Announcing April Dailies

AprilDailiesOne of my readers asked me recently, "Are you going to publish your National Poetry Writing Month poems? Because otherwise, we're going to have to resort to just printing them out." My mother said the same thing to me last year. In both cases, I promised that I could improve upon a sheaf of print-outs.

On that note, I'm delighted to be posting today to announce a new chapbook -- April Dailies! Here's the official description:

Writing daily poems is a discpline designed to prime the pump of creativity and to hone attention to the ideas, phrases, and everyday miracles which are a part of every life.

This chapbook collects the results of an annual month-long experiment in attention: daily poems written during the spring of 2013 and 2014, now revised for publication.

(It also replaces the chapbook I put out last year, which contained last year's daily poems plus the commentaries I'd posted alongside them -- that one's now officially out of print.)

Here are this year's poems, arising out of recent travels in Jerusalem and Hebron, Pesach and the journey into the Omer, small-town country life -- and last year's poems, arising out of parenthood, brushes with sorow, and spring.

Many of the poems have been substantially revised from the original versions posted here during NaPoWriMo.

I love the discipline of writing daily poems, especially in the context of a community of others who are engaging in the same practice. It's a lot like writing weekly poems, a practice which I've had off and on for years. (See 70 faces and Waiting to Unfold, both published by Phoenicia.)

Whether writing daily or weekly, the process mimics my former life in small-town journalism. The relentless constancy of regular practice mitigates against perfectionism, and that in turn lets me access a different kind of creativity.

Writing daily poems keeps me attentive to the poetic possibilities of ordinary life, just as daily prayer practice keeps me attuned to living with prayerful consciousness. I hope that reading them brings some joy to you.

Available at for $5.70 at, and for £3.50 at and €4.00 at Amazon Europe.

Daily April poem: a poem of beginnings and endings


In through the double glass doors
with secondhand bathrobe in hand.
I leave sovereignty in the trunk.
I don't know what I'm losing
can't imagine new stars in the sky.
Once I start saying I can't
sure hands thread my spine.
I gaze at foam ceiling tiles.

Through the window: parking garage,
dark conifers, distant hills.
I climb the ladder to the room
above the clouds, the one
with a new incarnation inside.
Close my eyes and let go.

Luisa A. Igloria offered this prompt for today:

Every beginning, every end, has something of both the sweet and the not-sweet. Let me taste both, in a poem of beginnings and endings, endings and beginnings. Let it have doors and windows, ceilings, roofs, ladders, and stairs. Let it also have mountains and trees, the sweep of open spaces.

I did my best to comply. (I'm also delighted to see that she's posted a roundup of all of her NaPoWriMo prompts -- I mostly worked with #blogElul or NaPoWriMo prompts, so most of hers are new to me, and I hope to use them in coming weeks and months!)

Happy National Poetry Month to all!


Daily April poem: twenty little poetry projects


At sunset the city walls are on fire.
No one whose eyes take in that pink stone
will ever be the same. Pomegranate juice,
tart, stains the cobbled streets.
Cheap cigarettes and sweet smoking coals
duel for ascendance. The man dressed
like an eighteenth-century disciple
walks fast, his head down. Teenagers
call out in their incomprehensible dialect.
A man pushes a cart piled with breads
round loops encrusted with seeds and zataar
and a little boy tastes them with his eyes.
Abraham, God's beloved, would balk like a mule
if he walked these streets now. Cars
scraping through the narrow alleys
of the Old City, neon signs and loud music
just outside Damascus Gate. No:
Abraham would feel right at home here.
He'd raise an eyebrow at the motorcycles
but the press of shoppers demanding
fresh mint, dates, eggplants would feel
just like home. "Okay yalla bye," says
the girl with the blue rhinestone cellphone,
pushing past in the other direction.
Because this is a holy city, anyone
who hears God's voice here is right.
The soothing whisper of tradition...
Overhead, bright flags remind passers-by
how little we have in common. Abraham
climbs to the top of the mount, walks
quiet circles around the rock
where he almost made the worst mistake.
(Velveteen imagines this from her desk
overlooking still-bare Massachusetts hills.)
Ubiquitous cats prowl between trash cans.
The green lights of minarets dot
the jumbled roofscape, loudspeakers waiting.
Tonight the same messenger will visit
every foreigner's dream. Yerushalayim
shel zahav: you dazzle and seduce, promise
a direct line to the One Who always takes
our calls. At the staggered hours
of our evening prayers, cellphones buzz
reminders to stop, drop, and praise.

