Previous month:
March 2013
Next month:
May 2013

Praise for Waiting to Unfold - from Beth Adams

Beth Adams, who is a dear and longtime friend and is also my publisher at Phoenicia, has shared an incredibly generous and gracious post about Waiting to Unfold on her blog The Cassandra Pages. Here's part of that post:

These are poems about pregnancy, birth and early parenthood, but again, she doesn't take the expected route. The poems, written as letters to her unborn son and then as a sort of poetic journal of the first year of his life, take an unflinching look at the difficulties as well as the joys of motherhood. I'm not a parent myself, but I've often observed that parents, and mothers especially, are under tremendous pressure to feel and to say that everything is rosy, even perfect, when in fact the experience is often quite mixed. A lot of women who give birth find themselves finally admitted to the secret club of motherhood, where it's almost as if they have to sign a pledge not to reveal the darker side.

Rachel had a miscarriage before she gave birth to her son; that experience and that unborn child are not forgotten, but woven into her poems about this subsequent pregnancy as he writes of her worries as well as her anticipation. And after the birth, she experiences and is treated for post-partum depression, eventually emerging from that cloud. The majority of the poems are celebratory, joyful, funny, and above all, honest. Like all of Rachel's work, I found them very accessible, and -- like the author herself -- imbued with a deep spirituality that's always present but never overbearing.

She also writes about how we met, and about other creative projects on which we've been blessed to collaborate. Read the whole thing: Waiting to Unfold at The Cassandra Pages.

Waiting to Unfold: $13.95 (US, CAN); £9.10 UK; €10.66 EUROPE. Buy it on Amazon, or at the publisher's website (author and publisher earn substantially more if you go through the Phoenicia page, but do what's best for you!)


Daily April poem: riffing off of a famous phrase



Ben Zoma said:
Who is wise?
One who learns from everyone,
as it is written: from all of my teachers
I gained understanding.

Who is happy?
One in pyjamas watching cartoons;
one who rejoices in the combination
of puddles and rain boots;
in trains of any dimension.

Who is frustrated?
One who yearns for a cookie
upon waking to the dawn
even though it is known
cookies are not a breakfast food.

Who is fortunate?
One who says thank you
for the trees, for the cars,
for the new Spiderman undies,
for the moon.



This poem grew out of a NaPoWriMo prompt which invited us to take the first few words of a famous saying, plug them into a search engine, and make a poem with what we found there. It's traditional to study Pirkei Avot -- "The Ethics of the Fathers," a compilation of rabbinic wisdom -- during the Counting the Omer, so I thought of the saying from Pirkei Avot (chapter 4, mishna 1) "Who is wise? One who learns from everyone, as it is written: from all who taught me, I gained understanding."

Anyway: today's poem arose out of that bit of Pirkei Avot. The first stanza is a direct quote from Ben Zoma; the other stanzas are my own invention. Consider it a fragment of Pirkei Imahot, the Ethics of the Mothers.


The perfect Mother's Day gift...

WaitingToUnfold-smallThe ever-reliable Mother's Day Central tells me that in the United States, Mother's Day is May 12. Turns out that's also true in a lot of other places, among them Belgium, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, China, the Czech Republic, Ethiopia, Ghana, Hong Kong, Iceland, India, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Tanzania, Turkey, Uganda, the Ukraine, Venezuela, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe. (There's a full list of nations at that Mother's Day Central link, as well as a list of other places and their dates. Paraguay and Poland both celebrate Mother's Day later in May. In Mongolia, it's June 1. Belarus, not until the fall. Things I never knew.)

If you're looking for a Mother's Day gift, kindly allow me to humbly suggest my new collection of poems, Waiting to Unfold. Of Waiting to Unfold, Naomi Shihab Nye says, "These rich poems will carry you into the great timeless miracle and mystery of unfolding littleness, nonstop maternal alertness, beauty and exhaustion and amazing, exquisite tenderness, oh yes."

Also, if you buy a copy, you'll be making my Mother's Day sweeter -- and in a way you're also giving a Mother's Day gift to my mom, because when my book reaches new readers, she gets to kvell too! (Okay, in all seriousness: more people buying this book will bring a smile both to my face and to my mom's, but I also think this collection of early-motherhood poems would be a meaningful Mother's Day gift for any mother, grandmother, or person who's played a maternal role in your life.)

