A new poem which takes the form of a psalm

Psalm of parenthood


Mother of all, remake me
in Your image. Make me as noble
as the daffodils nodding graciously.
Root me in my generations.
Help me hold on to the splendor
my son sees when he runs toward me
at the end of a schoolday.
Give me the flannel-soft patience
for one more board book, one more cartoon.
Help me to balance the scales
of work and child
gentleness and strength.
Reinforce my boundaries
so I never confuse my child's issues
with my own. And my heart, God:
enlarge my ribcage
to encompass this overflowing love.

 


 

I've been working lately on some new poems which double as prayers and psalms. Here's one of them, a Psalm of Parenthood. It's structured loosely around the seven lower sefirot, emanations or facets of divinity: malkhut (nobility), yesod (foundation), hod (splendor), netzach (endurance), tiferet (balance), gevurah (boundaries), and chesed (lovingkindness.) These are among God's qualities; they are also among ours, and I think they're some of the qualities that parents need most.

If you like this, you might also like Waiting to Unfold, my new collection of motherhood poems, recently published by Phoenicia Publishing.


Daily April poem: riffing off of a famous phrase

ETHICS OF THE MOTHERS

 

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.

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Daily April poem: a greeting

THREE AND A HALF


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.


Merle Feld on Waiting to Unfold

I've just gotten another quote for the back of Waiting to Unfold, the poetry collection I'm blessed to have coming out later this spring from Phoenicia. I suspect the quote will be abbreviated for the book cover, but I wanted to share it here in full, because it's just so gracious and so lovely.

 

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 (SUNY Press, revised 2007) and Finding Words (URJ Press 2011)

 

I'm delighted that Merle -- whose work I have long admired -- has such kind things to say about my forthcoming book. Thank you, Merle! I'm particularly moved to hear Merle say that "new parents will be astonished that someone has found words for their deepest secrets" -- that's exactly how I felt when I was reading Heid E. Erdrich's The Mother's Tongue (specifically the series of poems called "Milk Sour") when I was new to motherhood and was struggling to name my welter of emotions.

I can't wait to be able to share this collection with all of y'all. Stay tuned for more.


Sestina for a three-year-old

 

You can turn anything into a car.
Drive your bread across the bright
expanse of table, look to see
whether I'm watching, if I'll say no.
Tell me you can do it, you are big
enough, you know you are three.

On tough days I count to three
then lift you bodily into the car.
Cue wailing. "No, mommy, I'm too big,
don't do that to me!" The sun's too bright,
the music's wrong, a world of no.
Two minutes later you're chatting: "see

the fields sleeping, mommy? I see
some horses, one-two-three!"
You emerge from your funk as though no
upset ever happened, pick up a car
and zoom the length of your lap. The bright
side: you never hold a grudge, big

arms outspread, your heart as big
as the moon you greet each time you see
her in the heavens shining bright.
"Hello moon! Look, I see three
stars!" and we pause outside the car
beneath the darkening sky. There's no

rulebook on snow days, no
limits to what we can watch on the big
tv, Pocoyo in his musical red car
trundling across the white expanse to see
what he can see. Now we are three:
new family constellation bright

in the sky's expanse, bright
as your laugh when I tickle you. "No,
do it again, again! Count to three
with your hand up here." The next big
leap just over the horizon, where we can't see.
Long legs kick the passenger seat in my car.

Bright stripes and new songs: you are big
enough to say "no, I can do it, see?"
Utterly three! Come on, get in the car.


I wanted to write a poem for this week's imperfect prose prompt -- "belief" -- but I couldn't get it to work. So I tried a sestina, because sometimes the strictures of the sestina form jar my creativity into working in new ways. That was better, but still not great. I think I chose the wrong end-words; no matter what I tried, the sestina still felt sentimental and trite. So then I tried writing an entirely different sestina, on an entirely different subject, and that one, I liked. So that's the one I'm sharing today, even though it has nothing to do with the prompt that originally got me writing.

(Speaking of writing and prompts: if you're following any literary blogs which offer regular prompts, will you link me to them? I miss Big Tent Poetry and Read Write Poem.) Anyway: hope you enjoyed the poem. All feedback welcome.


