readwritepoem: Atzeret (Slonimer mash-up)
October 08, 2009
ATZERET (SLONIMER MASH-UP)
Two days are called atzeret, the 8th day of Sukkot
and Shavuot, when God asks us to linger
if seven represents the whole of a week
eight implies fullness and then some
we seek God's face and rejoice together
just the two of us, an intimate affair
on Yom Kippur we nullify ego
we become transparent windows
the festivals are merely preparation
for these days of holy basking
there's cosmic repair work to do
before our autumnal day of pausing
the blank parchment which holds the Torah
is holy because it contains every letter
at the festival of pouring-out water
we sluice our divine qualities like gutters
we remove (our texts, our teachings) our finery
and the movie of our togetherness fades to black
This week's prompt at ReadWritePoem, the poetics of the mash-up, invites us to interweave two poems with which we're not completely satisfied and see how we like the results.
I chose two poems from a series which is otherwise as-yet unpublished -- a series of poems I've been working on which arise out of translations of Hasidic texts. I began work on the series as my final project for the first semester of Moadim l'Simcha, the class on the Hasidic sacred year which I've been taking this year. Each poem in the series takes a different Hasidic text about one of the festivals of the year and aims to present it (in English) in a contemporary poetic idiom.
I chose these two poems to mash up because they both come out of teachings from the same rabbi -- the previous Slonimer rebbe, Shalom Noach Barzovsky -- and both teachings are about days which are described as days of atzeret, which means something like pausing or convocation. Both were originally much longer than this; after I mashed them up I did a fair bit of judicious editing and some tightening here and there, but I preserved the two voices in dialogue.
The Hasidic teachings about the festivals of Shavuot and Shemini Atzeret which underpin this poem may not be entirely clear to the casual reader (especially now that two poems have been combined and shortened!) Here are some details which might make the symbolism less opaque:
Shavuot is when we celebrate the revelation of Torah, and marks the culmination of a 50-day process of introspection and inner work. Shemini Atzeret is a minor festival at the end of Sukkot (on the 8th day of the 7-day holiday), and marks the culmination of the year's other 50-day inner spiritual journey. The line about pouring-out water is a reference to simchat beit ha-shoeivah, an ancient Sukkot practice.
You can read other responses to this prompt at get your poem on #95. (Sorry, no recording this week; TypePad is behaving strangely this morning and I can't seem to upload the file. I'll edit to add the audio later today if I can.)