Daily April poem: for #blogExodus, "Count"


Soon we'll start to count each day
the weeks until first harvest.
Not grain; instead, discernment.
Refine away the heart's dross
on this labyrinth's curved path.
When we get to forty-nine
will we be poised to receive?

Since today's #blogExodus prompt was "count," I thought immediately of the counting of the Omer, which begins next week on the second night of Pesach. What better example of counting than that measured journey of forty-nine days between Pesach and Shavuot, liberation and revelation?

I wanted to work with some kind of syllabics, since that's an interesting form of poetic counting. I did some reading, and learned about the Filipino form called the tanaga, which has four lines of seven syllables each. I decided to try my hand at a poem with seven lines of seven syllables, like the Omer's seven weeks of seven days.


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.

Shabbat shalom!

Daily April poem: for #blogExodus, "Leave"


BlogexodusAs though it were easy.
Just sling my jacket
over my shoulder
and head out the door.

As though it didn't mean
walking away
from every awful certainty
I've ever known.

I didn't want to belong
to power, instrument
of an unknown agenda.
Forgot how to be anything else.

And what if
my fears are right, if
there are no benevolent arms
to greet me on the other side?

The time to strike
is when the opportunity presents.
Full moon to light the way.
Ahead, unknown terrain.

You want me to trust
I can be more than this.
Strong enough
to choose to believe.

This poem comes out of today's #blogExodus prompt, "Leave."

It's informed by a variety of things, from Hasidic teachings about the Exodus to fiction I've recently read.

Only four more days until Pesach. Are we ready to leave the complacency of our old lives and plunge into something new?


Daily April poem: for #blogExodus


BlogexodusWhy is this night different from all other nights?
    Don't we know the answer to that already?
Why are they called "the four questions"
    when it's really one question with four answers?

Do you believe we were slaves to a Pharaoh in Egypt?
    That we cried out to God and God heard us?

That the Holy Blessed One lifted us out of there
    with that mighty hand and outstretched arm?
Does the archaeological record support any of this?
    Wouldn't we know if Hebrews had built the pyramids?
If the Angel of Death passed over the bloody lintels
    why didn't the Egyptians just imitate the Hebrews?

Does it matter if the Exodus actually happened?
    Does it matter to whom? Who's asking?
Is the story untrue if it isn't history?
    If I say I love you, is that true or false?
Why do we keep repeating this narrative?
    What does that say about who we think we are?

Today's #blogExodus prompt is "Ask." So today's daily poem takes the form of a series of questions. Some of them are questions I've actually been asked -- including a few by Hebrew school students this very week.

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: a Pesach sestina for #blogExodus


BlogexodusIt's time to unearth the haggadot again.
Scour the countertops before the night
we'll gather around the table, all
ears to hear the story our people tell:
once were slaves, now we're free -- that's why
the songs and foods and prayers: come and learn.

The sages say there's always more to learn
even if you're wise, discerning, have studied again
the details of the Exodus, even why
Akiva and his fellows stayed up all night.
Explain matzah, maror, paschal lamb. Tell
your children on that day, our ancestors all

were lifted up, and not them alone, but all
the generations to come, including ours. Learn
the lessons this tale comes to teach. Tell
yourself: if you're in that narrow place again
there's always hope for better. Tonight
we sing the story that makes us who we are, why

this night is different: why matzah, why
we recline, eat bitter, dip parsley in tears, all
the customs of the seder night.
The orange on the plate, to help us learn
all have a seat at the table. Now again
we make the tale our own, tell

old truths in new metaphors. It's a tell:
do you feel for the Wicked Son? (Why
does he get the bad rap for asking, again?)
Or the Good Son, memorizing all
the halakhot of Pesach: will you learn
with love as he did? Or maybe tonight

you feel like the Simple Son: "this night,
why is it special?" And you shall tell
your child on that night -- listen and learn,
the "you" is feminine, mama's job to explain why --
it's because of what God did for me, for all
of us, bringing us out of slavery again.

Seder night with One Who doesn't yet ask why:
tell that child what you cherish, all
the stories we learn, transform, repeat again.