Imperfect poetry on the theme of light

RADIANT


like a newly-minted rabbi
dazzled from the transmission

as dawn, her fingers smeared
with palest raspberry

like heat in a tile floor
warming me to my bones

as the sun, so bright
I blink away tears

like a lightbulb
electrified by current

as a crescent moon peeking
slyly around night's doorframe

like snow, sparkling mica-bright
in an unexpected wind

as a three-year-old, bounding
to knock me down with a hug


This week's imperfect prose prompt from Emily Wierenga is "light." The idea of light led me to radiance, and radiance made me think of our son. It's a cliché to compare a child's radiance to any other source of radiance I can think of -- so I figured instead of trying to avoid the predictability, I'd play with it a little. The resulting poem was fun to write. I hope it's fun to read, too.

You can check out other people's offerings on the theme of light in the comments on this post: imperfect prose on thursdays: light.


One of my mother poems in the Jewish Journal

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My thanks are due to the editors at The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles for publishing my poem Mother Psalm 6 in their 22-28 Tevet / January 4-10 print edition. (I can't link to it online because they don't archive their previous print editions -- just "this week" and "last week," and January 4-10 is now longer ago than that.)

That poem previously appeared in Calyx, Vol. 27 no. 2, Summer 2012. And it will be part of my forthcoming collection of mother poems, Waiting to Unfold, due from Phoenicia later this year.

This is one of my favorite poems in the collection, and I'm gratified that multiple editors have chosen it for publication, too. (It's the one that begins "Don't chew on your mama's tefillin," and it appeared on this blog in its earliest form when it was first written: it was then called Mother Psalm 7.)

Thanks, Jewish Journal poetry editors!


Imperfect poetry: nursing, remembered

NURSING, REMEMBERED


the first weeks were endless:
my nipples sore, your mouth
lined with ground glass

bowls of salt water
balanced on the tabletop
an astringent immersion

my breasts as raw
as my bruised heart,
overflowing without warning

would we survive three months
the hard candy I worried
beneath my tongue

sometimes I try to remember
the heavy prickle of milk
on the verge of letting down

but those doors are closed
and the key is lost
or packed away

with the newborn clothes
I no longer believe
you could ever have worn

as inaccessible
as the woman I used to be
before you made me new


This week's imperfect prose prompt at Emily Wierenga's blog is Mother. (And here's her post on the theme -- with links at the end to posts by others who've written to the prompt.)

The prompt sent me back to reread the first mother poem I wrote, during the first week of my new life as a mother: El Shaddai (Nursing Poem). And then rereading that sparked a new poem. (I know it's an imperfect prose prompt, not a poetry prompt, but it inspired a poem -- what can I say.)

It's easy to get so caught-up in this moment of mothering -- the joys and vagaries of parenting a three-year-old -- that I forget what it was like, what I was like, when this whole wild journey began. How overwhelming it was to go from childless adult life to parenting a newborn. The things which hurt in all four worlds -- physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually.

I don't want to forget how hard it was, or how miraculous. (And it was both of those things. Deeply.) I love this life with a rambunctious boy who climbs and jumps and laughs and plays with trucks and marbles and sings the alphabet to me at night in lieu of the lullaby I used to sing to him. But we couldn't have gotten here without going through there.

And I suspect that my sense of God is forever changed by the experiences of pregnancy and parenthood -- especially early parenthood. All of our parental metaphors speak to me in a different way now than they did before. I can't help wondering: if becoming a parent deepened and opened me, in the deep ways which I know it did, can we imagine that the same is true for God?

(And -- I can't resist putting in a plug for this, even though it's not out yet! -- if you like this poem, stay tuned for the forthcoming publication of Waiting to Unfold, my collection of first-year mother poems, which is coming out from Phoenicia later this year.)


