Around 2002-2004 I worked on a series of variations on some of the traditional morning blessings. These were among my first experiments with creative work meant to be experienced both as prayers and as poems. This poem cycle includes the prayers known as Elohai Neshama, Asher Yatzar, Nishmat Kol Chai, and Baruch She'amar. The "Asher Yatzar" poem was first published in Zeek magazine, spring/summer 2005. (ETA: if you like these, you might also like Daily miracles, a poem/prayer variation on the birchot ha-shachar / list of morning blessings.)
My God, my
own, my breath
that you have given me
she is clean, clear
like mikvah waters
which makes me more
than automated clay,
no matter whose,
women and men
and those blessed
female is what
drop of divine
breath that breathes
new life through us
let what I create
in the world,
be as pure
as Your breath
Blessed is the breath of life
who formed and animates this body,
its myriad organs and tissues,
protrusions, bones, and sinews;
winter skin so dry my calves rub bloody,
flesh flushed with rhythm and heat;
curve of hip distinguishing me
from my mother whose pants need belting;
nailbeds a reincarnation
of my grandmother's long fingers;
tiny dunes of bicep I have labored
to bring into being and maintain;
narrow feet which fit snug
only in the most expensive of shoes;
wrists and ankles I can encircle
with thumb and forefinger;
nose and mouth that together savor
cheese, real vanilla, green tea;
all the weird, wet, noisy orifices
I need daily but can’t understand.
If my bowels were to fail, or my kidneys,
pancreas, vision...? Doctors would stitch and sew,
but it wouldn't be easy
and You'd still have to prop me up
as You do today and every day.
Blessed are you, creator of embodied miracles.
NISHMAT KOL CHAI
Breath of our bodies
and harmattan of our ambitions
hurricane of our angers
and chinook of our forgiveness
tempest of our childbirths
and cold front of our silences
articulated gasp of pain
and muffled sigh of pleasure
inbreath of my housecat
and outbreath of every tree
gust that reshapes coastlines
and tempest of our teeming hearts
wind of the physical world
and the realms of emanation beyond
Breath of All Life, the breath
of all life blesses Your name.
If every mouth joined right now
in breathing Your praises
if every present thing on earth
stopped so we could laud You
if we all shared the roaring voice
of lion and elephant and walrus,
the heightened senses
of the mystic and the hunting owl
if we could fly like the Concorde
looping your smoky name across the sky
if we could discard differences: human,
animal, fire, stone, seed, snow
even that cry of togetherness
would not be enough to thank You.
Every sunrise and sunset, birth
and death, storm and flood, blossom
and snowfall. Every lip balm,
paperback novel, beggar and bowl
and hair salon. Every glass of water,
muddy gorge, mother
and market and corrugated roof.
Rhododendrons, dirty oil barrels
filled with groundnut paste,
filligreed teapots, emerald beetles,
scrolls, wooden tulips, bottles of beer.
Sequoias, crepemyrtle, dwarf birch.
Every rubber band. Every paperclip.
Every open sore and aching tooth.
How does Your mouth not tire
of speaking the world into being?
Almighty, Your creations cannot imagine
infinity without growing weary.
It's hard to remember
Your mouth is purely metaphor
though Your speech is real.
You speak every atom in the universe,
a mighty chord resonating.
Every fold of skin, every grain of sand,
every iceberg and hibiscus come from you.
If You ever chose silence, even for an instant,
we would blink out of existence
as though this experiment had never been.