The Gates Are Opening: Selichot
R' Dov Baer of Mezritch on righteous indignation

A poem for the cemetery


My mother thinks it's goyische
bringing flowers to a gravesite, but
she can't resist the tin shed on the
Austin highway. Three dollars and

one yellow rose later she's back
in her car wheeling around the left
turn, punching numbers on her cell
phone, waiting for an answer.

No luck. "I called Aunt V today,"
she tells my machine. "God forbid
any of us should get Alzheimer's.
Two minutes after I said heat wave

she forgot, asked if it would snow
for Yom Kippur." She sighs.
"I told her again, I’m going to the
cemetery, it's my mother’s birthday."

It must be September 9, Vera replied.
Words surfaced, a bubble, held breath.
"Isn't it amazing," the machine says
in my mother's voice.




Today is my community's annual pre-Rosh-Hashanah cemetery service. A small group will gather at our cemetery up in the hills to say memorial prayers and to remember those who are buried there. Some of us will also be remembering loved ones who are buried elsewhere. We'll recite some prayers, read some psalms and poems, and take some time to stroll the grounds, leaving pebbles to mark our passage.

Visiting the cemetery before Rosh Hashanah is an ancient custom. Some teach that this custom arose because it was believed that because of the merit of our deceased loved ones, our prayers and psalms would reach God more directly. In the Chabad tradition, it's customary to visit the graves of tzaddikim (righteous people) on the day before Rosh Hashanah for this reason. In our community, this service is always held on the day after Selichot services.

As it happens, today is the birthday of my maternal grandmother, may her memory be a blessing. I always think of her at this service -- she grew up in Prague, where it was customary to visit the cemetery and pay respects to loved ones regularly -- but today she is especially on my mind and in my heart. I'll be remembering my Great-Aunt Vera, too -- the "Aunt V" of this poem.

The above poem is reprinted from What Stays (Bennington Writing Seminars Alumni Chapbook Series, 2002.)