Today's #blogExodus prompt is "learn." I thought it would be fun to write a sestina about the themes of learning, repetition, asking and telling which are so integral to Pesach.

The poem references a number of things which are in the traditional haggadah, among them the story of Akiva and his fellows staying up all night until the bedtime shema, the Four Sons, "we were slaves to a Pharaoh in Egypt," "You shall tell your child on that day..." and "even if we were all wise, discerning, learned, scholars of Torah..." -- the passage which reminds us that no matter how much we think we know about Pesach and the story of the Exodus there's always more to learn.


Daily April poem - a love poem


Over the years your staples have slipped
and pages loosened. Here a faded purple crescent
of ancient wine, there a smudge
from bricks of date paste.
But when you speak I swoon. Tell me again
how we were slaves to a Pharaoh in Egypt
but the Holy One brought us out from there
with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.
Sing to me of unleavened bread, of parsley
dipped in bitter tears. Remind me
if I wait until I feel fully ready
I might never leap at all. Waltz me giddy
through psalms of praise. Promise me
next year a world redeemed.


Today's prompt at NaPoWriMo invites the writing of a love poem to an inanimate object. I chose the object which is the primary focus of my attention this week as Pesach approaches: my haggadah.

The first draft naturally came to sixteen lines; when I printed it out and read it aloud, I realized that if I tightened it a little bit I could get it down to a sonnet's fourteen lines, so that's what I did. Though it doesn't rhyme and has no meter, it's loosely based around the Petrarchan sonnet form -- it breaks naturally into eight lines followed by six lines.

I do love the haggadah. All of them. Every version, every iteration, from the most traditional to the most avant-garde. Variations on a theme which never fails to stir my heart. My favorite holiday is almost here!



Daily April poem - inspired by what's outside the window


Bare branches splay across egshell sky
inviting the tiny caress of squirrel feet,
the sharp peck of a bird, seeking.

Parked cars rest, awaiting orders.
Electricity races invisibly
through unmoving power lines.

Rooftops have shed their winter coats.
Skylights blink owlishly at the sun,
unaccustomed to exposure.

And at the horizon, hills
the muted purple of sugared gumdrops
waiting to be popped into my mouth.

Today's NaPoWriMo prompt invites us to look outside the window, record nouns and verbs and colors, and then weave them into a poem. This is my result -- both a description of what I see outside the window, and an encapsulation of the kind of quiet stillness which can come over a residential neighborhood on a Sunday afternoon.


Daily April poem: a "golden shovel"


The same molded plastic chairs, there 13539805114_082146888b_n
as everywhere: in this way it is
like the nearby market stalls, though nothing
is bought or sold. We come to pray, to
pour out our hearts. Look,
on the men's side they leap for joy, at
ease with their voices. Here any
vocalization is quiet, more
a whisper than a cry. Everything
I want to say to God blocks my words. Has
She noticed how her children have been
at each other's throats? When I've seen
enough I back away and return to
where once a carpenter faced his death.

Today's prompt at NaPoWriMo is to write a "golden shovel," a form invented by Terrance Hayes. The way it works is this: take a short poem; break it up so that each word is its own line; and then write a new poem in which those are the end-words.

I chose a short poem called "Tourists" by DH Lawrence. (You can read it by reading the last word on each line of my poem, from top to bottom. Or you can find it on this list of poems for people with short attention spans.)

There's a custom of departing from the Kotel (also known as the Western Wall) by walking backwards, rather than turning one's back on the holy place. It is only a short walk from there to the Via Dolorosa.

Photo source is my own photostream again.


Daily April poem: a series of lunes

13408287575_f81cbd47bb_nWAKE-UP CALL

Four-thirteen AM:
the call to prayer glides
into my ear.

God is greatest!
Another voice joins the song
point and counterpoint.

I bear witness
that there is no other
God but God!

Handful of stones
thrown into a still pond
make intersecting ripples.

In my bed
I think: hear, O Israel --
God is One.

When I sing
morning prayers I will remember
this sharp yearning.

One by one
the loudspeakers cease crying out.
Listen: church bells.

