Open to me

My breasts are full and tender:
I ache to give to you.

Say yes and I will bathe you
in flowing milk and honey.

Taste and see that I am good.
How I yearn for you to know me!

I want to quench the thirsts
that keep your heart from resting.

I crave your gasp of surprise
and your sigh of completion.

My heart's desire
is to share myself with you.

Open to me, beloved
so my precious words can let down.

 


 

This is another poem arising out of my study and reflection on the relationship between yearning and the revelation at Sinai. (See also I want.) 

My breasts are full and tender. The Hebrew word for "breasts" is shadayim; one of Torah's names for God is "El Shaddai," which can be understood to depict God as a nursing mother.

I ache to give to you. See Pesachim 221a: "More than the calf wants to suckle, the cow yearns to give milk." (See also "El Shaddai (Nursing Poem)," the first poem I wrote after my son was born -- now published in Waiting to Unfold.)

Flowing milk and honey. Song of Songs 4:11 speaks of "honey and milk under your tongue." One traditional interpretation holds that this is a description of Torah's sweetness. Just as milk has the ability to fully sustain a newborn, so Torah is considered to provide all of the spiritual nourishment that we need.

(Reb Zalman z"l taught that this isn't necessarily so -- sometimes there are spiritual "vitamins" we can most readily receive from other traditions, rather than our own -- but the tradition's likening of Torah to milk is one of the reasons why it's customary to eat dairy at Shavuot when we celebrate revelation.)

Taste and see. See psalm 34:8: "Taste and see that God is good."

My heart's desire. This riffs off of a line from the Kabbalat Shabbat love song "Yedid Nefesh" -- in Reb Zalman z"l's singable English translation, "My heart's desire is to harmonize with yours." Here I imagine that God's heart's desire is to share God's-self with us.


When you cry out

You think I'm not listening.
You can't feel my hand
on your shoulderblade, my lips

pressed to your forehead
my heart, ground down with yours
into the dust of the earth.

Sweet one, I feel your grief
like a black hole inside my chest
strong enough to swallow galaxies.

I can't lift it from you.
All I can do is cry with you
until I struggle for breath

all I can do is love you
with a force as limitless as gravity,
endless as the uncountable stars.

 


 

[E]ndless as the uncountable stars. See Shir Yaakov's Broken-hearted (psalm 147.)

This is another poem in my current series -- aspiring to speak in the voice of the Beloved, responding to us. (Previous poems in the series: Missing youBecauseAlwaysGod says yes.)


I want

I want with all my might
to give you milk and honey

aspire only to feed you
(look: you're skin and bones,

the Jewish mother in me
aches to fill your plate)

but not just nutrients:
like manna that took on

each person's yearned-for flavor
I want my offering to you

to meet your every need
balm your every sorrow

fill your mouth with sweetness
you didn't know you didn't have

I want to give you my heart
but all I can offer are words

you'll misunderstand them
sometimes you'll resent them

often you'll resent me
for the neverending letters

that I can't stop pouring
because I can't stop loving you

 


 

I've been thinking a lot lately about God giving Torah at Mount Sinai, which we'll re-experience at Shavuot in a few short weeks. One of my favorite teachings about creation is that God brought creation into being because God yearned to be in relationship with us. I've been reflecting on how we might extend that teaching to say something about the revelation of Torah, also. What if God yearns to give us Torah, the way one yearns to give the gift of one's heart to a beloved? That's the question that sparked this poem. (And also a couple of other poems still in early draft form -- stay tuned for those.)

 

Notes:

To give you milk and honey. Torah is often compared to milk and honey; this is one reason why it's traditional to eat cheesecake at Shavuot.

Like manna that took on / each person's yearned-for flavor. See Exodus Rabbah 5:9: "Rabbi Jose ben Hanina says: ... the manna that descended had a taste varying according to the needs of each individual Israelite. To young men, it tasted like bread...to the old, like wafers made with honey...to infants, it tasted like the milk from their mothers’ breasts...to the sick, it was like fine flour mingled with honey."

For the neverending letters // that I can't stop pouring. I learned from Reb Zalman z"l that the revelation of Torah wasn't just a onetime thing that happened to "them" back "then" -- it's something that continues even now.