Today's NaPoWriMo prompt offers "twenty little poetry projects," and challenges us to include all of them in a single poem.

It's a neat exercise; it definitely stretched me beyond my usual writing habits. I want to tighten it before publshing the next version; some of the lines prompted by the 20 prompts are (I think) terrific, and others don't quite flow. But the prompt was fun.

Yerushalayim shel zahav means "Jerusalem of gold."


Daily April poem: words taken from a news article


The narrow bridge of mourning
spans generations.

Overnight every dream shows
destruction. Ashes and bones.

Remembrance wells up.
Not only at the cemetery

but when planting, or
listening to the radio.

The moment of silence
lasts forever.

Today's NaPoWriMo prompt invites us to write poems using words borrowed from a newspaper article.

On the Jewish calendar today is Yom HaShoah. Most of the words in this poem came from The History of Holocaust Remembrance Day in Ha'aretz.

May the Source of Peace bring peace to all who mourn, and comfort to all who are bereaved.


Daily April poem: inspired by a photograph of baseball


The wooden stands creak.
    Admire the forest of ballcaps.
        Teenagers text with T-1 thumbs.

Boys toss and catch
    effortlessly eighteen
        their calves limned with elastic.

Sunset delay: the lights flare
    painting the dirt Georgia red
        the field green as artificial turf.

Between innings
    children spin like dreidls
        then race drunkenly across the grass.

By the end our mouths taste of hops.
    Peanut shells crunch underfoot.
        Kinsella tells us stories all the way home.

Today's NaPoWriMo prompt offers four photographs to inspire poetry. One of them is of a baseball field.

I named this poem after the old wooden ballpark in Pittsfield, and many of the sensory details were drawn from memories of games there.


Daily April poem: a curtal sonnet


For what endures. For old soles worn
    until a toe peeks through. For hands
        that press dough flat; for the griddle, hot.
For the Western Union sign behind glass,
    the sparse shelves of masa and gari
        give thanks. It's safe to speak in tongues.

Let all who are hungry come and eat.
    Inscribe Emma Lazarus at every border.
        Fire up crop dusters and drop greencards.
Trust the rains to fall. If not now --

            then when?

Today's NaPoWriMo prompt invites the writing of a curtal sonnet, a form invented by Gerard Manley Hopkins in the 1800s. One of my very favorite poems is a curtal sonnet -- Hopkins' Pied Beauty, which we read every year on the first night of Pesach as part of our creative Hallel, our poems and psalms of praise. I decided not to try for rhyme, but I did try to match Hopkins' use of four stresses per line.

In the Counting of the Omer, today is the day of netzach she'b'gevurah, endurance within boundaried strength. Thinking about endurance and about boundaries led me to a few of this poem's images, and the poem grew from there. The first line of the second stanza is from the Passover seder. The final question comes from the sage Hillel.

Daily April poem: anaphora


since the last time you told the story
since the children crossed the billowing sea

since you left that narrow corridor
since you craved the tastes of home
since the last time, last chance, last change
since the last cigarette you stubbed-out, unfinished

until a hand slips into yours and tugs
until you notice you're walking unfamiliar ground

until the words pour down like rain
until synaesthesia rewires your senses

until the next incarnation begins
until this ship carries you safe to shore

Today's prompt at NaPoWriMo invites the writing of poems which use anaphora -- repeated words or phrases.

This poem draws on a lot of different things, among them the story of the Exodus and midrash about how we experienced the revelation of Torah at Sinai.


Daily April poem: inspired by masonry


13332554873_c2eae8274c_nThe vaults of the sky arched overhead.
Beneath, men on scaffolding

tucked blocks of sandstone tight.
Once the keystone took its place

they hauled the wooden bolster free
and the stones stayed taut.

