The Ishbitzer on the power of purifying the imagination
Approaching Av... and Ramadan

Without Ceasing (a poem to recite before prayer)




The wash of dawn across the sky
reveals your signature.

Cicadas drone your praise
through the honey-slow afternoon.

The angular windmills on the ridge
recite your name with every turn.

And I, who can barely focus on breath
without drifting into story:

what can I say to you,
author of wisteria and sorrel,

you who shaped these soft hills
with glaciers' slow passage?

You fashioned me as a gong:
your presence reverberates.

Help me to open my lips
that I may sing your praise.

This poem began a few weekends ago, when Drew was sick and wouldn't go to sleep. One evening I put him in the car and we drove. He fussed for ten minutes and then sacked out, and I drove through the twilight of late summer evening on winding roads in far eastern New York state. We passed the wind farm on the ridge and it occurred to me that the windmills -- which I find very beautiful -- could be reciting prayers in their rotations, á la Tibetan prayer wheels. That was the image which sparked this poem.

The first three stanzas contain oblique references to the three times a day of Jewish prayer: dawn (shacharit), afternoon (mincha), and the windmills are my no nod to evening prayer (maariv.)

I struggled with the ending of this poem through a few revisions; the ending felt anticlimactic to me in the first few iterations. Then I realized that I needed to end the poem by speaking directly to God -- which put me in mind of the one-liner we recite before the amidah (the standing prayer which is central to every Jewish service) -- adonai, sefatai tiftach, ufi yagid tehilatecha, often rendered as "Eternal God, open up my lips that my mouth may declare your glory." So that's how I ended the poem.

I think this poem could serve as a prelude to the amidah, either in personal (solitary) prayer or in a communal setting. If you use it that way, let me know how it works for you!