Veery fine
Strawberry fields forever

This week's portion: larger than life


Look, everything about the land
is larger than life.

The state airline sends secret agents
to travelers' houses at random.

The grapes there grow so heavy
no single man can carry them.

The navel of creation is there,
an eternal portal to Eden.

Love and hatred permeate the air
like spices, like roses, like

the echoing call to prayer
and the memorial day sirens.

If you don't feel at-home there
the moment the wheels kiss the ground

for God's sake don't tell a soul!
When the spies admitted their fears

(they said the land ate its own)
they doomed a whole generation.

I've been a bit fixated this week on preparing to depart for Jerusalem. It's been hard to focus on much else in a sustained way. Given that, I wondered how I would achieve the focus I would need in order to write this week's Torah poem.

I laughed when I realized that this week's portion is Sh'lakh l'kha, in which the Israelites send their first delegation of scouts into the land (with fairly disastrous results.) This was my niece Emma's bat mitzvah portion! Of course, this year I'm reading it during the days leading up to my own journey into the land, which changes how the portion resonates for me.

Jason Shinder, of blessed memory -- my fourth and final poetry mentor at Bennington -- used to say, "Whatever gets in the way of the work, is the work." He was speaking in poetry terms, but it's true on a spiritual level too. Whatever's happening in my life this week which might prevent me from engaging with the intellectual and spiritual material in front of me becomes the very material with which I need to engage.

So this week's Torah poem riffs on the notion of fears and expectations, entry into the land, the tall tales and wild stories people tell about it (then and now), the welter of emotions that go along with crossing a boundary into someplace strange and new.

As usual, if you can't see the audio player embedded in this post, or if you'd like a copy of the recorded poem, you can download life.mp3.


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