Pressure makes them motionless
even after two thousand years --

empire crumbled to dust, Iudaea
a forgotten name on mosaic maps.

Armies came and went, came
and went like the waves.

Today, tourists in Kelty hats
pose where chariots used to thunder.

The Slavic fishermen are gone,
their houses leveled and rebuilt.

Now a town on top of the ruins
of a town on top of the ruins.

A few kilometers away, lush green:
golfers stroll on manicured lawns.

Enough tension, nothing can shift
without bringing the whole place down.

Today's NaPoWriMo prompt invites the writing of poems featuring masonry. When I thought of stones and the laying thereof, I thought of how I'm drawn to photograph arches, and how very many of them I admired in my recent travels -- starting with the arch you see above, photographed on my first day after arrival. (If you're curious about those ruins, feel free to click through to my post about that day's journey: Walking in (ancient) Caesaria.)



Daily April poem: instructions for drawing a map



Draw the lines firm: give no doubt
where the boundaries between us

and them. Your choice of alphabet
will locate you on one side

or the other. Think of the man
walking for seven years from where

the human story began. "I forget
the names of towns without rivers."

He wakes in the morning
to the footprints of desert beetles.

As we told the story of the Exodus
he took ship across the Red Sea

on a Syrian vessel full of mourners.
Hardboiled eggs rolled on their plates.

Will he climb the Harei Yehuda
or the Jibal al-Khalil?

Overhead, cranes following his route
chivvy him with rattling calls.

From their vantage his footsteps blur
into the sinuous tracks of a snake.

His path, the great rift
no negotiations can heal.

Luisa A. Igloria offered this prompt today:

Using couplets, write a poem of literal and metaphorical transplanting in the form of instructions for drawing a map.

In the poem, make reference to a specific mode of travel, a body of water, and a mountain range. Also include only the tracks or sound made by two types of animals that creep along the ground, and one that flies.

As I began the poem I had in mind my recent travels. Was I in Jerusalem or al-Quds? Judea and Samaria, or the West Bank, or Palestine?

That, in turn, reminded me of tweets I've seen recently about Silwan / the City of David from the team chronicling Paul Salopek's Out of Eden walk from Ethiopia to Tierra del Fuego. (If this is new to you, read about it -- it's extraordinary.)

The quote comes from one of Paul's recent dispatches, as does the image of the eggs rolling on the plates of Syrians aboard ship. That image particularly resonated with me because in Jewish tradition we eat hardboiled eggs (and also lentils) at the meal of consolation after a funeral. A reminder of life even in the face of death.



Edited to add: thanks to the team at Out of Eden for featuring this poem alongside a beautiful photograph from the crossing of the Red Sea on their blog: Couplets and Kilometers.

Daily April poem: about Elijah the prophet


Elijah walks the streets
with Moshiach's phone number
programmed into his cellphone.

In his messenger bag
gift cards and cigarettes
he hands out to the homeless.

He always buys roses and gum
from the kids who peddle
at busy intersections.

He doesn't visit
every seder in the world
anymore. He still loves

the old melodies, the way
the story rewrites you
from the inside out if you let it

he finagles invitations
to the houses with great singing
and eager children, but

he's learned that our words
only matter so much.
When we box Pesach away

he holds his breath:
will we really emerge different
this time? Will we admit

we choose comfort over conscience
we cling to the neverending hametz
of our painful history --

or will we whistle Had Gadya
and recreate Mitzrayim?
Elijah sits back down

on the crumbling stoop
in the overcrowded hospital
at the enemy's table and waits.

Today's poem arose all on its own, without a prompt. It draws on some classical midrash about Elijah.

Had Gadya is a Passover song. Mitzrayim means Egypt, though it relates to the word root meaning narrow, so it can be rendered as "The Narrow Place."


