#blogElul 29: Return

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I wouldn't be here without you.
Because you read, I want to write;
because you listen, I sing again.
How can it already be a year
since the holidays last called me home?
Deep breath, get ready, time to turn.

To everything, turn, turn, turn --
the only thing that's constant is you.
I'm not always sure where to find home.
Sometimes it's in what I write,
the daily chronicle of the old year
manifesting in my poems again.

I know it's time to look again
at where I missed the mark, to turn
my attention toward the old year
for one last time. I know that you
forgive me for the words I didn't write,
times when I couldn't be a home

for you or even for myself. Home
means the safety to start over again,
to shine so that everything I write
illuminates. I want to return
to the safety I find when I'm with you.
I want to live in that place this year.

What is the thing for which I yearn
the most? Only this: to be at home
in my skin, to be at home with you
in the temple of Shabbat again
and again. To sanctify every turn
my life takes, be brave enough to write

my way to who I really am. Rewrite
my heart, rewire my synapses. This year
I want to see your face at every turn.
Because I'm not alone, I'm always home.
With every heartbeat say thanks again
for enlivening me, for being you.

May the words I write bring me home.
May the new year help me begin again.
May I always turn with love toward you.


I'm participating again this year in #blogElul, an internet-wide carnival of themed posts aimed at waking the heart and soul before the Days of Awe. (Organized by Ima Bima.) Read #blogElul posts via the Elul tag; last year's posts are now available in print and e-book form as See Me: Elul poems.


#blogElul 28: Give

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What can I give you,
I ask, and you reply
do the work you need to do,

don't hide your light.
Fine, I say; I hear you,
I'm working on that, but

what can I give to you?
Can't I make offerings
to sweeten your day?

I want to scatter
rose petals in your path,
to enrobe you in light.

I want to lay all my words
at your feet, to nourish you
with the work of my hands.

And you just smile.
You know the only gift
I can really offer is love.


I'm participating again this year in #blogElul, an internet-wide carnival of themed posts aimed at waking the heart and soul before the Days of Awe. (Organized by Ima Bima.) Read #blogElul posts via the Elul tag; last year's posts are now available in print and e-book form as See Me: Elul poems.


#blogElul 27: Bless

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When I wake (to awareness of you)
and am not alone: I bless.

Bless the early light
gilding the birch leaves, bless

the peach I cup in my hand
as tenderly as I would touch

your face. I seek your face.
Bless even the yearning, even

the ache. Bless the evening sky
blue as the one thread which winds

around the white, the thread
which binds me to you. Every knot

a blessing. Every heartbeat:
I wake to awareness of you.


I'm participating again this year in #blogElul, an internet-wide carnival of themed posts aimed at waking the heart and soul before the Days of Awe. (Organized by Ima Bima.) Read #blogElul posts via the Elul tag; last year's posts are now available in print and e-book form as See Me: Elul poems.


New Year's Poem 2015 / 5776


When the list of school supplies arrives
my heart skips a beat. I'm not ready.

How can I be surprised? I've known all along
how one month follows the next, but

kindergarten looms. (Not, though,
for the five year old. Time renews itself

every time he opens his eyes.) When the days
of awe appear again on the horizon

my heart skips a beat. I'm not ready.
How can I be surprised? I've known all along

how the spiral of the year recycles end
into beginning again. Another summer

yields with less or more grace to fall
and I do too. Sometimes my gears grind,

I wish tomorrow would come sooner
or yesterday would return. I blink

and a month disappears. Where was I?
How can I be surprised? I've known all along

without my attention next new moon won't be
the world's birthday, just a night with less light.

And this impossibly precious moment
when I could be cupping my hand

to the side of your face with tenderness --
gone like the numbers on a digital clock.

But if I stop to see what's in front of me
and choose the blessing in it, if I

sanctify the threshold between now
and what comes after now, and after now,

then every moment gleams, infinite
as the love which links your heart and mine.

 

לשנה טובה תכתבו ותחתמו

May you be inscribed for a good and sweet year!

From me and my family, to you and yours.

 

(For those who are so inclined, here's a link to my archive of new year's card poems... and here's the new year's poem I co-wrote with my ALEPH co-chair Rabbi David Evan Markus.)


#blogElul 26: Create

BlogElul+5776"If you believe you can destroy, believe you can create." That's a quote from the Hasidic master Reb Nachman of Bratzlav. I've been thinking about his words a lot lately.