The book costs a mere $13.95 (US, CAN); £9.10 (UK); €10.66 (Europe.) It's available on Amazon's various permutations, though I'd appreciate it if you'd consider purchasing it directly from Phoenicia's online store. Thanks for supporting independent publishing. (And if your mom digs the poems, please let me know!)

Happy Lag B'Omer! Two from the VR archives.

Today is the 33rd day of the Omer. Since Hebrew letters are also numbers, and the Hebrew number 33 is spelled לג, today is called Lag b'Omer. It's a minor holiday, with all sorts of fascinating stories and teachings attached to it. I don't have anything new to share for Lag b'Omer this year, but here are two Lag b'Omer posts from the archives:

  • Plagues? Rebellions? May Day? Lag B'Omer!, 2007. "In traditional Judaism, the counting of the Omer is a kind of semi-mourning period, and Lag b'Omer marks either an end to, or a pause in, the mourning. Some say we're mourning for the students of Rabbi Akiva, who were killed by a plague because they didn't treat one another with respect; the plague ended on the 33rd day of the Omer.

    Some say that what it's really about is, Rabbi Akiva supported the Bar Kokhba revolt against Roman occupation. Many of his students followed him in supporting that revolt, and were killed. The so-called "plague" which ended on Lag b'Omer is a euphemism for the ill-fated rebellion...And here's another interpretation -- one I quite like: Lag b'Omer can be understood as a kind of Jewish May Day."

  • The bonfire of the expansive heart, 2009. "It interests me that these are the stories we tell about this minor holiday. Today is a day for remembering how important it is that we see the grace in one another, and honor one another's learning. It's a day to remember the dangers of following messianic figures into violent rebellion. And it's a day for celebrating illumination: not just the literal illumination of burning sticks and logs, but the metaphysical and spiritual illumination embodied in the wisdom of Torah and the Jewish mystical tradition.

    In honor of that tradition, I want to offer a Hasidic teaching which relates to Lag B'Omer. It's about the importance of having a good heart..."

Happy Lag b'Omer! May we all strive to see the grace in each other, and may we cultivate good hearts filled with kindness, compassion, optimism, and joy.

Daily April poem: a Biblical erasure poem


Any person shall be holy.
You must treat them as holy
outside the sanctuary.

No man may
enter behind the curtain --
instruct them throughout the ages.

As soon as the sun sets
if a daughter marries
she may eat.

When any man
presents a burnt offering
it must be a male.

A sacrifice must be
blind, or injured, or maimed
bruised or crushed or torn or cut.

Sacrifice it
so that it may be
in your favor.



The folks at NaPoWriMo invited the writing of erasure poems. I've been reading daily erasure poems from Dave Bonta at Via Negativa for a while now (see The Pepys Erasure Project so far), so I was excited at the prospect of trying to create my own. Instead of working from an existing poem, I worked from part of last week's Torah portion, parashat Emor -- specifically from Leviticus chapters 21 and 22.

As a poet, I'm fascinated by the erasure process. As a rabbi, I do want to point out (in case it isn't clear) that this erasure process has substantially changed the text of Leviticus -- this is not what the Torah portion says! It's interesting to contemplate the version of scripture which would have argued that only women may enter into the Holy of Holies, or that in order to be fit for sacrifice an animal needed to be damaged rather than whole.

Below the cut: images of the erasure, so you can see how these words were carved out of the text.


Continue reading "Daily April poem: a Biblical erasure poem" »

Daily April poem: sidewalks (or lack thereof)


It's all downhill from here:
the winding driveway, the road
even the turn onto Silver
toward the cave and waterfall.
When cars careen past we walk
single file at the asphalt's edge.
Once we reach the beaver dam
the surface turns to hardpacked dirt,
gentler beneath our boots.
The chorus of frogs grows loud.
Look, a mallard duck sails
slow and regal across the pond.
A tiny plane soars, buzzing tinny,
across the blue expanse of sky.




