A day with ICAHD
To market, to market

This week's portion: sandals


"Then the Lord opened the ass's mouth, and she said to Balaam, 'What have I done to you that you have beaten me these three times?" (Numbers 22:28)

If God gave voice
to my worn Birkenstocks

they would cry out
"what did we ever do to you

that you chose to traverse
these dusty sidewalks

and stand in meltwater
from the ice shavings

packed around fish
you can't even name?"

I might not hear them
above the clatter of wheels

and the honking of horns
the rise and fall of voices

negotiating pita and cucumbers,
parsley and eggplants

and the man who repeats
ice-coffee, chamesh shekalim

until my mouth feels so dry
I reach in my pocket

and buy myself a blessing
for the road.

This week's portion, Balak, contains the fabulous tale of how king Balak hired Balaam to come and curse the Israelites for him. Of course, Balaam protests that he can only say what God tells him to say -- and in the end, his "curse" is a blessing. Early in the story,  Balaam's donkey balks in the road because he sees an angry angel blocking the way. When Balaam whacks the donkey with a stick, the ass talks back. (Yes, folks, we have talking donkeys in our sacred text.Torah is wild and wonderful.)

(A digression: last summer during DLTI week three, a bunch of us were assigned the task of chanting, as ensembles, Torah passages which contain multiple voices. As though Torah were a script, complete with stage directions. We performed them for the rest of our chevre, and this passage was absolutely the hit of the show. I don't think I will ever read this parsha again without thinking of the donkey hee-hawing in trop, an angel who sounded like Louis Armstrong, Balaam channeling a creepy voice form the beyond, or Balak in sunglasses with cellphone attached to his ear!)

Anyway. When I thought of God giving voice to my usual form of conveyance -- well, if I were back home I would probably have written a poem about my blue RAV-4 suddenly developing the ability to speak. But since here I go everywhere on foot, the poem naturally became about my sandals. I had just made my first trip to Machane Yehuda market when I sat down to work on the poem (more about the market soon, I hope), so that's where the poem took me.

I haven't had the time to get the necessary library installed on my machine, so: still no audio recording this week. Slicha (sorry!) Maybe soon...


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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