One of our tradition's ways of imagining God is as the One Who speaks the world into being. A prayer in our liturgy describes God in exactly that way, and I love it, every time I daven it.

I love the idea that not only did God create the universe once upon a time with speech, but God continues to create all things with speech even now. Speech is an inherently creative act.

In every moment, our tradition imagines, God is saying "let there be..." Let there be creation. Let there be a universe. Let there be every atom, every particle, every thing that is.

Torah teaches that we are made in the divine image. One of the ways that's true is that we too can impact the universe with our words. Maybe we can't literally speak things into being, but our words can make a difference. Our words can hurt. (Just ask anyone who's been called a painful name, or who's heard awful news and can't un-hear it...) But it is equally true that our words can create repair.

In these final days of the old year, I'm thinking a lot about the worlds we create with our words. How our words can feel like weapons, and how our words can feel like balm. What are the words I need, in order to repair some of the brokenness around me as the old year draws to its close?

Reb Nachman reminds me that if words can destroy, they can also (re)build. If I believe that words have power to harm, then I also have to believe that words have power to heal. What do I want to create with my words during these final days of 5775?

 

I'm participating again this year in #blogElul, an internet-wide carnival of themed posts aimed at waking the heart and soul before the Days of Awe. (Organized by Ima Bima.) Read #blogElul posts via the Elul tag; last year's posts are now available in print and e-book form as See Me: Elul poems.


#blogElul 25: Intend

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Only to stretch out
toward the sun; to bloom.

To unfurl my tender heart
like a banner billowing.

To draw water in joy
from the living well.

To open a channel
and let myself through.


I'm participating again this year in #blogElul, an internet-wide carnival of themed posts aimed at waking the heart and soul before the Days of Awe. (Organized by Ima Bima.) Read #blogElul posts via the Elul tag; last year's posts are now available in print and e-book form as See Me: Elul poems.


#blogElul 24: Hope

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That after brokenness
comes repair.

That you'll always be
close as my heartbeat.

That those who sow in tears
will reap in joy.

That I never stop
knowing your beauty.

That I can live up
to your faith in me.




The couplet about sowing in tears / reaping in joy is inspired by Psalm 126.

I'm participating again this year in #blogElul, an internet-wide carnival of themed posts aimed at waking the heart and soul before the Days of Awe. (Organized by Ima Bima.) Read #blogElul posts via the Elul tag; last year's posts are now available in print and e-book form as See Me: Elul poems.


#blogElul 23: Begin

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If I could ask the chrysalis
cosy in her custom house

she'd tell me how sweet it is
to be surrounded by her life's work.

And then one day she wakes
aware the time has come

to reveal the tender wings
she never knew she was growing.

What changed? What made her ready?
And when it's my turn

can I trust that I'll be safe
without the walls I built?

 


I'm participating again this year in #blogElul, an internet-wide carnival of themed posts aimed at waking the heart and soul before the Days of Awe. (Organized by Ima Bima.) Read #blogElul posts via the Elul tag; last year's posts are now available in print and e-book form as See Me: Elul poems.


#blogElul 22: End

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I'm the kid
who saved the last chocolate
until it turned pale and chalky

rather than finish the box
and admit that something sweet
was over.

I know every end
is a beginning, but
the leap of faith terrifies.

I have to trust
that this abundance
isn't all I'll ever get.




I'm participating again this year in #blogElul, an internet-wide carnival of themed posts aimed at waking the heart and soul before the Days of Awe. (Organized by Ima Bima.) Read #blogElul posts via the Elul tag; last year's posts are now available in print and e-book form as See Me: Elul poems.


#blogElul 21: Love

BlogElul+5776Are you surprised to see prose today after so many days of poetry?

I thought about writing a love poem. "Love" and "poetry" go together like apples and honey, right? But I think that all of the Elul poems I've written, this year and last, are at their root love poems.

Elul is the month whose name forms an acronym for Ani l'dodi v'dodi li, "I am my Beloved's and my Beloved is mine." This whole month is about cultivating love between us and our Beloved.

Nava Tehila's Lach Amar Libi is a love song. God calls to us to seek God's face. In return we affirm that we seek the divine Presence, we seek to connect face-to-face and heart-to-heart with love.