As Reb Zalman used to say, God broadcasts on every channel; we receive revelation based on where and how we are attuned. The flow of revelation into the world -- the flow of Torah into the world -- is for me first and foremost an act of divine love. 


Missing you

 

Dear one, I left love notes
for you everywhere today --

tucked into the petals
of the tulip magnolia

encoded in the braille
of black willow bark,

hidden in the patterns of rain
on your windshield

-- but you didn't notice.
My missives remain unread.

Your despair renders me
invisible. You forget

I'm right here. How
can I balm your sorrows?

If only you could hear me
in the ring of your phone.

Feel my fingers
twined with yours, my kiss

on the tender place
in the middle of your palm.

 


 

What if everything in our lives were a love note from God, but most of us are too distracted most of the time -- by life, by our to-do lists, by our griefs -- to experience ordinary things like blooming trees or rainfall as expressions of love? That's the question that sparked this poem.

Lately I've been thinking of laying tefillin as "holding hands with God." The closing lines of this poem come from that image and that experience of wrapping my fingers with the leather straps and feeling as though the Holy One of Blessing were holding my hand.

This is part of the series I've been thinking of as God's responses to my Texts to the Holy poems. Others in the series: BecauseAlwaysGod says yes.


Because

ואהבת לרעך כמוך: אני הוי׳׳ה
Love your other as yourself: I am God. - Lev. 19:18

 

Because I am God
I ache
to give sweetness

my cup spills over
every time you need
or hurt

Because I carry
your heart
in mine

Because you carry my heart
in yours
you ache too

in the yearning
between us
is holiness

 


 

This week's Torah portion, Kedoshim, is at the heart of the Torah: the middle portion of the middle book of the five. And in the very heart of the heart of the Torah is the verse cited at the top of this poem -- the injunction to love one's neighbor, one's other, as oneself.

This year I found myself thinking about the juxtaposition of that verse with the words "I am God." What is Torah trying to tell us -- what's the connection between God being God, and us being called to love others? I thought about the teaching from Talmud (Pesachim 118) about how God yearns to give us blessing. I thought about how when we love one another, we feel (and want to balm) one another's losses. I thought about how it is the nature of God to ache to give to us, and how we are made in the divine image and therefore we partake in that same aching. And I thought of the word kadosh, "holy" -- a root which appears repeatedly in this week's Torah portion, and also appears in the word kiddushin, the sanctified relationship between two beloveds. 

This poem arose out of all of those. It's not part of my Texts to the Holy series (it's spoken in the Divine voice to us, rather than in our voice to the beloved or Beloved) but is part of the newer series I've been writing lately, along with Always and God says yes.


Always

When I say I love you
I mean always: when you greet
the day with exultation
and when you wake with tears

when you shine like the skies
and when you're clenched
in despair's grip,
every drop of joy wrung out.

Sometimes you're bare branches,
then chartreuse life bursts free.
Do you imagine I'm with you
only in the springtime?

You are precious to me
when you feel strong
and when you feel broken
and when you can't feel at all.

I'd give you a talisman
to carry in your wallet, a string
to tie around your finger
but I know you:

you'll stop wearing it
or stop remembering what it means.
It means always, even
when you can't see me.

When you push me away
because hope hurts too much.
Even then, what I feel for you
eclipses the light of creation.

 


 

I'm working on a new series of poems.

The Texts to the Holy poems (my next collection, coming out from Ben Yehuda later this year ) are in my own voice, spoken to the Beloved (or beloved). These poems are in response -- love poems that you might read as spoken by the Beloved to us.

(Related: God says yes.)


Book news!

I'm delighted to be able to announce this happy news: Ben Yehuda Press will be publishing my next collection of poems, Texts to the Holy!

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Many of the poems from Texts to the Holy have appeared on this blog over the last few years. It is my collection of love poems to the Beloved, and I am so excited that it will see print.

Ben Yehuda published my most recent collection, Open My Lips, in 2016. You can find all of their poetry collections on their website -- celebrate World Poetry Day by supporting independent poetry publishing!

(And while you're at it, please support Phoenicia Publishing, too -- they published my first two collections, and they've published some amazing work since.)