This poem was written for the "sidewalks" prompt at 30x30. It was inspired, at least in part, by the experience of coming home after two days in New York City. Life in the Berkshires is a lot quieter, and there's a lot less pavement! Still, there are things happening here, and things to see and admire -- they're just...different.


New essay in Zeek about moving beyond binaries

I'm delighted to have an essay in Zeek once again. This essay owes a tremendous debt to Rabbi Irwin Kula and to the text study session in which he led my cohort of Rabbis Without Borders Fellows at our February gathering. The essay (like the text study session) looks at the Talmudic figure of Rabbi Meir as a paragon of post-triumphalism and a role model for striving to see through / beyond binary distinctions.

Here's a taste:

Talmud teaches (Eruvin 13b) that in the generation of Rabbi Meir there was none equal to him. He was the best mind of his generation, bar none. Why, then (the sages ask) was the halacha not fixed according to his insights? Because his insights were so deep that no one else could fathom them. “He would declare the ritually unclean to be clean and supply plausible proof, and the ritually clean to be unclean and supply plausible proof.”

The categories of tahor and tamei, clean and unclean (or, susceptible to ritual impurity, and not-susceptible to ritual impurity), were foundational to the sages of the Talmud. This was one of the primary binary distinctions through which they understood their world. And Rabbi Meir saw right through it.

A lot of progressive Jews are squeamish about the whole idea of tahor and tamei. (I’ve been there myself: what do you mean, the blood my healthy uterus generates every month makes me unclean?) Our discomfort with that system may get in the way of appreciating just how radical Rabbi Meir was.

But try this on for size: imagine looking at a staunch Republican and being able to see the Democratic values that person nonetheless holds. (And vice versa.) Imagine someone who could perceive the relativism beneath the most fundamentalist exterior — and the fundamentalism to which even the most relativist may be prone. In our modern paradigm, I think these are translations of what Rabbi Meir did and who he was in the world.

You can read the whole thing at Zeek: Being Meir.

Daily April poem: a triolet


Above the city, rabbis talk
laughing in a rooftop bar.
I lost my scarf, our crosstown walk --
above the city rabbis talk
of love and colleagues, get a lock
on each others' guiding stars.
Above the city, rabbis talk
laughing in a rooftop bar.



This triolet (written to a NaPoWriMo prompt) was inspired by a nightcap at the Gansevoort with a handful of my fellow Rabbis Without Borders. It's a bit flimsy -- there's not a lot of substance to it; I'm curious to see if I can write a triolet with a bit more gravitas -- but it was fun to write, and I figured y'all would enjoy a poem that's not about religious practice or my three-year-old for a change.

Edited to add: for those who are curious, here's no NaPoWriMo defines the form: "A triolet is an eight-line poem. All the lines are in iambic tetramenter (for a total of eight syllables per line), and the first, fourth, and seventh lines are identical, as are the second and final lines. This means that the poem begins and ends with the same couplet. Beyond this, there is a tight rhyme scheme (helped along by the repetition of lines) — ABaAabAB."


Truth from multiplicity: Rabbis Without Borders text study

For the building is constructed from various parts, and the truth of the light of the world will be built from various dimensions, from various approaches, for these and those are the words of the living God... It is the precisely the multiplicity of opinions which derive from variegated souls and backgrounds which enriches wisdom and brings about its enlargement. In the end all matters will be properly understood and it will be recognized that it was impossible for the structure of peace to be built without those trends which appeared to be in conflict. -- Rav Kook, Olat Raya, Vol. 1, p. 330

This quote appears at the top of a study sheet called Religion and Politics: Some Orienting Texts, which we worked with on the second day of our third Rabbis Without Borders fellows meeting. We began with the simple question: what is Rav Kook talking about here? What is "the building"?

We brainstormed some answers. It could be the third Temple, yet to be built; it could be Olam ha-Ba, the World to Come; it could be our own community; it could be the world at large. Rabbi Brad Hirschfield noted that Rav Kook can be read as focusing on the body politic of the Jewish people / the classical notion of the ingathering of the exiles, and also on individual human experience, and also on universal human experience -- all at once. (He also noted that we need to read Rav Kook's words both as theology and as poetry, which is, as y'all know, one of my favorite points of intersection.)

