Beyond words
In your mouth and in your heart (Radical Torah repost)

This week's portion: milk


God has never told me to write a poem
or spoken to me from within a cloud
or led me into the land, goat's milk
and date honey mingling in my mouth.
That crackly old-time connection is lost
and I don't know that it will return.

This time of year, everything's about return:
yellow schoolbuses inscribing their poem
on curving roads, one sandal lost
and forlorn on the beach, wisps of cloud
racing across the sky. In our mouths
honey gilds apple wedges pale as milk.

When the baby cries, the mother's milk
descends. Both yearn to return
to connection. But what if his mouth
doesn't know how to suck, if her poem
has nowhere to flow? Don't let my pregnancy cloud
the issue: I'm talking about us, lost

and wailing for God in the night, lost
and fearful that the source of milk
has dried up and disappeared. The cloud
of unknowing offers no comfort. Return
to Me
the shofar demands, a poem
without words to carry in our mouths.

Torah isn't over the sea, it's in our mouths
and our hearts -- so why do we feel so lost?
Have we forgotten Moshe's poem
and its endless reprises? We milk
our alienation for all it's worth; return
seems as implausible as walking on cloud.

But God is never just in the fire, the cloud:
God is as near as our heartbeats, our mouths
and our hands. Elul's waning moon says "return
to your source; all who wander are not lost --
we'll leave the light on for you, milk
and cookies and a bedside poem..."

Even in the cloud, you're never lost.
Let your mouth taste the milk of repentance
and return, bearing your poem in your hands.

This week we're reading parashat Nitzavim- Vayelekh -- a double Torah portion, almost at the very end of the book of D'varim.

I haven't been linking to last year's Torah poems (you can find all of them linked in my Divrei Torah index) but rereading these portions this year, I remembered that the Torah poem I wrote for Vayelekh last year is one of my favorites, so I'll point to it again: This poem (Vayelekh).

It's been a while since I've written a sestina, and the repeated words and concepts in this double Torah portion seemed like a good fit for the form. (Alas, I wasn't able to make this week's ReadWritePoem prompt fit with this week's Torah portion. You can still read other participants' responses at the get your poem on #91 post.)

I'm trying to remember where I first heard the notion that "when the baby cries, the mother's milk descends" applied to our relationship with God; I think it was probably at DLTI, though I don't seem to have blogged about it. It's certainly central to the way I've been taught to understand prayer. Not surprisingly, it's a resonant metaphor for me these days.

The idea that Torah isn't over the sea, but is in our mouths and hearts, comes from the first half of this week's Torah portion. The idea that God instructed Moshe to write a poem and teach it to the children of Israel comes from the second half of the Torah portion. Both are powerful for me during this season of teshuvah, as Rosh Hashanah draws ever-closer.