Poem at The Rise Up Review

I'm honored to be today's featured poet at The Rise Up Review. The poem of mine that they're featuring today is the first poem I wrote during 2017:

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Here's the page containing my poem and bio; here's the index page, currently listing all featured poets during the month of March; and here's the archive of back issues

I'm grateful to the editors for choosing to highlight my work, and for their holy work of midwifing more poetry into the world.


God says yes

 

I will keep
  company with you
    where you go
      I will go

when bitter exile
  narrows your horizon
    your tight straits
      will be mine too

let me lift you
  from the ashes,
    dress you in
      nothing but light

like a new mother,
  breasts over-full
    I ache to spill
      blessings for you

let me carry you
  through foaming seas
    come undone with me
      on the far shore

 


I will keep / company with you[.] One of my favorite names for God is the One Who accompanies, who keeps us company in whatever life brings.

where you go / I will go[.] See Ruth 1:16.

bitter exile... tight straits[.] Jewish tradition describes Shekhinah, the immanent / indwelling / feminine Presence of God, going into exile with the Jewish people. This could mean exile in the Diasporic sense, or could mean exile in a more existential sense (exile from unity with God.)

let me lift you / from the ashes and dress you in / nothing but light [.] Both of these couples reference lyrics in Lecha Dodi, a love song to Shabbat which we sing on Friday night

breasts over-full[.] From Talmud, Pesachim 112a: "More than the calf wants to suckle, the cow wants to give milk." I learned this as a teaching about how God yearns to nurture and nourish us. Our prayers prime the pump for the blessing God yearns to bestow.

let me carry you / through foaming seas[.] In daily liturgy we remember the crossing of the Sea of Reeds. I often sing that prayer to the melody of "The Water is Wide," reminding myself that God is with me in all of life's ocean-crossings.

This may or may not be part of my next collection, Texts to the Holy. Where the other poems in that series are love poems spoken in my own voice, this one is in the voice of the Beloved. But even if it doesn't go in the book, I think it's part of the same series / comes from the same emotional-spiritual place.


Gaze

I want to gaze at you
    not through lowered lashes
       protecting my tender places, but

heart splayed wide
    to everything I learn
       when I let myself be seen.

I want to gaze at you
    without flinching, knowing
       what you'll find in my eyes:

my aches and imperfections,
    the cracks in my clay heart,
       the tarnish clouding my silver.

I want to see all of you
    even if your pure light
       would burn out my circuits,

even if all I can glimpse
    is your shadowed silhouette
       through my sheerest tallit.

If I bring my whole self
    to yearning for you, if I seek
       to see and to be seen wholly

can I call forth
    the you who would be
       in relationship with me?

 


 

 

[C]racks in my clay heart. Jewish tradition describes the broken-open heart as a clay vessel; see Vessel (2008) and A crack in everything (2016).

[E]verything I learn / when I let myself be seen. Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, the rabbi of the Warsaw Ghetto, teaches that when we relate to God as a "you," with willingness to bring our full selves to the experience, we receive revelation -- though it's not entirely clear whether it's revelation of God's self, or revelation of our own deepest self.

[E]ven if your pure light / would burn out my circuits. See parashat Ki Tisa. No one can look upon God and live; even Moshe only gets to see God's afterimage.

[T]he you who would be/ in relationship with me[.] This draws on another teaching from Kalonymus Kalman Shapira: when we stand in real relationship to God in prayer, we call forth the "Thou" with Whom we yearn to be in relationship. 

This is another poem in my ongoing Texts to the Holy series, a collection of love poems to the Beloved / beloved (capital-B or lowercase-b, whatever resonates most for you.)

 

Offered with thanks to Rabbi Brent Chaim Spodek of Beacon Hebrew Alliance for introducing me to this text from Aish Kodesh by Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, also known as the Piaseczyner Rebbe, this past Shabbat afternoon. 


Dave Bonta's Ice Mountain

Icemtn-cover-500pxI've been a fan of Dave Bonta's poetry for a long time. (I reviewed his chapbook Odes to Tools at the Best American Poetry blog some years ago.) So when I learned that his new collection was coming out from Phoenicia Publishing -- the same press that brought out his Odes to Tools (and, full disclosure, also the same press that published my first two books of poetry, 70 faces and Waiting to Unfold) -- I pre-ordered a copy instantly.

