Becoming Avraham: on names and transformation in Lech-Lecha
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Rick Black's Star of David

Star-of-David-by-Rick-Black-200x300I had the good fortune to be asked to contribute a "blurb" for Rick Black's beautiful new poetry chapbook Star of David, winner of the 2012 Poetica Magazine Contemporary Jewish Writing Chapbook Contest, published by Poetica Magazine and distributed by Turtle Light Press, 2013. My paper copy of the book just arrived in my mailbox, and I am so glad to have it.

When asked for a blurb, I replied:

This slim volume wrestles with the angels of our history and brings forth a new name. It's located, in its own words, "at the intersection / of grief and solace[.]" Black understands that his grandfather's prayer book is a box of portkeys to farflung destinations of history and spirit; that when his daughter pushes the empty swings, she is rocking the dead to gentle sleep. Who among us could fail to identify with the poet who wants to sing of horseradish, of toy frogs, of dancing with his daughter until they fall down -- but not of slavery or of the Egyptians drowning in the sea? Black practices observance -- not walking to shul on Saturdays, but noticing the countless wonders of this real and complicated world. We are blessed to be able to see our world through his eyes.

(Only part of that quote appears on the book's webpage, but I wanted to share it here in full, because it's still a fine reflection of how I see the collection.)

I have several favorite poems in the collection, which tells you something about its quality. Two of my favorites are on facing pages: "Hands" and "Observance." In "Hands," we hear the voice of someone who watches people walking by with strollers and tallit bags, clearly on their way to shul, but who prefers to remain in the garden nurturing what he has sowed, "Hunched over / in torn jeans and invisible phylacteries[.]" And "Observance" is so lovely that I'll reproduce it here in full:


I am not observant
I do not walk to shul or refrain
from cooking on Shabbat.

But I do practice
as often as possible:

watching geese
descend on their wings
into the river,

listening to a red-bellied
woodpecker lunatic
in my backyard

and inhaling the fragrance
of wild lilac
along a forest path.

I've shared Rick's work here before -- I reprinted his poem "Bougainvillea" in the 2002 post Two poems from Before There Is Nowhere to Stand. I admire his willingness to confront that which is unbelievably painful, as he does in "Bougainvillea" -- or, for that matter, as in the first poem of this chapbook, which describes in exquisite language an encounter with a yellow fabric star reading Jude. He wrestles with suffering and emerges with prayer, as in the chapbook's final poem, "Kaddish:" "Even when I am not reciting kaddish, / even when I protest against it, / I am still reciting kaddish."

Star of David costs $15 and can be purchased at the distributor's website. I recommend it.