Rav Kook moves from "the building" to "the truth of the light of the world." It's arguable that he's talking here about truth itself. He could mean truth inside a single person; truth inside a people or community; truth inside all people -- and in all of these understandings, he's saying that truth will be built "from various dimensions and approaches." Truth is multivariant. Truth is in the future tense. It will be built, which means it isn't built yet. For Rav Kook, absolute truth does exist -- but it's emergent. It's not present, not fully -- and any claims about it must bear in mind that truth is a work in progress.

Imagine, said Rabbi Hirschfield, that at moments of our greatest political passion we understood simultaneously that there is real truth -- and, that truth is a work in progress. There may be an inclination to say "There's a truth but we're not there yet" -- but the idea of "we're not there yet" means there's a fixed "there" which we know we're heading toward. And for Rav Kook, by definition, when we get there, wherever there is, it will be different from whatever we can possibly imagine now. This took on a lot of resonance in the context of our two-day conversations about religion and politics. How might my relationship to politics change if I approached politics via the lens Rav Kook offers here? Brad continued:

Imagine that you're at a bus stop and it's starting to rain. So you get on a bus, not certain that it's going where you want to go... If you board the bus with questions for the driver, and interest in your fellow riders, and a keen interest in what's going on outside the windows, you'll be taking a very different ride from the other guy on the bus who thinks he knows exactly where he's going.

(This sparked several tweets which connected this bus metaphor with Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken.)

What I find so beautiful about this Rav Kook passage is the idea that truth is always emergent, always becoming, and always being-built out of multiple approaches and ideas and souls. In order for truth to be built, we need all of our "variegated souls and backgrounds."

Rav Kook is clear that "the building" requires all of us. And in the end, peace cannot be built (between any "us and them," whoever that is for you) without the existence of difference and conflict; otherwise there's nothing to bridge between. Peace can't be built without all of us, without the multiplicity of opinions, without the "variegated souls and backgrounds which enrich wisdom and bring about its enlargement." And ultimately, even the existence of difference and conflict -- for Rav Kook -- is only an "appearance." On a broader or deeper level we're part of something much bigger in which our differences are contained.

From this text, we went on to a text from Exodus Rabbah in which some sectarians challenge R' Simlai, "Are there not many deities in the world?" After all, they point out, the word Elohim -- one of our names for God -- is clearly a plural word, so that must imply that there are plural gods! R' Simlai offers a grammatical answer: the Torah text may use a plural-sounding word for God, but the verb which goes with it is singular, so obviously God is One. His disciples are dissatisfied with this. So another rabbi, R' Levi, offers the teaching that the voice of God was heard by each individual according to their own capabilities. At the moment of revelation, each person heard what they were able to hear. (In Reb Zalman's frequent framing: God broadcasts on all channels, and each of us receives on the channel to which we are attuned.)

The point is: for the Rabbis, the claim of a singular God is not disproven, but is in fact proved, by the multiplicity of revelation -- and the multiplicity of revelations are geared toward the capabilities of those who receive. If we believe in a singular God, then the more manifestations of God there are in the world, then the closer we come to the truth of the claim of the existence of that infinite One.

Or, as Rav Kook has it, "the building" of ultimate truth can only be built through our variegated souls and backgrounds. It is not despite but through our most passionate political and spiritual differences that truth can be built. (It is not despite but through the multiplicity of revelations that Oneness can be accessed.) It is in and through our differences that we access the One.

Daily April poem: inspired by a Yiddish folksong


Ribbons and pearls adorn
this golden land, and messiah

will come this very year.
If we can only believe.

The man who taught me this
wept every time he sang

his body shaking with yearning
for the world redeemed

where no oil fires burn
and no mothers grieve

where no one would pour water
down another man's nostrils, or

pack a handmade bomb into a square
where joyous throngs have gathered.

I don't know anymore
what would bring her, what

he's waiting for, but
tradition says moshiach sits

with the lepers outside the gates
with the sick and poor and frightened

waiting for us to offer
a drink of fresh water

a clean bandage
an embrace.