The last toddler house poem

CHANGE IN THE TODDLER HOUSE


You run and climb, sit backwards
on your little chair, ascend stairs
one footfall on each step. You sleep
in the big-boy bed your daddy made
and we're about to remove the rail.
You speak in compound sentences:
remember when we went on a big airplane
to Nonni and Papa's house, to Texas;
when I get bigger I won't try quesadillas!

You have fervent opinions
about which book to read next
which blanket sleeper to wear
which song I should sing and when.
You're a magic beanstalk, tall
as a four-year-old, and when you kick
the wall beside your bed
it sounds like an officer pounding
at the door. You're not a toddler
anymore: you're a child, a boy,
a youth. Most nights now you settle
at the end of your bed for our routine
because on my lap you sprawl
from my shoulders to my knees.
You're uncontainable. Daily now I pray
for the good sense to fence you in
only as much as you need, to enjoy
your bedtime-forestalling antics
(as though you really thought
your head goes at the foot end!)
to let you into my lap anytime you ask
because you do give super hugs
and someday you'll roll your eyes
instead of clambering all over me
but not yet, thank God, not now.


I think this is the last of the so-called Toddler House poems. I was looking back over those collected poems this morning and realized that they chronicle a moment in Drew's life which is already over; he's not a toddler anymore, and hasn't been for some time. So I drafted this poem to serve as the capstone to that small collection. I'm not sure what the collection's fate will be -- a wee chapbook, a sequel to the not-yet-published (but due this year!) Waiting to Unfold? -- but I'm glad to have the poems as a scattered chronicle of the toddler year(s).


New toddler house poem, about waking early

DAWN IN THE TODDLER HOUSE


The wail -- wet pyjamas --
drags me bleary

past the flickering nightlight
at the red-eye crack of dawn

I wrap our cosiest blankets
at the wrong end of the bed

unwilling to flip the switch
and admit that it's daytime

but there's no more sleep
for either one of us:

I give up and make coffee
as early sun gilds the floor

Modah ani l'fanecha
living and enduring God

You wake me at 5:30
to remind me how good it is

to be awake
and to be dry

and to bring this mug
to my grateful lips

 


 

This is the latest poem in my occasional Toddler House series. Most, though not all, of these poems have appeared here at Velveteen Rabbi in draft. (The most recent was Morning Cartoons, Morning Prayer.) I'm keeping all of them in a single manuscript; I don't know if this will evolve into a full collection, but for the moment I'm enjoying how they play off each other.

The first Monday morning after the time change is always hard. Our little guy (not so little anymore; he's almost three!) goes to bed early and rises early, and though he hasn't batted an eye at going to bed an hour later than he used to (before the time change), he's also not sleeping any later than he used to, which has made this a week of earlier mornings than I might have strictly preferred. I'm aware, though, that sleeping through the night until 5:30 would have seemed unthinkable luxury when he was an infant.

Modah ani l'fanecha are the first words of the Modah Ani prayer, the morning blessing for gratitude. "I am grateful before You, living and enduring God: You have restored my soul to me with mercy; great is Your faithfulness!"

 


Two poems in em:me

Page_1_thumb_mediumIt's a delight to see two of my mother poems in the current issue of em:me, "an online journal of poetry, visual art, and cross-genre creations" published seasonally and edited by Emmalea Russo.

The magazine is beautifully put-together, easily readable online, and full of interesting and poignant work. I especially like Kristi Nimmo's poem and Graham Hunter Gregg's poem, the film stills by Daniel Paashaus, and Emma Horning's photographs. It's neat to read my own poems in the context of this journal.

Read the issue here: em:me issue 3, fall 2012. Thanks for including them, Emmalea! I'm already looking forward to reading issue 4 when the winter solstice rolls around.


Morning Cartoons, Morning Prayer

 

I settle you with animated friends
and swirl my summer tallit
up and over to wrap my face,
tinting my world silky blue.

My intention is the deck, but
when you catch sight of me you ask
"Want to stay here, mommy?"
How could I say no? You're

one of God's most exuberant faces.
I curl into the sofa
and manage a modah ani, kiss
my tzitzit, and join you.

Bless God Who creates the light
which streams forth from this screen
and from your heart, Who creates
the love in your storybooks

and in mine, the Oneness at
the heart of all things
Who gives us capacity to change.
Today these cartoons are my prayer.