The liturgy we've inherited for the Days of Awe makes frequent use of the metaphor of God-as-Judge. The Days of Awe call us to discern who we are, to judge our own selves, to notice where we've gone wrong and how we might make amends. But we can only do that when we know we are loved.

It's because we spend this month steeping in love -- our love for God; God's love for us -- that we can face the hard work of judging ourselves, the hard experience of standing before God and knowing that everything we are, everything we have done and not-done, everything we have thought and felt, is written in the book of our lives by our own hands and we need to take responsibility for all of it.

The qualities of ahavah and yir'ah, love and awe (or love and fear), go hand in hand. Our qualities of love and awe go together like God's qualities of mercy and judgement: they are two sides of one divine coin. In order for me to feel safe going deep into the awe and fear and discernment embedded in the High Holidays, I need to spend Elul reminding myself that I am loved by an unending love.

And so are you.

No matter what.

 

 

I'm participating again this year in #blogElul, an internet-wide carnival of themed posts aimed at waking the heart and soul before the Days of Awe. (Organized by Ima Bima.) Read #blogElul posts via the Elul tag; last year's posts are now available in print and e-book form as See Me: Elul poems.


Selichot

The Days of Awe begin at the next new moon. Our journey into those awesome days intensifies tomorrow night, and we'll kick off the "high holiday season" at my shul, with the service called Selichot.  Selichot means "pardons," and is the name our tradition gives to a set of poems and prayers designed to help our hearts experience teshuvah, repentance or return (in the sense of returning-to-God or re/turning ourselves in the right direction again.) Some people say the selichot prayers every day during Elul. And a lot of congregations have a special service dedicated to Selichot, as we do.

It's customary to do this on a Shabbat evening near, but not too near, to Rosh Hashanah. Since the New Year begins next weekend on Sunday night, next Shabbat would be too close -- we wouldn't have time for the experience of the Selichot to resonate in us -- so we'll do it tomorrow night.

This may be my favorite service of the year. We begin with havdalah, which I love dearly. (And I have recently come to feel especially attached to the opening prayer, which proclaims evtach v'lo efchad, I will trust and will not be afraid.) Then we dip into some of my favorite prayers of the Days of Awe -- prayers whose words, and whose melodies, speak to me deeply. We'll sing some prayers which I hope will stimulate the part of our hearts which responds to music; we'll read some poems which I hope will stimulate the part of our hearts which responds to words. And midway through the service we'll pause for a short writing exercise.

People will be invited to write down on index cards, anonymously, places where they've (we've) missed the mark in the last year. Things for which they (we) seek forgiveness as the Days of Awe approach. I'll collect those cards, and will leave the cards and pencils and a basket for collecting them out in the synagogue lobby for about ten days so those who don't make it to Selichot services can still participate. And then I'll use the words on those cards to craft a personalized Al Chet prayer for Yom Kippur morning, co-written by our community, expressing the things for which our hearts most seek forgiveness and release.

If you're local to western Massachusetts, you're welcome to join us at 8pm at Congregation Beth Israel tomorrow night. And if you would like to dip into the prayers and songs of Selichot tomorrow night by yourself, the pdf file of our service is here for you.

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Selichot 5776 [pdf]


#blogElul 20: Dare

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So much I've left unsaid.
Not with you -- never with you --

but with everyone else.
If I stop self-censoring

what might I lose?
Who might I hurt?

If I don't express my true heart
haven't I already lost?


I'm participating again this year in #blogElul, an internet-wide carnival of themed posts aimed at waking the heart and soul before the Days of Awe. (Organized by Ima Bima.) Read #blogElul posts via the Elul tag; last year's posts are now available in print and e-book form as See Me: Elul poems.


#blogElul 19: Judge

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With my heart in my hands
I approach the bench.

No: my heart
is in your hands.

You read me
like a book:

what I've said
and left unsaid

where I stumbled
over my own tangles

and where I shone
like the light of creation.

Only one thing do I ask,
this alone do I seek:

let me dwell
in your house, in your heart.

Please don't ever
hide your face from me.


The final three stanzas are references to psalm 27, the psalm which tradition invites us to read daily at this season.

I'm participating again this year in #blogElul, an internet-wide carnival of themed posts aimed at waking the heart and soul before the Days of Awe. (Organized by Ima Bima.) Read #blogElul posts via the Elul tag; last year's posts are now available in print and e-book form as See Me: Elul poems.