Ice Mountain: an elegy is spare, elegant, and deeply moving. These are daily poems arising out of walks on Dave's home territory, a mountain which he describes in the foreword as "a high section of the Allegheny front across the valley to the northwest of our own mountain," in 2013 "desecrated by an industrial wind plant[.]"

In that introduction he writes eloquently about the price paid by wildlife for those wind turbines, and about the extent to which the Appalachians remain a "national sacrifice area" in our perennial quest for cheap energy.

The introduction offers a geopolitical framing. The poems simply offer windows into the landscape, interspersed with Beth Adams' linocut prints, as spare and elegant as the words themselves.

Some of them explore an interior landscape that hints at the outside world, like this one:

4 February

In a dream I run
through my half-remembered high school
still an outcast

I grew up with a woodstove
instead of a television
I know all the theme songs of oak

the crackle and bang
the hiss and whistle
and sudden sigh of collapse

I love "all the theme songs of oak," and how the phrase "sudden sigh of collapse" hints at (but does not directly reference) the ecosystem in distress.

Others are explicitly about the mountain and its power installation, and hint at an interior world, like this one:

4 March

Ice Mountain's propellors
spin at different speeds
face this way and that

you can't hear them from here
their low-frequency moans
like lost whales

what won't we sacrifice
to keep the weather just right
inside our homes

I love that he compares the propellors to whales -- lost indeed, so far from any ocean -- seeing even in their deadly monstrosity an analogy to something found in nature.

The natural world and the manmade world are always in uncomfortable proximity here, as in this poem:

15 March

the highway's tar has been bleached
by a winter's worth of salt
and in the mid-day sun

it almost shines
I squint at the shapes on the shoulder
as I pass

here some saltaholic's crumpled fur
there a fetal curl
of flayed tire

Dave resists easy binaries. There is a kind of beauty in the salt-bleached highway that "almost shines." But our human needs for progress come at the cost of animal lives, and this collection never lets us forget that. 

Because it is deep midwinter in the hills where I live, I am most drawn to the February and March poems, the ones that unlock the austerity and beauty of winter landscape. The summer poems feel dreamlike to me now, both in their beauty and in their dark undertones. I'm looking forward to rereading this collection at different times of year and seeing what speaks most to me on future re-readings.

Ice Mountain: an elegy is available at Phoenicia Publishing.

 


Prayer for the Musmachot

prayer-for-the-musmachot

These are the names of the daughters of Israel
Who came into the womb of narrow unknowing
Each with her household, to be rebirthed anew,

Called by name at the moment of becoming
No less than the stars that shine in their time
By which to count a promised people of light.

Birthing took time, but they’re vigorous in living
And giving life-giving life from essence of soul,
The single point of light that is light before light.

It did not merely appear in your wild and waste:
You saw, daring to turn toward flame of heart,
Standing open to touch and tend the holy,

Hearing your name as never before called from the
Name as never before spoken, becoming in all ways
Within you What is Becoming always within you,

Now ready to shine as never before, for you as the very
Top of the mountain that glowed with the radiance of
Birth herself in truth and love and pain and hope.

These are the names of the daughters of Israel
Come to lead from narrow unknowing to rebirth anew
With eyes wide open – daring to turn aside and see

The flame of heart, to help all of us stand open to
Touch and tend the holy, to hear and become –
Next links in the unbroken chain of always becoming

Now given to their care, placed on their shoulders,
Hearing their names as never before, leaning back into
History’s hands: from where we stand, go forward.

Dedicated with love and blessing to the
ALEPH Class of 2017

Rabbi Rachel Hersh
Rabbi Diane Lakein
Hazzan Jessi Roemer
Rabbi Susan Shamash
Rabbi Jennifer Singer

Rabbi David Evan Markus & Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
Co-Chairs, ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal

CLICK TO VIEW COMPLETE POEM WITH COMMENTARY

Icon-prayer-for-the-musmachot


Ascent

 

 

Immerse, my body bare as birth.
Emerge with my skin tingling.

Ascend the fifteen stairs to you
singing love songs on every step.

At the door to the holy of holies
I vibrate like a struck bell.

My fears rise up. What makes me think
I'm good enough for you?

Only this: you make me want
to shine as only I can shine.

Let me find favor in your eyes.
I ache to draw near to you.

Nothing I can offer would be enough.
All I have is this heart, bruised

and tender. All I am is this heart,
saying your name with every beat.

