New year's poem 5779

As days are waning

 

The new year starts as days are waning.
I'm never ready when the first leaves turn.
Every Jewish day begins with evening:
darkness before light, since the beginning.

I'm never ready when the first leaves turn.
Roll the scroll toward the end of our story:
darkness before light since the beginning.
Am I ready to turn and face what's coming?

Roll the scroll toward the end of our story --
can I open my hands and let go of the summer?
Am I ready to turn and face what's coming?
You know what they say about endings.

I open my hands and let go of the summer,
paint every cracked and broken place with gold.
You know what they say about endings:
turn the page, start a chapter, begin again.

Paint every cracked and broken place with gold!
Every Jewish day begins with evening:
turn the page, start a chapter, begin again.
The new year starts as days are waning.

 

poem by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, 2018

(You can see all of my new year's poems since 2003 online here -- most recent at the top.)


#blogElul 29: Return

BlogElul 2016I turn again toward you.
My eyes are clear and open.
I keep you always before me.
Your presence makes me glad.

My eyes are clear, and open
to the future I can't yet see.
Your presence makes me glad
I leap into the unknown.

To the future I can't yet see:
thank you for waiting for me.
I leap into the unknown.
I trust that I won't fall.

Thank you for waiting for me.
With you, I'm never alone.
I trust that I won't fall.
I keep hope in you.

With you, I'm never alone.
Sing to me and I am strong.
I keep hope in you.
I open my heart wide.

Sing to me and I am strong.
I keep you always before me.
I open my heart wide.
I turn again toward you.


 

Yes, it's another pantoum. (Maybe I need a pantoum category on my blog, to go along with the sestina category.)

Writing these Elul poems has been a gift for me, and has helped me stay connected with my own spiritual life even at this season when my professional life ramps up. I hope that reading them has been sweet for you.

L'shanah tovah -- wishing you a sweet new year.

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; you might also enjoy my collection of Elul poems which arose out of #blogElul a few years ago, now available in print and e-book form as See Me: Elul poems.


Purim Pantoum

The king wants to reveal
but Vashti's body is her own.
What if every woman were so uppity?
his courtiers tsk and cluck.

But Vashti's body is her own:
the veil is her comfort.
His courtiers tsk and cluck.
Ladies whisper behind soft hands.

The veil is her comfort
as the palace doors open.
Ladies whisper behind soft hands
a new chapter is unfolding.

As the palace doors open
girls pour in like the sea.
A new chapter is unfolding.
Who will be chosen to serve?

Girls pour in like the sea.
Esther, the bright orphan
who will be chosen to serve
keeps her own counsel.

Esther, the bright orphan --
she piques the king's interest
keeps her own counsel
she knows how to curtsey.

She piques the king's interest
with fine foreign features.
She knows how to curtsey --
no one asks women to bow.

Her fine foreign features
don't mark her as a stranger.
No one asks women to bow
but men have their pride.

Don't mark her as a stranger!
Mordechai stands tall
(men have their pride)
Haman hammers. At his gallows

Mordechai stands tall.
Is this why Esther was chosen?
Haman hammers at his gallows.
She plucks her courage in both hands.

Is this why Esther was chosen?
The invisible hand of God at work?
She plucks her courage in both hands --
Tell the truth of who you are.

The invisible hand of God at work?
The King wants to reveal.
Tell the truth of who you are.
What if every woman were so uppity?


Purim is a topsy-turvy holiday, a holiday of inversions. I wanted to write another Purim poem, and the pantoum -- with its inversions and recontextualizations -- seemed like the perfect form. I welcome questions and/or comments. Enjoy!

 

(Related: Hidden, a poem about Esther, 2011.)


Another mother poem: full day

FULL DAY

 

refuse to let go
grip my finger tight
bang your feet on the floor
blow raspberries at the sky

grip my finger tight
pop off the breast and beam
blow raspberries at the sky
toe off a small red sock

pop off the breast and beam
lie on your back and babble
toe off a small red sock
crinkle a book made of cloth

lie on your back and babble
open mouth, insert world
crinkle a book made of cloth
rub your reddening eyes

open mouth, insert world
insist you are not sleepy
rub your reddening eyes
cling to your giraffe

insist you are not sleepy
grip my finger tight
cling to your giraffe
refuse to let go


This week's big tent poetry prompt was twofold: to write a poem about anger, and to make it a pantoum. I didn't take on the suggested subject matter, but decided to adopt this form in writing this week's mother poem.

I've written pantoums before -- most notably the Torah poem Tzav Pantoum, which was later published in Frostwriting. The same thing that made the form a good fit for that section of the book of Leviticus makes the form a good fit for describing this moment in parenthood: there's an awful lot of repetition!

I wanted to evoke, with this poem, the full sweep of a day with Drew: from his excitement when he first sees me in the morning (grabbing for my finger, kicking his feet) to the eye-rubbing which tells me it's time for bed at day's end, with all of the baby-babbling and toy-rattling which comes in between.

Feel free to check out this week's "come one, come all" post so you can see what poems others have written this week.

fullday.mp3]


This week's portion: Tzav, "command"

COMMAND

A perpetual fire shall be kept burning on the altar, not to go out. --Lev. 6:6

First you dress in linen
then scoop out the ashes.
Stop and wash with water,
then you change your garments

and scoop out the ashes.
Lather, rinse, repeat;
then you change your garments.
No one said it was easy.

Lather, rinse, repeat;
out here in the wilderness
no one said it was easy
to keep the fire burning.

Out here in the wilderness
there's little wood to scavenge
to keep the fire burning
all night until morning.

There's little wood to scavenge
and you want perpetual motion
all night until morning—
that's the ritual of the offering.

You want perpetual motion
but fires don't burn forever
and the ritual of the offering
is this lesson from the waters.

Fires don't burn forever
(except for that holy pillar)
so take a lesson from the waters
and the reeds you sludged across.

Remember that holy pillar
like a beacon in the darkness
and the reeds you sludged across
each shaky step toward freedom.

Like a beacon in the darkness
God's instructions on this are clear:
each shaky step toward freedom
keeps the fire burning.

God's instructions on this are clear.
Stop and wash with water.
Keep the fire burning.
First you dress in linen.

 


This poem is a pantoum, one of my favorite verse forms. Because it makes use of repetition, it seemed like a good match for this piece of Vayikra (Leviticus); the same repetition that's a little frustrating in prose feels fruitful and intriguing in poetry.

This week we're in parashat Tzav. When I reread the portion, 6:6 leapt out at me and became the epigram for the poem; the rest of the poem followed from there. Again, if you can see the embedded audio player at the top of the post you can listen to the poem; alternately you're welcome to download tzav.mp3.

I hope y'all are enjoying these Torah poems. They work for me on a different level than do prose divrei Torah; the process of writing them is showing me sides of these Torah portions I hadn't seen before.

 

Edited to add: this poem is now available in 70 faces, my collection of Torah poems, published by Phoenicia Publishing, 2011.

 

 

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