah, that explains the bumps and bruises."
"Yes, one gets tossed on these ocean cruises.
It was depressing for a while, at sea;
we wandered aimless where we'd been,
the captain lost the compass or the stars -
or so I thought - but one hope steered me on
and here I am - an unexpected place."
"Well, there you are, but I must walk,
my health, my breath - thanks for the talk" -
and then, I had to ask, although I knew:
"That hope?" "Some day, I would be you."
Sardines are an old man’s breakfast
and a young man’s lunch -
if he eats them at all,
with lettuce and chips
and a glass of beer
on the run to teleconferencing
without brushing his teeth
or poring over spreadsheets
in green-shaded light.
Old men savor the bone-picking
with tongue-clicking approval
and sop the oil with pinches of bread,
lingering over the morning paper
droplet on ink of editorial ads,
and taste a bit of scotch - single-malt
to start a day of walking
in the park of memories
and the next project within the house
of years and soul.
Old women feed sardines to cats
and those on the bench mumble to the birds.
I was born in the cold time,
when the frost glass cracks,
when the snow dances,
when the lines of life run rivulets through ice,
when the bare tree wind lances
the skin as it sleetly dances -
I was born in the cold time.
In the time of leaf, thistle and sprout
I was born
in the time the grass is greenest with doubt
in the time when brown is mulching about
in the time the petals are twisting tips
and berries play at bridging the thorns
in the time of the sprig and the smell of the earth
I was born.
I was born
in the silence that sings between the stars
where the strings and the tesseracts
wave and flutter the galactic shoal,
where the horizon ends
where the soul eclipses the solar flare
where a quantum whisper echoes the choice
that across the cosmos in a still small voice
just then, just there
The Sunday paper fades: on the corner
the grizzled man handkerchiefs his brow,
lounging on a chaise of canvas and wood -
under the umbrella the June sun beats
and blinds upon, he glazes in the fumes;
he’s selling news already stale,
ink soured in the heat;
flyers, blaring bargains, almost melt,
the plastic sticky, coupons past their date;
the gossip’s all black and white
and prurient as a bygone belle
in a gown of dingy yellow crepe;
summer swarms of gnats and scores
of runic games, read for signs of future
gains, a play by play of yets-to-be,
and paneled stories in color for a time;
stacks unsold on the green table stand
towered like a paper pyramid soon
crumbled into pulp, a decomposing
mold, of photos in pixelated blur
and out of focus words, life transcripted,
a buzz of headlines smeared with yesterday.
The glitch in the mouse used to run in the house,
but it seems to have gone in the ether;
and whether we find in the wires that wind
around the battery base cantilever,
or whether she’s lost in midsummer frost
and icicles whose flavor amuse her,
she’s sure to return, this glitch never learns,
and circle the circuits, the sneaker;
yet going around the keyboard profound
we’ll search through the web til we meet her -
the caught little glitch no data will snitch
so with pixels and bits we will treat her.
If Shabbos is a bride, why are there tears?
the candle dances, a flame a whisper,
the smoke the wispy remnant of a prayer;
a daughter’s dreams a mother’s half-held hope:
Heaven may not have them, we’ll gather sighs-
angels do not need the soul within the heart.
O, daughter, your tears refract the world,
the blessing flows between your covered eyes
the healing of our future in the pass
of hands that circle, gather in the light.
Healing comes in the blink of an eye -
seeing worlds in multiples of life -
tears sowed in sorrow shimmer in Shabbos
when daughters sing and mothers rejoice
-there is a generation yet to come
an awe-filled wonder of how we’re here-
oh woman of valor, survey the years
and with your smile, sanctify the spheres.
She sits on the couch, feet tucked under
a cushion, though mommy said not to,
and curls a strand of hair around her finger
in rhythm to the syllables pronounced
with care; she leans over the book balanced
on the arm rest - five is too young for glasses
except such eyes blind the betrayals of age.
How can I hear what angels cannot see?
She smiles me over, finger to her lip:
“Mommy’s crying because she loves my book.
she says I read for all the children here
and doesn’t mind about the cushion now.
I chose the book myself because I saw
another butterfly and thought it’s time
to kiss the world hello. Jews have gardens
now and pillows for our feet” - she wiggles
her toes - “and bread and boats and songs” - she stops,
wrinkle browed she puts a finger on a line
‘daddy, you promised to bring me books’
then at me wiggles the finger, “like you.”
She closes covers, eyes, and sighs, then stands.
“I like the pictures but don’t know the words
it’s hard to read but I promised I would,
if I could bring it home I would not cry
and I have done all I said, and been good,
now mommy’s making challah with her tears
so I will help it rise above her fears.”
Pausing, “I wonder what it’s like in there,”
she points, “where every soul becomes a prayer.”
Friday night the shtetl shul prays silent:
stars - Shalom Aleichem - welcome angels -
peace descends in waves of words and candlelight;
after prayer the men linger in hats
and formal coats and talk of crops and croup,
of news and nu, vos macht du - how are you -
the gentle time before the journey home.
Unnoticed slips a not-yet-man, a boy,
a student of the day, to the stand
where the leader sings and in loud self-discourse
declares his name to the wall, or heaven -
his voice thunder trembles through the talk,
a lilt off-key a warning note the soul’s
askew. Held-breath we listen to the rave,
a mind in quiet rage against itself,
declares the Shoah of its soul in words
that shock the Shabbos in us all - inside
‘my struggle’ turned around. He ends as if
in prayer, head bowed, descends, raven-rimmed eyes
turn, search, expecting nought, or all, a plea
perhaps. In echo of the still small voice
the rabbi says ‘ok.’ The not-yet-man
with thanks, deflates, and prattles through kiddush,
a Sabbath band-aid on his tortured mind.
I hold my grandson’s hand as my father
held mine, palm to palm with the warmth of life
in the fingertips of reassurance,
each step a question or pointing “look” -
Oh how many whys a day beholds
trucks and cats, jackets and trees -
time flickers, and I think of all the prayers,
word searches for the soul, I have struggled
to solve, and here in the gentle grip of trust
the answer flowers in the here I am
the impulse overflow that stills the thought.
How simple when my father’s shadow walks
in his namesake’s joy and I in ghost-mind walk
as zaydes walk on Friday nights, when heaven
and earth have come to rest and angel songs
are all that’s left, and blessings for each step.
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