 


Immerse, my body bare as birth. In the Avodah service on Yom Kippur we read about how the high priest used to prepare for the work of Temple service by immersing in a mikvah.

Ascend the fifteen stairs[.] In Hebrew, the number 15 can be spelled יה, which is a name of God. There are fifteen psalms of ascent, which may have once been sung on each of fifteen steps in the Temple in Jerusalem.

[T]he holy of holies[.] The inner sanctum of the Temple was known as the holy of holies, which was entered only by the high priest and only once a year.

I ache to draw near to you. The Hebrew קרבן, often translated as "sacrifice" or "offering," comes from the root קרב which means drawing-near.

This is another poem in my ongoing Texts to the Holy series.

Shabbat shalom to all who celebrate.


New at The Wisdom Daily

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When I was younger,
I believed the mystical teachings
could erase sorrow. The mystical teachings
do not erase sorrow.
They say, here is your life.
What will you do with it?

— Yehoshua November, “Two Worlds Exist”

These lines are from the opening poem of Yehoshua November’s new collection of poetry, Two Worlds Exist. When I first read them, they went directly to my heart.

Yes: the great teachings of my tradition often offer me comfort – and there are sorrows those teachings cannot touch. It is childish to imagine that if only I could find the right teaching, the right text, I could erase grief — my own, or that of someone I love. Better to let the texts do as November describes: to let them open up for me the sacred text of my own life and wait for me to answer their question with my choices, with my living....

That's the beginning of my latest post for The Wisdom Daily, which is both a personal reflection and a review of Yehoshua November's latest collection. Read the whole thing: Here Is Your Life. What Will You Do With It?


Prayer After the Election

prayer-after-the-election

Today mourning and celebration commingle.
Jubilation and heartache are juxtaposed
In neighborhoods where lawns proclaimed
Support for different candidates, on Facebook walls
And Twitter streams where clashing viewpoints meet.

Grant us awareness of each others’ hopes and fears
Even across the great divides of red state and blue state,
Urban and rural. Open us to each others’ needs.
Purify our hearts so that those who rejoice do not gloat
And those who grieve do not despair.

Strengthen our ability to be kind to one another
And to ourselves. Awaken in us the yearning
To build a more perfect union. Let us roll up our sleeves
Whether today we feel exultation or sorrow, and together
Shape a nation of welcome and compassion.

Let ours be a land where no one need fear abuse
Or retribution, where every diversity is celebrated,
Where those who are most vulnerable are protected.
May bigotry and violence vanish like smoke.
May compassion prevail from sea to shining sea.

By Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

 

Written for (and first published at) Kol ALEPH, the blog of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal.


Through today's door

2662602423_02a5619dd0_zA poem from Adrienne Rich:

 

Either you will
go through this door
or you will not go through.

If you go through
there is always the risk
of remembering your name.

Things look at you doubly
and you must look back
and let them happen.

If you do not go through
it is possible
to live worthily

to maintain your attitudes
to hold your position
to die bravely

but much will blind you,
much will evade you,
at what cost who knows?

The door itself
makes no promises.
It is only a door.

 


Every moment is a doorway. Between where we've been, and where we're going. Between who we've been, and who we're becoming.

Jewish tradition offers us something to put on a doorway: a mezuzah. 

A reminder to pause. A reminder that transitions can be made holy. A reminder to notice.

And what's inside a mezuzah? A reminder of the Oneness behind all things. A reminder of the importance of love, which accompanies us in all of our journeying. 

Today we pause and touch a mezuzah in time. Behind us: every holiday we've just celebrated. Look back over your shoulder and see them stretching back in time: Sukkot, and before that Yom Kippur, and before that Rosh Hashanah, and before that Elul, and before that Tisha b'Av.

Ahead of us: a fallow period, a time to integrate whatever has arisen in us during the holiday season.

Today is Shemini Atzeret, a day for pausing, the silence after the chant. Today God beseeches us to linger a little longer: the seven days of Sukkot have ended, but God says, "won't you stay in the sukkah with Me one more day, beloveds?" And we do.

In Israel and on the Reform calendar, today is also Simchat Torah. We read the very end of the Torah, and we read the very beginning of the Torah. Torah is a mobius strip whose end brings us back to its beginning. Our lives are like this, too: the end of one chapter is the beginning of the next.