#blogElul 18: Ask

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Will it ever get easier?
Some days a black hole
takes up residence

in my ribcage
and swallows me
until all that's left

is yearning for you.
The ache threatens
to wash me away

but I can't hate it
because it points
toward you.

My heart, incomplete --
a piece of me is tucked
into your pocket.

Your heart, incomplete --
mine is enlivened
by a piece of you.


I'm participating again this year in #blogElul, an internet-wide carnival of themed posts aimed at waking the heart and soul before the Days of Awe. (Organized by Ima Bima.) Read #blogElul posts via the Elul tag; last year's posts are now available in print and e-book form as See Me: Elul poems.


#blogElul 17: Awaken

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You are the shofar
calling me to rise
from my slumber.

You are the voice
of my beloved
knocking at my heart.

You are love
washing over me
like bright moonlight.

You are melody
expanding my chest
with healing tears.

You are summer dawn,
the morning I crave
all winter long.

I want you
to wake me up.
Don't ever stop.


Related: Your voice knocks.

I'm participating again this year in #blogElul, an internet-wide carnival of themed posts aimed at waking the heart and soul before the Days of Awe. (Organized by Ima Bima.) Read #blogElul posts via the Elul tag; last year's posts are now available in print and e-book form as See Me: Elul poems.


#blogElul 16: Pray

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Sometimes I manage
formal conversation,
a love letter morning
and evening and afternoon

but most of the time
I rely on the chat window
open between us all day.
I tell you everything.

This month you are near.
Walk with me in the fields.
I want to take your hand
and not let go.

I'm participating again this year in #blogElul, an internet-wide carnival of themed posts aimed at waking the heart and soul before the Days of Awe. (Organized by Ima Bima.) Read #blogElul posts via the Elul tag; last year's posts are now available in print and e-book form as See Me: Elul poems.


#blogElul 15: Change

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You remind me
not to fear change.

Change is like breathing:
without it, death

(itself a change
I can't yet understand.)

You remind me
what stays the same:

roots to ground me,
hope to uplift me,

my tender heart,
my love for you.


I'm participating again this year in #blogElul, an internet-wide carnival of themed posts aimed at waking the heart and soul before the Days of Awe. (Organized by Ima Bima.) Read #blogElul posts via the Elul tag; last year's posts are now available in print and e-book form as See Me: Elul poems.


#blogElul 14: Learn

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What I'm here to learn:
that it's okay
to take up space
with my ungainly heart.

That I can love
what I love
and you will never
roll your eyes.

That I deserve
a place at the table
and my mistakes
won't exile me.

That when you promised
love that transcends
all space and time,
you meant it.


I'm participating again this year in #blogElul, an internet-wide carnival of themed posts aimed at waking the heart and soul before the Days of Awe. (Organized by Ima Bima.) Read #blogElul posts via the Elul tag; last year's posts are now available in print and e-book form as See Me: Elul poems.


#blogElul 13: Remember

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when I close my eyes
and when I open them again

when I'm sitting at home
and when I'm out and about

(I know I'm not supposed
to text and drive

but I send you notes anyway
full of emoji hearts)

I find excuses to mention you
because saying your name makes me smile

you shape what my hands do
and how I see the world

at every threshold
I remember your name





This poem riffs off of the prayer called the V'ahavta.

I'm participating again this year in #blogElul, an internet-wide carnival of themed posts aimed at waking the heart and soul before the Days of Awe. (Organized by Ima Bima.) Read #blogElul posts via the Elul tag; last year's posts are now available in print and e-book form as See Me: Elul poems.


#blogElul 12: Forgive

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Always already
you've forgiven me.

I failed you.
I turned away.

I convinced myself
I didn't need you.

I made myself forget
how much sweeter

everything is
with you in it.

I was afraid
I wasn't enough.

And when I woke up
to how I need you

how I'm a better me
when I'm with you

there was no room
for shame between us.

No recrimination.
Only love.


The liturgy of Yom Kippur begins with a prayer called Kol Nidre, "All the Vows," and at the end of that prayer we sing three times Vayomer Adonai, salachti kidvarecha -- "And God said: I have forgiven you, as you have asked."

I'm participating again this year in #blogElul, an internet-wide carnival of themed posts aimed at waking the heart and soul before the Days of Awe. (Organized by Ima Bima.) Read #blogElul posts via the Elul tag; last year's posts are now available in print and e-book form as See Me: Elul poems.