This poem was inspired by the Yiddish folksong "Shnirele Perele." You can watch/listen to it on YouTube, read a bit about its history, and read the lyrics here at Perry Greenbaum's blog if you're so inclined. I love this song, though the melody (and meaning) wrenches at my heart.

The last few stanzas refer to the Talmudic story about the messiah sitting outside the gates.

Announcing Waiting to Unfold, new from Phoenicia!

I could not be more delighted to announce this news:

Waiting to Unfold has been published by Phoenicia Publishing, and its launch date is today!

it costs a mere $13.95 (US, CAN) / £9.10 / €10.66 and is available at Phoenicia Publishing and on Amazon (and Amazon UK and Amazon Europe) -- though twice as much goes to publisher and author if you buy it directly from Phoenicia.


Waiting to Unfold offers an unflinching and honest look at the challenges and blessings of early parenthood.

Poet and rabbi Rachel Barenblat wrote one poem during each week of her son's first year of life, chronicling the wonder and the delight along with the pain of learning to nurse, the exhaustion of sleep deprivation, and the dark descent into -- and eventual ascent out of -- postpartum depression.

Barenblat brings her rabbinic training and deep spirituality to bear on this quintessential human experience. She also resists sentimentality or rosy soft-focus. While some of these are poems of wonder, others were written in the trenches.

These poems resist and refute the notion that anyone who doesn't savor every instant of exalted motherhood deserves stigma and shame. And they uncover the sweetness folded in with the bitter.

By turns serious and funny, aching and transcendent, these poems take an unflinching look at one woman's experience of becoming a mother.

These rich poems will carry you into the great timeless miracle and mystery of unfolding littleness, nonstop maternal alertness, beauty and exhaustion and amazing, exquisite tenderness, oh yes. -- Naomi Shihab Nye, author of Fuel and The Words Under the Words

The intense observation of the poet and the intense observation of the mother unite in a celebration of what is new and newborn, what is intensely felt and cherished and what is lost and mourned. Rachel Barenblat's poems are easy to enter into, and they carry both the uniqueness of her persona as poet and serious Jew and the universality of love that has made us all. There's a subversive wit here too, -- a changing table that's also a throne of glory, or the baby chewing on his mother's tefillin -- that speaks to a newly emerging sensibility about what is reverent and what is holy. It's in the everyday as our best American poets have taught us, and as Rachel Barenblat teaches us in a new way too. -- Rodger Kamenetz, author of The Jew in the Lotus and the lowercase jew

In these remarkable poems Rachel Barenblat traverses the world of first-time parenthood with insight, generosity, rare courage. She shares first innocent awe, then unexpected darkness as a winter of the soul claims squatter's rights in the nursery, and finally, aching, yearning, growing toward hope, a relearning of holy presence in small things. We ascend and plummet on the rollercoaster with her, terror in the pit of the stomach, knuckles white, and then -- unparalleled joy. "Daily I expand how much I can love/ your toes, your cough, your raised eyebrow... Each day your glee polishes my rough edges/ and I shine[.]" New parents will be astonished that someone has found words for their deepest secrets, parents long past these early months will gratefully nod -- yes, I remember, this is true. -- Merle Feld, author of A Spiritual Life: Exploring the Heart and Jewish Tradition and Finding Words

The book was designed by publisher Beth Adams; the cover art is a detail from "Creation," a mixed-media collage by the wonderful Mary Bullington.

Every book's launch feels a bit like a birth, but this one perhaps more than most. I'll have more to say later about the book and how it came into being, but for now, please join me in popping the cork on some virtual champagne.

And I hope you'll buy a copy for yourself -- for your mom (Mother's Day is coming soon in a lot of countries, including mine) -- for every pregnant woman you know -- for every parent you know, whether their kids are babies or senior citizens  -- for anyone you know who has struggled with depression  -- for anyone you know who loves poetry -- and for anyone you know who's interested in the implausible and amazing transformations entailed in a baby's first year of life, and a woman's first year of becoming something new.

(Phoenicia also published 70 faces in 2011. And they've published many other fantastic books of poetry, many of which I've reviewed here over the years. Support independent publishing! Buy copies for your friends!)

Daily April poem: lifecycle event


The family huddles close together.
The mountain beams, now devoid of snow.
The tasseled fringes of prayer shawls flutter.