This is the twelfth poem in my occasional Toddler House series. (Here's the previous one; you can work your way back through them, and then through the first year of weekly mother poems, by clicking on the mother poems category.) It's also the latest chronicle of my attempt to maintain a prayerful consciousness even when I'm not explicitly able to make time for formal prayer. (That's been a theme here since my son was born -- see Prayer life changes, 2010.)

Modah ani is the blessing for gratitude recited in the morning. The trio of blessings surrounding the shema are, in order, a blessing for God Who creates light; a blessing for God Who creates love and manifests that love for us through the giving of Torah; and a blessing for God Who redeems us.

On a different note: deep thanks to all who left kind comments on my most recent post, about occasional brokenheartedness at the state of the world. Your responses were balm for my heavy heart indeed.


New toddler house poem

THE TODDLER ATTENDS A FESTIVAL

 

You greet the giant dragon
walking high upon his stilts.

Run up to a stranger
and engulf her in a hug.

Spend long giggly minutes
cresting a speedbump on foot.

After the red dancers whirl
you run onto the parquet

to twirl and leap, insisting
NO, mommy, it MY turn!

Dancers and audience laugh
as I drag you back offstage.

When I squirt a line of ketchup
on my own hot dog

your face crumples and you sob
indignant at the imposition

but once you've eaten half a bun
your good mood returns.

Bye, dragon you say in the car
I did dance, mommy

You did, and they all loved you.
Your eyes close; you say I know.


Another "toddler house" poem!

This one comes out of the experience of taking Drew to the Chinese street festival at the Clark. We were only there for about two hours, but we had an action-packed adventure. I hope some of that comes through in the poem. As always, all comments are welcome.

The toddler himself, mere moments before dashing onto the stage...


Weekend in the Toddler House

 

Today you oscillated between Pocoyo
and Kai Lan, roared like a dinosaur,
insisted I swing alongside

when I looked away for an instant
you tried to shuck your shorts
to play in the sprinklers

we whirled between blocks and trains
deck, kiddie pool, swingset, ball
a book and a cuddle, then off again --

and finally this gloaming, citronella
burning brighter as the veery thrush calls,
as evening's curtain cloaks the hills

I bless the fruit of the juniper bush
as the white noise machine ferries you
to the far shore of your own sea.

 


It's been a few weeks since I last posted a toddler house poem. Here's the latest installment in the series. This is probably the fourth or fifth draft; it's undergone a fair number of changes, and I'm still not sure that this is its final form, but I think it's decent enough to share.

I'm finding it an interesting poetic challenge, trying to capture the constant motion of an active toddler -- maybe especially because the times when I sit down to write are the times when Drew is asleep or at daycare, when his energy and movement are elsewhere.

All thoughts / feedback welcome, as always.

 


New toddler house poem for Shavuot


Shavuot in the toddler house


You don't remember, but
    you gathered at Sinai
        with the ganze mishpacha

the broadcast came
    in every language at once
        our spirits electrified

Torah in our mouths
    like mother's milk
        sweet as wildflower honey

You don't remember, but
    you learned the deepest Torah
        floating in my salt sea

an angel kept you company
    and taught you holiness
        you somersaulted with joy

you didn't know
    only traces would remain
        on the hard drive of your heart

You don't remember, but
    you spent night after night
        drawing down my Torah

I'll spend my remaining years
    learning the Torah of you
        every day revelation anew


This is the latest addition to my growing collection of "toddler house" poems, which I wrote -- and share -- in anticipation of the festival of Shavuot, which will begin this coming Saturday night.

"The ganze mishpacha" is Yiddish for "the whole family" -- an allusion to the midrash which says that the souls of all Jews who have ever lived or will ever live were mystically present for the theophany at Sinai. The idea that the divine broadcast was heard in whatever language each person understood / needed also comes from midrash (and is echoed in the Christian scriptures, as well.) The Torah-as-mother's-milk metaphor comes in part from the tradition of eating dairy at Shavuot. The image of an unborn child learning Torah in the womb and forgetting it upon birth comes from Talmud (Niddah 20b.)