Daily April poem: à la New York school



It's the twenty-first of April (and
the same in Nisan, though
more than three thousand years separate
the Gregorian calendar from the Jewish one)
also the seventh day of Passover, sixth
day of the Omer, Patriot's Day though
only in Massachusetts, Marathon Monday
though only in Boston, city
of duck boats and blooming tulip magnolias,
Charlie cards and the neon CITGO sign,
where I first closed my eyes in rapture
over creamy North End cannoli,
hint of pistachio on the tip of my tongue.

What kind of New York School poem
mentions Boston? Do I betray
the cramped Lower East Side apartment
where my immigrant grandparents
settled with my mother, younger then
than my son is now? But they set out
for McKinney and Temple, Texas towns
not known for their bagels, though
in the big city of San Antonio
thirty years later someone would sell
"Shalom Y'all" trivets painted
in the Guadalajaran style. They missed
subways, pastrami piled on Jewish rye.

Me, I'd give my eyeteeth for a decent taco --
carnitas with fresh cilantro and red onion,
or Panchitos' chilaquiles with cheese
beside creamy refritos and fried potatoes
each perfectly crisp coin yielding
to pillowy interior -- though
I'm not sure what eyeteeth are, whether
I'd need them to eat the meal in question.
Some day like Wil Wheaton I'll tweet
"New York, I am in you" on my iPhone
and watch my son's eyes grow wide
at the sight of more cars and taxis
than he's ever imagined in his rural life.

But it's not my Jerusalem, the city
into which one ascends as though in a dream.
Even Jerusalem isn't my Jerusalem sometimes.
Am I the quintessential Diasporan, discontent?
No: give me a cat and a sunbeam, a few
crumbs from a Pesach almond cake
and a keyboard to write a poem on
and I'm happy as a clam at high tide --
a treif metaphor, odd from a rabbi
but I contain multitudes, like the crowds
lining the marathon route today
three hours to my east, in the city
of Irish pubs and Fenway, Boston strong.

Today's prompt at NaPoWriMo invited the writing of a poem in the style of the New York School of poets. They linked to Thom Donovan's recipe for doing so. His list features 23 items to consider including; I think I managed about half of them. 

I'm a big fan of the New York School, ever since studying with David Lehman at Bennington (and reviewing his book The Last Avant-Garde, about the New York School, fof Pif) so I had a blast with this prompt.


Daily April poem: in a family member's voice



Because we had to hurry
to go through the river
and our bread fell off our backs.
I was an Israelite.

I love the daffodils best.
They're all growing.
That's what spring is.
Matzah is a kind of bread.

There's water on this side
of the bridge. And on
the other side too. I think
over there is a different river.

Today's prompt at NaPoWriMo invites us to write a poem in the voice of a family member. One of the suggestions they offer is one's four-year-old niece. I opted for the voice of our four-year-old son.

The first stanza contains his explanation of why we eat matzah at Passover. And we did actually walk over a bridge of flowers this morning.


Daily April poem: named after a seashell


Once I would have woken at three
to see our planet's shadow
carving a black crescent.

To watch her face disappear
only to return, round and red
as though hiding aroused her.

But after the year
of night wakings,
breasts full as the moon

I don't want to see
the numbers on the digital clock
creeping unavoidably toward day.

I hear she was coy, anyway --
did the striptease
behind a billowing sheet of cloud.

Today's NaPoWriMo prompt invited us to write poems inspired by the names of the seashells on the list. I was drawn immediately to the shell named "incised moon," and thinking of the moon being incised or carved-away made me think of the recent lunar eclipse.

(My friend David and I wrote something about the eclipse -- about the tetrad of eclipses, on four Jewish holidays in a row, and how we might interpret them -- which is online here: Four eclipses; four worlds; four holidays; four holy perspective shifts.)

If anyone knows what an incised moon seashell looks like, link me? I tried searching but haven't been able to find a photo, and now I'm curious...


Daily April poem: a ruba'i (with bonus Torah commentary)



God, do You ever grow weary, snap at Your children, say
things you regret once they leave Your mouth and we shrink away?
Slice the words off before they're spoken. Revise Yourself
into lovingkindness. Be the One we call on when we pray.