The photographer calls encouragement --
turn toward him, that's right; adjust
the lapel, good, now smile, look at me

-- and all I can imagine is our own son
awkward and gangly at thirteen, draped
in a loose and flowing brand-new tallit

the opposite of the swaddling blankets
we pulled tight around his flailing limbs
just now before I blinked my teary eyes.



I wrote this poem on a Shabbat afternoon after presiding over the bar mitzvah of a young man in my congregation. I've been part of many b'nei mitzvah ceremonies before, but this was the first bar mitzvah I've done since our son was born, and the realization that someday it'll be our kid up there was poignant for me.


(Another) Daily April poem: words chosen by NaPoWriMo


Powered by an everlasting generator
until bedtime when you shove your fists
into your eyes. Curl beside the giant tiger.
Playgrounds are miraculous. So are trains.
Changing from blanket sleeper into clothes
is a tragedy, sunscreen is an insult.
You're mercurial as April weather, sunny
with occasional snow squalls. I don't want
to squander your long arms clenching my neck,
your solemn rendition of Twinkle Twinkle,
your long willowy body sidling into our bed
to mark a new day with a blue bear kiss.



I'm posting two poems today because on Tuesday I won't be posting a daily poem here -- I'll be sharing something exciting and don't want anything to draw attention away from that day's post.

Today's NaPoWriMo prompt includes a list of words and invites the writing of a poem which uses at least five of those words. I wound up using six of them: generator, curl, miraculous, mercurial, squander, willowy. I love prompts like this one because they often impel me to work with words I wouldn't otherwise have chosen. Unsurprisingly, I worked their words into a poem about parenting, which is so frequently the subject matter on my mind.


Daily April poem: unprompted


The first spring peepers clamoring outside every window
The last of the old year's strawberry vodka swirling in my glass

the first dream about reading in an impossible bookstore
the last week before the book emerges, slick and glossy-blue

the first tefillin I've worn in months, wrapping my arm snug
the last heavy boots of winter, overheating my tired feet

the first time he lifts the silver cup and doesn't spill a drop
the last blessing won't be obvous until the next doesn't come



This poem was written on an uneasonably warm evening as the rain began to blow in. I don't think it requires any explanations.


A bar mitzvah gift for the rabbi

Somehow I always forget that I'm going to be moved.

We're a small synagogue, so every time a kid becomes b'nei mitzvah, it feels like a big deal. I imagine that in some big-city shuls, where there might be one or more bar or bat mitzvah celebrations each week, maybe it becomes a little bit ho-hum. But not here. Here we only have one or two a year, and each one stands  out.

I always love looking out into the sanctuary and seeing the expectant faces of those who have gathered to celebrate Shabbat and to celebrate a young person's coming-of-age. I love leading us through Shabbat morning prayer, offering words of explanation to string the prayers together like pearls in a necklace.

I love inviting people up to see the Torah scroll in all of its unique handwritten beauty. I love singing English words to Torah trope and surprising people with hidden meanings. I love the laughter which erupts as we sing Siman Tov u-Mazal Tov and people throw candy at the b'nei mitzvah kid who has jubilantly finished the d'var Torah.

But I'm typically so focused on the service, on keeping things running smoothly, on trying to facilitate genuine prayer both for myself and for all who've assembled, that I forget that the morning always turns out to hold a gift for me, too. This time what made my heart catch in my throat was hearing one of the mothers of the bar mitzvah boy offer him a blessing she has spoken to him countless times over the course of his life: the priestly blessing, "May God bless you and keep you..."

As soon as she began, I felt tears banging at the back of my eyes. I say those words to our son every week too, punctuating each English and Hebrew phrase with a kiss to his forehead. And it hadn't occurred to me until today that someday I'll say those same words to him in front of our community, as he stands tall in a brand-new tallit -- maybe awkward and gangly, maybe bashful and beaming -- and steps over the threshold into Jewish adulthood. Right now our guy is only three, but I remember when this bar mitzvah boy was only three, too. The days are long but the years are short.

