Now and later: beginning to approach the Days of Awe
A Prayer for Syria

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Rosh Hashanah Sermon

Among twenty finished projects
The only moving thing
Was the sermon I need to write.

I was of three minds,
Like a desk
On which there are three sermons.

The sermon whirled in the summer sun
like my son's paper pinwheel.

God and the Torah
are one.
God and the Torah and a sermon
Are one.

I do not know which to prefer,
Preaching about Syria
Or preaching about the election.
The sermon unfolding
Or just after.

I searched the willow
Outside the sanctuary window.
The shadow of the sermon
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the sermon
Solemn and full of joy.

O congregants,
Why do you imagine lunch?
Do you not see how the sermon
Is a golden banquet
For your souls to feast on?

I know noble prayers
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the sermon is involved
In what I know.

When the sermon flew out of sight,
It reached the edge
Of the highest heavens.

At the sight of sermons
Gleaming with insight
Even the sages of the Talmud
Would cry out sharply.

She rode through Williamstown
In a blue Toyota.
Once, a fear pierced her
In that she mistook
A Calvino pastiche idea
For a sermon.

The river is moving.
The sermon must be flying.

It was Rosh Hashanah all summer.
We were making teshuvah
And we were going to make teshuvah.
The sermon sat
Just out of reach.


With thanks to Wallace Stevens, upon whose poem 13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird this is based. The idea that God and the Torah are One comes from the Zohar. Teshuvah is the Hebrew word usually translated as repentance; I like to translate it as return or as turning-toward-God.