In today's NaPoWriMo prompt we're invited to write a ruba'i, a four-line stanza with an AABA rhyme scheme. (A series of these is called a rubaiyat.) Mine arose out of the Torah reading for this Shabbat. This week's passage contains the Thirteen Attributes, which we recite in our liturgy on Yom Kippur. But our liturgical use revises the Torah text in an interesting way.

In Torah God is described as "compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness, extending kindness to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and trangression and sin -- yet not remitting all punishment, but visiting the iniquity of parents upon children and children's children, upon the third and fourth generations." Our sages chose to leave out the part after the dash, so that when we call upon God in prayer, we're calling upon the positive attributes, not the negative one.

I've often been asked about the "visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children" verse. I read it as descriptive rather than prescriptive. It's a psychological truth: parents who don't do their own spiritual work will almost inevitably replicate their patterns and their traumas in parenting their children, who will replicate them in turn when they become parents. Parents who do the inner work they need to do -- which our tradition calls teshuvah, re/turning-toward-God -- are more able to break those cycles.

Sometimes the God of Torah speaks from a place of anger. As a parent, I choose to read those passages as God learning to parent on the job, as it were. Sometimes frustration overcomes the intention to speak kindness. But in my understanding of God, the lovingkindness and compassion are always there, even when God speaks harshly. And we, made in the divine image, have the divine capacity to revise ourselves each day into the people we mean to be. That's what these seven weeks of the Omer are for.


Daily April poem(s): one about coffee, one about wine


cold coffee splashes
over half-moons of ice

scattering splenda
into the morning air

-- far from the thick mud
scented with cardamom

which I drank from thimbles
beneath vaulted ceilings --

this is sweet and milky
thin as a rain puddle

ice knocking the glass
like muted wind chimes


vinho verde winks
promising a good time
beneath cheap eyeshadow

Today's NaPoWriMo prompt invites the writing of a poem which uses three of the five senses. After a while it became clear that my first draft needed to split into two poems, so I wound up with one longer one, one shorter one. The short poem doesn't really fulfill the prompt, but I like it anyway.

Moadim l'simcha -- for those who are celebrating Pesach, I hope your festival is full of rejoicing! And for those who are counting the Omer, happy second day of the Omer -- the day of gevurah she'b'chesed, boundaried strength within lovingkindness.



Daily April poem: ten lies


We didn't open the door for Elijah last night.
Miriam's Cup wasn't full of living waters.

The hidden matzah languished, unlooked-for.
Costumes for the pageant never left their box.

No one asked about the seder plate stowaways.
We decided to skip all of the poetry.

I didn't wake to the melody of imagined trumpets
summoning me to join the pilgrimage.

When I close my eyes, I don't see my ancestors.
No glimpse of my great-grandchildren up ahead.


Today's NaPoWriMo prompt invited us to write a ten-line poem in which each line is a lie.

The couplet about the imagined trumpets is a reference to the melodic motifs of festival nusach, the melodic mode used for chanting prayer on the Three Pilgrimage Festivals.



Daily April poem: terza rima



You stand beside and sing the words with me.
I did the same in Texas years ago.
How is this night different? Come and see.

My childhood seders aren't for you to know.
You draw an orange on your seder plate.
What will you remember as you grow?

You're bleary-eyed: we kept you up too late.
I can't regret allowing you your glee
at finding hidden treasure. Now I wait

to see what sticks. What matters most to me
is that you come to love the telling too.
Once we were slaves to Pharaoh; now we're free.

The songs, the story -- they're my gift to you.


Today's prompt at NaPoWriMo asks us to try terza rima, a form featuring three-line stanzas with a specific rhyme scheme.

My poem arises out of last night's seder, which was wonderful in so many ways. Chag sameach / happy holiday to all who celebrate!


Daily April poem: for #blogExodus, "Be"


BlogexodusWhat do you want to be?
Have you always known?
Can you imagine the becoming?
What would it feel like?
Would you carry your body differently?
How would you walk in the world?

Will you be at a seder tonight?
Will you pay attention to your heart?
Do you know to what you've been enslaved?
Are you ready to leave Mitzrayim?
What do you need to jettison?
Can you promise not to tarry?