As the mother of the bar mitzvah blessed her son, I pressed my hand to my lips and blinked a lot, really fast, to clear my eyes. By the time I returned to the bimah, my emotions were under control and I was able to speak and sing clearly. But that moment of realization, that glimpse of the future, is still reverberating in me. An unexpected gift.

Daily April poem: same word


-- and some days are grey from the start
of the too-early dawn, and when I hear
footfalls on the stairs I can't bear
to open my eyes. The sky is striated,
sadness and overwhelm in alternating bands.
And tomorrow will be the same, and --




This poem came out of the NaPoWriMo prompt which invited us to use the same word at the beginning and the end of a poem. Beginning and ending the same way put me in mind of depression, which can take the form of feeling as though nothing will ever change and the clouds will never lift.


A Prayer After the Boston Marathon Bombing


Plant your feet firmly on the ground, your head
held high as though by a string.

Listen to the red-winged blackbirds, the spring frogs.
There is an aquifer in your heart: send a dipper down.

What have you drawn forth? Send it
out of this room like waves of song.

Float it around the Hairpin Turn, along
the old Mohawk Trail. Direct it toward the rising sun.

Our hearts are in the east though we are in the west.
Blanket the wounded city with melody.

Sing to the runners with aching hamstrings
to the bewildered families who lined the marathon route

to the children who are trying to make sense
to the adults who are trying to make sense

to the EMTs and policemen who ran
not away from the suffering, but into the fire

sing to the grieving families, here and everywhere.
Inhale again, reach into your well:

is there light even for the twisted soul of the bomber?
Now sing to yourself, sluice your own wounds.

We are loved by an unending love.
Listen to the birds again, and remember.



I wrote this a few days after the Boston Marathon bombing. It arose out of a meditation service which I led at my synagogue. The doors to our sanctuary were open, so we had the sounds of the nearby wetland in our ears, and I invited the meditators to join me in cultivating compassion and sending it toward Boston.

The line "My heart is in the east and I am in the west" is borrowed from the medieval Spanish poet Judah haLevi; it comes from his poem My Heart is In the East.

Alternating stanzas of the poem are italicized to facilitate reading the poem as a responsive reading. Please feel free to use this however is meaningful to you, and to share it with others.

(Edited to add: in as my About page indicates, work on this blog is licensed under a Creative Commons license which grants permission to share and remix my work as long as you maintain attribution, don't make a profit, and share your remixed work in the same fashion.)

To those for whom it is meaningful, I wish a Shabbat shalom, a Shabbat of peace and healing.

(Also posted at Kol ALEPH.)

Daily April poem: a greeting


I sense you waiting in the wings, but
my nearsighted eyes can't quite make you out.
What are you holding: a new sun hat?
A pair of floaties, to help you overcome
the swimming pool's vast aqua deeps?

I can't wait to press my lips
against your sunwarmed skin.
Even if you still hunch your shoulders
to telegraph abject woe
when I put the Milanos too high to reach.

If you're anything like the little boy
who plays hide-and-seek with his ballcap
and asks me to pretend to sit on him
so I can leap up in mock surprise,
we'll get along just fine.

But say: would you consider
letting me sing to you again?
I wasn't ready for that window to slam shut.
If I have to, I'll murmur while you're sleeping,
serenade you as you dream of four.



The folks at NaPoWriMo invited us to write poems of greeting. I found myself greeting the next parenting milestone: our son turning three-and-a-half. As of this writing, that milestone is (unbelievably) only about six weeks away.

Daily April poem: a "translation"


Whatever: bewig yourself with volts,
hit the sauce this evening, go vague.
It renders me villainous, sere and low.
I'm dishy, muddled, made of raw helter-skelter.
Follow me. This place is a zoo.
Empty your glass, empty your glass,
empty your glass.




This poem began its life as a "translation" of The Bee-Keeper by Hungarian poet István Kemény (per a challenge from the NaPoWriMo folks). I don't speak Hungarian, so I rendered the syllables in rough approximation, based on their sounds. Then refined and smoothed the "translation" a few times.

I wound up with a poem about getting hammered. It has absolutely nothing to do with the original poem (which is beautiful and worth reading!) -- but it's an interesting short piece which I wouldn't have written if I hadn't started out with my phonic rendering of the unfamiliar Hungarian words.