We who serve offer praise.
We who serve by building flimsy houses
out of sticks and string.
We who serve by whisking together honey and coffee,
chesed and gevurah,
to make offerings we bring in cupped hands.
By seeking to sweeten what's bitter.
By speaking our truths, naming what is.
We who serve by hoping for better --
by taking up hammer and nails to build
the redeemed world we didn't inherit:
When we pushed through the narrow place
when we left what had become constriction
we came into our own, we became our own.
Only then could we give ourselves to you.
When we left the household that didn't nurture
when we left old stories that no longer sustained
the ground shifted beneath our feet
the hills leapt like baby goats
the river we thought flowed always toward the sea
turned tidal and became sharp with salt.
Mountains, did you savor letting loose?
River, did you rejoice in changing your course?
We too have been transformed
by the presence of the one whose name is change.
Friends, be profligate with blessings!
Spend them freely,
prime the pump for more.
Children, bless us with wonder
at the calliope song of geese overhead.
Elders, bless us with permission.
The skies belong to God
and always changing.
The earth is ours to tend.
We can offer praises right here, right now.
What are we waiting for?
Because you hear me, I am never alone.
I lift the cup of my changes:
your presence sweetens what was bitter.
This sukkah is temporary
but the promises I make to you endure.
Wherever I go, you are with me.
Every place becomes Jerusalem.
Everyone, say thank you.
That we are alive at all
is cause to rejoice.
There are more galaxies than I can imagine.
We are made from the same stuff as the stars.
What burns in me: a spark
from the fire that sustains all creation.
And when I say I love you, I mean
you expand my heart to encompass the universe.
Open the door of my heart:
I have feathered my nest with gratitude.
This is the door to who we really are.
Will you walk through?
Today is the only day there is.
Be glad with me.
Here is a pdf file of the psalms of Hallel: in Hebrew, translated into English, and accompanied by commentary. This poem series is rooted in the psalms of Hallel, which we recite daily during Sukkot (and at other times, too -- though these poems draw imagery from Sukkot, rather than from the other seasons when Hallel is recited.) For those who are interested in the poems' references and citations, some notes follow.
By the by, if you like this kind of thing, you might also like my Six psalms for Hallel written during Pesach several years ago, now published in Open My Lips (Ben Yehuda Press, 2016.)
We who serve offer praise. See psalm 113, "Sing praises, you servants of Adonai!" [B]uilding flimsy houses... See A sukkah of sticks and string. [W]hisking together honey and coffee. Many recipes for honeycake, a seasonal treat, involve both honey and coffee. [C]hesed and gevurah. Chesed (lovingkindness) and gevurah (boundaried-strength) are two of the seven divine qualities to which the seven days of Sukkot can be mapped.
When we pushed through the narrow place. See psalm 114, "When Israel went forth from Mitzrayim..." Mitzrayim, "Egypt," can be translated as "the narrow place." Only then could we give ourselves to you. See Psalm 114, "Judah became God's..." [T] he ground shifted beneath our feet. "The Jordan retreated. Mountains leapt like rams..." [T]he river we thought flowed always toward the sea. Some rivers are tidal. (The Hudson is one of them.) The one whose name is change. God describes God's-self to Moshe as "I Am Becoming What I Am Becoming."
Friends, be profligate with blessings! See psalm 115, though I chose to invert the giving of blessing: in this poem we are the ones who are offering blessing to God, instead of the other way around. The reference to youths and elders also hearkens back to this psalm. The skies belong to God. "The heavens are the heavens of Adonai..." We can offer praises right here, right now. "The dead cannot offer praises..."
Because you hear me, I am never alone. See psalm 116: "I love knowing that Adonai listens to my cry..." I lift the cup of my changes. "I raise the cup of my deliverance..." That verse is part of the traditional liturgy for havdalah. The promises I make to you... "I will honor my vows to Adonai..." Every place becomes Jerusalem. "...in the midst of Jerusalem."
Everyone, say thank you. See psalm 117: "Praise Adonai, all nations..."
There are more galaxies than I can imagine. Psalm 118 begins with the assertion that God's love endures forever. L'olam means both space and time, suggesting the infinity of the heavens. Open the door of my heart. "Open for me the door of righteousness." This is the door to who we really are. "This is the door of Adonai..." Today is the only day there is. "This is the day that Adonai has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it."