What will you do when you reach the sea?
Will you curse the day you took the risk?
Will you berate those beside you?
Wish for your comfortable straitjacket?
Or will you stride into the waters?
Can you trust that they will part?

Do you see what this holiday is about?
Do you see what this poem is about?
What do you yearn for?
And what do you yearn for?
And what do you yearn for?
It's right here, waiting for you.

Today's NaPoWriMo prompt invites us to write a "twenty questions" poem, in which every line but the last is a question. I combined that with today's #blogExodus prompt, "Be," and this is what resulted.

Today's the last day of #blogExodus. Pesach begins tonight. I will miss this daily spiritual discipline of paying attention to the journey leading to Pesach! But starting tomorrow night I'll get to enjoy a different discipline, the forty-nine days of Counting the Omer. (Stay tuned for more about that tomorrow.)

If you are celebrating Pesach tonight, I wish you a sweet and meaningful festival of freedom.


This post is part of #blogExodus, a daily carnival of posts / tweets / status updates relating to themes of Passover and Exodus, created by ImaBima. Find other posts via the #blogExodus hashtag.

Daily April poem: for #blogExodus, "Change"


Blogexodusslavery into freedom
midwives into dissidents
basket into ark
Hebrew into prince
babbler into stutterer
boy into man
overseer into corpse
bush into flame
was into will-be
fugitive into emissary
staffs into snakes
Nile into blood
darkness into light
Pharaoh's heart into stone
Pharaoh's daughter into God's
no into yes
dough into matzah
Sea of Reeds into birth canal
mourning into dancing
degradation into praise

This poem draws on the outlines of the story of the Exodus as told in Torah, as well as in midrash. For instance: "babbler into stutterer" is a reference to the midrash about Moshe and the coal, and "Pharaoh's daughter into God's" is a reference to the story which holds that Pharaoh's daughter changed her named to Batya -- bat Yah, "daughter of God" -- when she left Egypt with Moshe and the assembled multitudes.

The Mishna teaches that וצריך להתחיל בגנות ולסיים בשבח - when we tell the story of the Exodus at Pesach, we begin with degradation and end with praise. At its heart, the Pesach story is a story about change: once things were that way, now they are this way. Once we were slaves; now we are free.


This post is part of #blogExodus, a daily carnival of posts / tweets / status updates relating to themes of Passover and Exodus, created by ImaBima. Find other posts via the #blogExodus hashtag.

Daily April poem: for #blogExodus, "Redeem"


BlogexodusRedemption is the sensory impression
of leaving slavery, throngs shoving
toward the parted seas.

The redemption project was originally created  
by Malachi's promise to turn parents' hearts
to their children, children to their parents.

What do the beating of the heart and redemption
have in common? Both are signs of God's presence
close as my own pulse.

We are taught from an early age
that there are four basic redemptions,
one for each cup of wine at the seder.

Employing scientists to tweak ratios
to optimize redemption, we settled on
six parts compassion to four parts kindness.

Watch the official redemption online!
Redemption may be the most complicated.
Redemption is already here.

Today's NaPoWriMo prompt is a fascinating one:

Pick a common noun for a physical thing, for example, “desk” or “hat” or “bear,” and then pick one for something intangible, like “love” or “memories” or “aspiration.” Then Google your tangible noun, and find some sentences using it. Now, replace that tangible noun in those sentences with your intangible noun, and use those sentences to create (or inspire) a poem.

I chose "taste" and -- working from today's #blogExodus prompt -- "redemption." And then I took the resulting sentences and reshaped them into a poem.

The stanza about Malachi is a reference to the haftarah, or prophetic, reading for today. Today is Shabbat HaGadol, "The Great Shabbat." My friend Reb Jeff wrote a terrific post about that: The Great Sabbath, Elijah's Cup, and the Unkept Promise.


This post is part of #blogExodus, a daily carnival of posts / tweets / status updates relating to themes of Passover and Exodus, created by ImaBima. Find other posts via the #blogExodus hashtag.