Poetic sustenance
Missed Encounter

This week's portion: red heifer


Could Moshe have imagined
the Red Heifer Steakhouse
off King George Street
in Jerusalem? He never crossed

the Jordan, a Diaspora Jew
to the last of his days, but
maybe God granted him
a vision or three

of the Temple to come, limestone
gleaming in the evening light.
The heifer was a koan
in hide and bone. The men

who offered her up, who moved
the ashes outside the camp
were unclean until evening, but
the ash could cleanse.

Do the diners at the Red Heifer
contemplate death's mysterious power
to linger on our clothes
and in our hearts

or do they just want a steak
and maybe a beer
and to watch the Euro Cup
at the end of a long day?

This week's portion, Chukat, begins with instructions for sacrificing a red heifer and using its ashes -- which were tamei, "impure" -- to make the water of lustration, which made one tahor, "pure." 

Once again I think I've written a poem that's shaped by where I am in the world. On my first walk down to Ben Yehuda street, I saw a sign for a Red Heifer steakhouse, which I thought was hilarious. (Maybe you have to be a Bible geek? I laughed out loud.) That moment was this poem's genesis.

Sometimes I feel like I'm looking at Jerusalem through a bicolored set of glasses. Through one lens, this is a city filled with all the mundania of modern life: cars, cellphones, restaurants, fashion. Through another, it's a Biblical place, considered the axis mundi in Jewish tradition (and significant in Christianity and Islam too.)  There's some cognitive dissonance in that. Instead of trying to resolve it, I'm doing my best to revel in it.

I'll say this: Chukat never made me giggle until I saw that steakhouse sign. I doubt I'll visit the Red Heifer, but I'm glad it's there.

No recording of the poem yet this week either, but stay tuned; I hope to be able to offer audio of last week's and this week's poem soon. (And if anyone else wants to record them in the meantime, feel free; just drop a link here so we can listen!)

Technorati tags: , , , , .