Three glimpses of Sukkot 5772
Off we go!

Sestina for Shemini Atzeret

I haven't been writing many poems lately. (Somehow the Days of Awe are a busy time for working rabbis; go figure.) I wanted to jump-start my poetry practice again, and I've often found that a sestina is a good way to do that. (And I haven't posted one here in a while -- I think the last sestina I posted here was Charge, back in 2009...)

Today is Shemini Atzeret, the "Eighth Day of Pausing" -- day 8 of the 7-day festival of Sukkot, the day when tradition tells us God looks at us, preparing to leave our sukkot, and says "please don't go." The penultimate stanza refers to the change in our daily liturgy at this season; between Pesach and Sukkot we ask for dew, and from now until spring we'll ask for rain, in harmony with the seasonal cycle as it unfolds in Jerusalem.


From the heights of Yom Kippur we fall
into the embrace of a world that shakes,
structures so airy and light
they don't hide the autumn gold
of Berkshire hills, the white press of sky.
Funny to think of dwelling in this house:

hardly enough wall to call it a house,
these two-by-fours we hope won't fall,
roof of cornstalks open to the sky
rattling when the wind makes them shake.
Around me the trees are strung tinsel-gold.
I inhabit bright blocks of light.

After these holidays my soul feels light.
I asked to dwell in God's house
all the days of my life; received gold
fields shorn to stubble, apples fallen
sweet when the trunk gets a shake.
Always perfect, always changing, the sky

rolls back day before darkness, sky
over this little house bedecked with light.
I gather willow, myrtle, palm; shake
them clasped with etrog, the house
for that tiny nugget of tart fall
wrapped in nubbly fragrant gold.

It's the eighth day of festival. I shake
to think of God pleading "don't go." Golden
is our time together in this house,
talking face-to-face beneath the sky.
My tallit skirts my shoulders, light
as cornsilk. The leaves fall

as birch and maple shake.
Time to ask for rain from the desert sky,
changing our prayers with the city of gold
where the limestone pinks with early light,
where once upon a time we built God's house
and learned all things must fall.

I shake my lulav beneath the cloudy sky,
bless the One Who creates this gold light
Whose house is in my heart this fall.