We stand on the threshold between what was, and what isn't yet. 

May we be blessed as we go through this door.

 

With gratitude to the editors of Mishkan T'filah who put Adrienne Rich's beautiful poem "Prospective Immigrants, Take Note" at the start of the festival morning service.

Image: a wooden door at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem.


Hoshanot after the end of a marriage

1.

I feel for these willows,
clipped from the tree

they never imagined
would stop being home.

Packaged and moved,
unpacked and shaken:

blackening at the edges,
shriveling and curling

leaves bedraggled now,
ready to come apart.

We beat our branches
against the earth.

I fling myself down too.
Let the rains fall.

 

2.

From loneliness
wrapped around me like a tallit.

From nights when the house
is too quiet.

From the relentlessness
of responsibility.

From wondering
what I should have done.

From imagining a life
that's not this one.

From self-blame.
From the ocean of grief.

From wishing I had an "us"
I could ask God to save.

 

3.

The sukkah begins to come apart.
Wind and rains unravel its garlands,

knock the cornstalks askew.
This is its purpose: to remind me

how to celebrate what can't last.
How to grasp its beauty with both hands

and then open my fists, let
the chapter be over. How to trust

there will be more abundance.
How to rejoice in what I don't yet have.

The ebb and flow will carry me to shore,
and I'm not crossing the sea alone.

Salt has scoured me clean. Drench me
with honey, sweeten every decree.

 


Today is Hoshana Rabbah, the seventh day of Sukkot. It is its own mini-holiday within the bigger holiday. (For more on that, see Three more holidays at the very end of Sukkot, 2012.)

We beat our branches / against the earth. On this day it is customary to take willow branches and beat them against the ground in an embodied prayer for rain. 

From wishing I had an "us" I could ask to save. The day of this festival means "The Great 'Save Us!'" Today it's customary to recite supplicatory prayers called hoshanot, which ask God in a variety of ways to save us. (See Hoshanot, 2010.) 

The sukkah becomes to come apart. See Pictures and words (Hoshana Rabbah), 2012.

How to rejoice in what I don't yet have. This is the spiritual work that Sukkot asks of us. See Joy Like Our Lives Depend On It by Rabbi David Evan Markus.

The ebb and flow. I learned from my teacher Rabbi Elliot Ginsburg that the Jewish year, and that spiritual life in general, has an ebb and flow; see The year as spiritual practice, 2009.

I'm not crossing the sea alone. Our daily liturgy includes "Mi Chamocha," the song our ancestors sang after crossing the Sea of Reeds. Often from the bimah, as I play the guitar chords that usher us in to the melody we usually use for this prayer, I remind the room (and myself) that whatever we may be facing -- with the Egyptian army behind us and the sea ahead of us, as it were -- we never have to cross the sea alone. We have each other. We have God. We have the presence of love to companion us in our crossings.

Drench me / with honey, sweeten every decree. Some maintain the custom of continuing to eat challah or apples dipped in honey not only on Rosh Hashanah, but all the way through the holiday season until tomorrow. One tradition holds that today is the day when the "decree," the verdict for the world declared on Rosh Hashanah, is finally sealed. I like to think that though we can't avert whatever life has in store for us, we can seek to sweeten it -- for ourselves, and for each other.

Moadim l'simcha -- wishing you joy in the festival; may this be a season of rejoicing.


Who rolls back light before dark and dark before light...

 

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Through the morning clouds
a patch of blue sky beckons
over distant hills.

 

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In the evening
the hillside darkens, purple,
framed by strings of light.

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The Sukkot full moon
paints the clouds luminescent,
almost within reach.

 

 

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Early morning haze
nestles in the near valley.
Sunlight grins, dives in.

 


The title of this post comes from the evening blessing praising God Who brings on the evening.

(Here's a post containing that prayer, as well as some contemporary renderings thereof, and some poems that work with the same themes: Looking at the prayer for evening in a new light.)

Photos taken from my wee sukkah.


A Hallel for Sukkot

113.

We who serve offer praise.
We who serve by building flimsy houses
out of sticks and string.

We who serve by whisking together honey and coffee,
chesed and gevurah,
to make offerings we bring in cupped hands.