All comments / responses welcome.


A mother poem for Mother's Day

To all who celebrate, I wish a happy Mother's Day! Here's to mothers of all kinds: our mothers and grandmothers, the "other mothers" (caregivers and teachers and nannies) in our lives, to we ourselves who are mothers -- may we all feel rightly celebrated today. And to all who struggle with infertility and miscarriage, for whom today may bring more sorrow than celebration, may that sadness be soothed and healed.

As mother's day has approached, I've been thinking again about how best to get Waiting to Unfold, my collection of mother poems, out there into the world. I remain hopeful that someday it will see print! Meanwhile, in honor of the day, I'll reprint the final poem from that manuscript here. Enjoy!

 

ONE YEAR (MOTHER PSALM 9)

A psalm of ascent

 

When the doctor brought you
through my narrow places
I was as in a dream: tucked behind
my closed eyes, chanting silently
we are opening up in sweet surrender.
The night before we left the hospital
I wept: didn’t they know
I had no idea what to do with you?
Even newborn-sized clothes
loomed around you, vast and ill-fitting.
I couldn’t convince you to latch
without a nurse there to reposition.
But we got into the car, the old world
made terrifying and new, and
in time I learned your language.
I had my own narrow places ahead,
the valley of the postpartum shadow.
Nights when I would hand you over,
mutely grateful to anyone willing
to rock you down, to suffer your cries...
But those who sow in tears
will reap in joy, and you
are the joy I never knew I didn’t have.
I have paced these long hours
bearing a baby on my shoulder
and now I am home in rejoicing,
bearing you, my own harvest.

 

(If you're so inclined, you can read the commentary I offered when I first posted the poem back in November of 2010.)


Counting the Omer in the Toddler House

 

The year I was pregnant
I counted the weeks
until I could reveal your presence.
With each turned page

you were the size of an aspirin,
a raisin, a grape.
Your tiny heart fluttered.
You grew fingernails and kidneys.

Who could focus on the journey
through God's qualities?
I was a kaleidoscope
for splendor.

Now that you're two
I know what the kabbalists
hid in plain sight:
to God, we're all toddlers

pushing boundaries, sulking
exaggerated on the floor, then
beaming, earnest and sweet
and our Parent meets us

with lovingkindness
with boundaried strength
with perfect balance
which endures forever...

Sometimes She lays down the law
but Her arms are always open
when we run too fast in new sandals
and skin our tender knees.


I think I'm really getting into the groove of this toddler house series. This poem riffs on the practice of counting the Omer, the weeks between Pesach and Shavuot. (Here are my previous years' posts about the Omer; this year I'm posting daily Omer reflections at my congregational blog.)

In the kabbalistic understanding, each day of the 49 represents a different combination of divine qualities: chesed (lovingkindness), gevurah (boundaried strength), tiferet (harmony / balance), netzach (endurance), hod (humility / splendor), yesod (foundation), malchut (nobility / sovereignty.)

This year I can't seem to help relating to each of these divine qualities as a quality necessary in parenting. As I take note of each day, I think: how do I experience these qualities in my relationship with God? And how can I manifest them in my relationship with my son?


New toddler house poem

LIFE IN THE TODDLER HOUSE


It's only a zoo
when we throw a party:
two-year-olds squabbling
over the flowered magnifying glass,
seven-year-olds borrowing
every blanket in the house
for their palace under the stairs.
But even our own lone monkey
creates chaos by day's end
swinging from toy trains
to ball pit to iPad.
Once his door's pulled shut,
white noise machine engaged,
this zookeeper collapses
with glass of wine in hand.
Life was different once.
Now spontaneity means inventing
new sounds for wooden trains, not
deciding to drive north
until we find exactly the junk store
we never knew we were missing
or catching a Richard Thompson show
in a smoky bar three hours away.
But my heart grows three sizes
every morning before breakfast
when I spy my little simian
beaming through the bars
of his cage.