The day four prompt at NaPoWriMo is to write a lune, a three-line poem intended to do in English what a haiku does in Japanese. They suggested that we work with the form developed by Jack Collum, which features stanzas of three words, five words, three words.

Just last week I was in Jerusalem marveling at the early-morning sounds of the Old City (see Staying somewhere new). That's what sparked this poem. (The photo accompanying the poem is my own.)

You can read about the adhān here at Wikipedia.

"Hear, O Israel -- God is One" is a slight abbreviation of the shema.


Daily April poem: "faces in the street"


he doesn't meet my glance, the man
whose tallit is draped like wings

on his way to morning prayer
on my first day back

when I walk round-eyed
into the old neighborhood, greeting

the grandkittens of the feral cats
the three-year-old used to feed

these limestone buildings
are my minyan, witnessing

my murmured prayer of gratitude
for years of absence, and for return

Today's poem was written to a prompt at 3030 poetry -- "faces in the street." It comes out of the experience of waking early, my first morning in Jerusalem, and going for a walk to my old street before breakfast. I love seeing people walking to Shabbat morning prayer with their tallitot flying behind them in the breeze. That never happens where I live, so it's a sight I associate entirely with Jerusalem. I struggled a bit to find the right title for this poem, and settled on "stranger" -- hoping it would reflect both the man in the poem, and the narrator of the poem, which is to say, me.



Daily April poem for NaPoWriMo: based on a non-Greco-Roman myth


Vaster than any known creature who lives in the deep!
Prayers encircle your horns. Light shines from your eyes.

Most of all you are lonely: God reconsidered your power
and killed your companion, salting away her flesh

as a feast for the righteous at the end of time.
These are the stories we whisper where you can't hear.

Each day you eat a whale whole and drink the Jordan down.
Maybe it's your fault there isn't enough water anymore.

To the dispossessed, the defending army is a leviathan
destroying homes with a flick of its mighty tail.

To the other side, the riotous rabble are numerous
as the scales on leviathan's back, deadly as its toothy maw.

Can that story change, or are we locked like bullets
into the rifled helix which points to the fearsome day

when the triumphant will stitch a sukkah from your skin
when we will have slain the greatest mystery of the sea?

The April 2 NaPoWriMo prompt suggests the writing of a poem arising out of a non-Greco-Roman myth. I chose Leviathan - drawing on a number of different midrash about the great sea-creature, many of which are cited in its Wikipedia entry (to which I just linked.)

Of course, since I am still processing my recent trip to Israel and the West Bank, thinking about leviathan's might and power led me to thinking about how each side in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict sees the other as the powerful aggressor, so that's in this poem too.


Daily April poem for #NaPoWriMo, and #blogExodus 1 - Believe


    How much is us? Why shall we not
    in such burning place live out our allotments?

    nothing looks good on paper

    if you can tame it, you can have it

    -- from "Not This Mouth" by Jasper Bernes

the heart hot with shrapnel
where a man shot a baby in her carriage
where a man shot a child who held a stone

the belly twisting sour
where those people hung their hateful flag
its colors like a stick in my eye

the mind which insists
there is only one story and it is ours,
lists our traumas, every one their fault

the spirit lofted toward God
by the air of this holy place
which only we should breathe

can we tame our animal hatreds
and escape this constriction
I want to believe

BlogexodusThis year, National Poetry Writing Month and #blogExodus start at the same time. This is something of a brain-bender for those of us who are active both in the poetry-writing world and the preparing-for-Pesach world. (It's not like I have anything going on this month or anything.)

Given that these two things are overlapping this year, I don't know that I can promise that I'll manage both on a daily basis. (I don't know that I'll manage either on a daily basis!) But we'll see where things go.

The first NaPoWriMo prompt invited us to click through to the Bibliomancy Oracle and see what quote we got, and then to write a poem sparked by that quotation. The first blogExodus theme is "believe." I just went on a very intense Dual Narrative Trip to Hebron (about which I wrote a rather lengthy post, but which is still on my mind).

Today's poem came out of all of these.