By seeking to sweeten what's bitter.
By speaking our truths, naming what is.
We who serve by hoping for better --

by taking up hammer and nails to build
the redeemed world we didn't inherit:
offer praise.

 

114.

When we pushed through the narrow place
when we left what had become constriction

we came into our own, we became our own.
Only then could we give ourselves to you.

When we left the household that didn't nurture 
when we left old stories that no longer sustained 

the ground shifted beneath our feet
the hills leapt like baby goats

the river we thought flowed always toward the sea
turned tidal and became sharp with salt.

Mountains, did you savor letting loose?
River, did you rejoice in changing your course?

We too have been transformed
by the presence of the one whose name is change.

 

115.

Friends, be profligate with blessings!
Spend them freely,
prime the pump for more.

Children, bless us with wonder
at the calliope song of geese overhead.
Elders, bless us with permission.

The skies belong to God
always perfect
and always changing.

The earth is ours to tend.
We can offer praises right here, right now.
What are we waiting for?

 

116.

Because you hear me, I am never alone.
I lift the cup of my changes:
your presence sweetens what was bitter.
This sukkah is temporary
but the promises I make to you endure.
Wherever I go, you are with me.
Every place becomes Jerusalem.

 

117.

Everyone, say thank you.
That we are alive at all
is cause to rejoice.

 

118.

There are more galaxies than I can imagine.
We are made from the same stuff as the stars.

What burns in me: a spark
from the fire that sustains all creation.

And when I say I love you, I mean
you expand my heart to encompass the universe.

Open the door of my heart:
I have feathered my nest with gratitude.

This is the door to who we really are.
Will you walk through?

Today is the only day there is.
Be glad with me.

 


Here is a pdf file of the psalms of Hallel: in Hebrew, translated into English, and accompanied by commentary. This poem series is rooted in the psalms of Hallel, which we recite daily during Sukkot (and at other times, too -- though these poems draw imagery from Sukkot, rather than from the other seasons when Hallel is recited.) For those who are interested in the poems' references and citations, some notes follow. 

By the by, if you like this kind of thing, you might also like my Six psalms for Hallel written during Pesach several years ago, now published in Open My Lips (Ben Yehuda Press, 2016.)


 

Notes: 

We who serve offer praise. See psalm 113, "Sing praises, you servants of Adonai!" [B]uilding flimsy houses..See A sukkah of sticks and string. [W]hisking together honey and coffee. Many recipes for honeycake, a seasonal treat, involve both honey and coffee. [C]hesed and gevurah. Chesed (lovingkindness) and gevurah (boundaried-strength) are two of the seven divine qualities to which the seven days of Sukkot can be mapped. 

When we pushed through the narrow place. See psalm 114, "When Israel went forth from Mitzrayim..." Mitzrayim, "Egypt," can be translated as "the narrow place." Only then could we give ourselves to you. See Psalm 114, "Judah became God's..." [T] he ground shifted beneath our feet. "The Jordan retreated. Mountains leapt like rams..."  [T]he river we thought flowed always toward the sea. Some rivers are tidal. (The Hudson is one of them.) The one whose name is change. God describes God's-self to Moshe as "I Am Becoming What I Am Becoming."

Friends, be profligate with blessings! See psalm 115, though I chose to invert the giving of blessing: in this poem we are the ones who are offering blessing to God, instead of the other way around. The reference to youths and elders also hearkens back to this psalm.  The skies belong to God. "The heavens are the heavens of Adonai..." We can offer praises right here, right now. "The dead cannot offer praises..."

Because you hear me, I am never alone. See psalm 116: "I love knowing that Adonai listens to my cry..." I lift the cup of my changes. "I raise the cup of my deliverance..." That verse is part of the traditional liturgy for havdalahThe promises I make to you... "I will honor my vows to Adonai..." Every place becomes Jerusalem. "...in the midst of Jerusalem."

Everyone, say thank you. See psalm 117: "Praise Adonai, all nations..."

There are more galaxies than I can imagine. Psalm 118 begins with the assertion that God's love endures forever. L'olam means both space and time, suggesting the infinity of the heavens. Open the door of my heart. "Open for me the door of righteousness." This is the door to who we really are. "This is the door of Adonai..." Today is the only day there is. "This is the day that Adonai has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it."

 


#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.