 


The newest installment in the "...toddler house" series is the first which wasn't sparked by a moment of specifically Jewish time (morning or evening prayer, Shabbat or havdalah, Pesach) but just by the big-picture experience of parenting our toddler. When I named the first toddler house poem, I was thinking of the toddler house as being a bit like the monkey house at the zoo: this is the house which is defined by its sometimes rowdy inhabitant. The zoo metaphor isn't a particularly original one, but it stuck with me, and I decided to run with it. Voila.

I'm not sure I like the line "Life was different once." (Talk about unoriginal.) But I haven't been able to come up with a succinct other way of saying it. Anyway, if you have thoughts on that line or on the rest of the poem, feel free to drop a comment.


New poem: Bedikat chametz in the toddler house

BEDIKAT CHAMETZ IN THE TODDLER HOUSE

 

What does it mean to remove chametz
when my cupboard overflows
with toddler-friendly goldfish
and mini-muffins? If there is

any chametz I do not know about
-- odds are good there are stale O's
in the crevices of the car seat,
but the rest of our leaven is

in plain sight, soft whole-wheat
awaiting jam's unfurling --
that I have not seen or removed,
I disown it.
That part

of the formula at least still works.
An invisible line: between
his english muffins, his toasted bread
and my boxes of matzah, waiting.

Even if I don't light a candle
Ribbono shel Olam, help me
to sweep the crumbs from even
the ill-tended corners of my heart.

The too-sour puffery of ego,
the impulse in me that needs
to be in charge, needs to be right,
needs to be praised. The part of me

that forgets the daily importance
of prayer and kindness. I disown it.
I declare it to be nothing
as ownerless as the dust of the earth.


Bedikat chametz is the ritual of removing leaven from one's home on the night before Pesach begins. Having otherwise removed every bit of leaven (and everything leaven-able) from one's home, one "hides" crusts of bread and then, by candle-light, finds them and sweeps them up with a feather and a wooden spoon in order to burn them the next morning. The italicized words in this poem are the traditional words one recites after having done the ritualized search for leaven.

This is the latest poem in my "...toddler house" series, though I think it may hold meaning for others who for reasons other than parenting a picky two-year-old may not have pitched or sold all of their leaven this week. There are many people I know and love who, for one reason or another, don't wholly remove chametz from their homes: maybe their housemates aren't into it (or aren't Jewish), maybe their partner, maybe their parents, maybe their kid(s). Can those who are in that situation still find meaning in the old ritual and its language? I hope so.


New poem: Shacharit in the toddler house

SHACHARIT IN THE TODDLER HOUSE

 

I peek as you pretend to sleep
one eye open, watching me watching.

Dry diaper, blue striped shirt.
A cup of milk, toasted bread, jam.

Does God feel this satisfaction
providing for all our needs?

You won't let me sing blessings
or psalms of praise, preferring

your Thomas & Friends cd.
You tell me to go away, testing

the limits of what tethers us, but
you know I'm right outside the door

occluded but present, loving you
even when you turn away.


This is the latest poem in a budding series. Previous poems in the series are: Early ma'ariv in the toddler house, Havdalah in the toddler house, Shabbat in the toddler house. Shacharit means morning prayer. (And ma'ariv is evening prayer, and havdalah is the brief ritual which brings Shabbat to a close.) These are poems about parenting and prayer life. About how I'm trying to maintain an awareness of Jewish sacred time, even when I'm still not able to pray substantive liturgy most of the time.

There's much more spaciousness in my life for prayer now than there was when Drew was an infant...though now there are different challenges. Now he notices when I sing, and usually demands that I stop! He pushes boundaries and tests limits all the time, in a perfectly age-appropriate way. My challenge continues to be living with what my teachers would call "prayerful consciousness" -- can I embody the prayers even when I'm not saying them? What would that look like, what would it mean?

Becoming a parent continues to impact the way I think about God. I often think about the idea of hester panim -- that God's face may be hidden from us but is always present, always (in the theology to which I ascribe) loving us. Maybe God feels about us as I feel about Drew: sometimes exasperated, but always connected; I may be hidden, but my love for him is always there.