Today on the Best American Poetry blog: poems of Noah
Deep Waters: a d'var Torah for parashat Noach

Standing at the edge



In Reb Shlomo's parable
the rabbi stands at the edge
of a sea of tears
and refuses heaven
until all are shed.

You have drifted on that sea,
trailed your fingers
in its salt waters
wondering why no one on shore
notices you're gone.



The fear says
if you open the porthole
Noah's own floods will pour through
towering like a ziggurat
and wash you away.

And others, innocent.
They might be caught
in the raging waters.
You can't warn them
to build an ark in time.


The problem is (you explain)
you don't trust intuition.
Your dream guide replies
where do you think
the poems come from?

You've spent a life
thinking you had only two eyes.
Now you realize: that's
what that extra tender spot
is for. Press, and tears well up.



Take up paleontologists' tools,
tiny pick and fine brush.
Watch the ancient skeleton emerge.
Imagine the impact
which made this impression.

As many times as necessary
tell yourself
no matter how far you dig
you won't burst the capstone
on the primordial seas.



Turn a corner, you're
a beginner again.
Relearn how to shore
yourself up, build
a path you can trust will hold.

You want to believe
you can turn emotion's flood
into living waters
from which you'll emerge whole,
dazzling like the sun.


This poem arises out of the confluence of this week's Torah portion (Noach) and several conversations. The first section makes reference to a story which Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach used to tell. Re: "primordial seas" in the fourth stanza: in antiquity, it was believed that the earth was suspended between two seas, the waters above and the waters below. (You can see a reflection of that view in the opening lines of Bereshit.)

I would love to see this poem illustrated with accompanying images. I have some photographs which I think might suit, but not one for each section, and I think if one were going to do it, one would want five images. Or maybe this could become a short videopoem. One way or another, I think this poem is particularly ripe for visual (re)interpretation. Perhaps this is a good time to reiterate that I'm always open to remix and transformative work; all I ask is that you let me know if you've used one of my poems as a jumping-off point for creating something new.