Converting to Judaism

The Oys and Joys of Choosing A Jewish Life

Poems

Box

They asked her to be creative and handed her a box.

A small white box with stiff cardboard sides and said

Fill this

With you.

So she starts to bend it

But reprimanding hands reach over.

No stop.

This is not what the maker wants.

You. You in this box.

So she steps into it and her feet can barely fit as the rest of her rolls off the sides

No no they say.

Out.

She reaches into her pocket and pulls out a handful of letters

Black and bold and glaring and throws them into the box as they clatter to the bottom

Agjyuwncmdalrgy

NO STOP. PUT YOURSELF IN THIS BOX AND ONLY YOURSELF AND ONLY THIS MUCH. GET OUT.

So she shakes the letters out and sits with the box a long time,

Placing her hand palm down on its smooth bottom and letting the heat sap into it, warming its edges.

She leaves it under a tree and sun dust begins to collect at the bottom and bird droppings and dewy rain.

She breathes through its cracks listens to it inhale her breath before letting it go.

You cannot make me.

****************************************************************************************************************

The Scapegoat

One day, a scapegoat arose.

So we tied a red thread around his neck and called him Mr. President,

Forgetting that about 5 out of 10 people surrounding us are the ones who sentenced us to death.

 

We forgo collective redemption in favor of pushing our leader off a cliff

We forget how to recognize sin in ourselves and how to forgive

We forget

 

We hurl all our hatred at a man reduced to an object

Tiny hands

Monster

Cheeto

Devil

 

We forget

That the people around us elected a human

A flawed human to do their flawed will.

And his will takes us over the cliff with him

Strung together along a chain of red threads

If we refuse, we choke.

 

Plus, how can the rest of the world attain its salvation

If we don’t sacrifice our nation for the others?

 

You see? We have remembered what it means to be Jewish.

It is to lose.

****************************************************************************************************************

Doer

I am a practical doer of things.

I can sew a button

Start a fire

And navigate by the north star.

I am content to sit and tell you that silk is hard to mend and good kindling must be dry and constellations are dependent on the seasons.

But

I will not sit and let the heavens continue to rotate around me while you use words to destroy humanity.

I will gather the strings of stars and hurl them into your eye sockets until they burn you from the inside out

SEE

The imperative infinitive form that has been happening but is not yet complete

I will speak it into existence.

There is a fire that has been started and it burns and it will not be doused.

We will all wander, directionless.

Though the eye of this doll is a button,

A button for a button is still an eye.

So I mend, silently screaming as I watch you smear the stars together and block out the light.

****************************************************************************************************************

The Pilegesh

She texts me in the early hours of the morning to tell me that the trial has been scheduled and does she have to go because dear God she won’t she doesn’t want to she can’t see his face again.

She is unnamed

In this story as in others.

פילגש בתך

The unnamed woman is your daughter. You have raised her up as a sacrifice, but there is no divine hand to free her from her fate. She lives within each of your children, her tears clinging to the edges of their eyelashes. She is blood of your blood and flesh of your flesh and try as you might to hold her close, she ventures across the sea and careens into the sky where the tips of her outstretched wings are singed by the sun before they begin to melt.

פילגש שלנו

She is our unnamed woman. She scrapes at our door, half collapsed, wholly beaten, a hand stretching for the door frame. My phone buzzes with a frantic text from half a world away.

Please help.

Something has happened.

Notifications for the clinic, the police, relatives, all while her breath slows.

פילגש שלי

She is my unnamed woman. I load her onto the back of a donkey, shlep her to and from doctor’s appointments, my tongue tripping over trivial nonsense: I’ve been there, you’ll get through this, it gets better, how was therapy, you have to eat.

Call me I love you.

פילגש אני

I am the unnamed woman. Her hurt woven into my own memory, her pain my pain. My memory becomes her present as the past sneaks around my shoulder and breathes hotly into my ear. Intimacy violated in an unspoken, dark, disturbing way. The broken sacredness of that closeness that will never be whole again.

פילגש אנחנו

We are the unnamed woman. We have killed her through our silence while we sleep, and when we rise, her life force has bled all over the ground. The pieces that remain are scattered to the twelve corners of the Earth, obscured by the dust that shrouds our blood and blots out our names.

God would cry if he could see, but he is not watching.

So you carry your pilegesh, on your back, in your heart, behind closed eyes, her name on your lips.

****************************************************************************************************************

Scene From Above

I stand before my reflection,

Reflecting that this depiction of my self is incomplete,

contemplating tradition.

Tradition.

The word bounces off the tiled walls and ricochets in my head,

mixed with the notes of a fiddler perched just out of sight.

High above my head You sit

looking down at my fiddling thoughts

uncovered and bare for You too see.

So I cover them gently,

hiding myself from your view

and as I slip from your sight the last part of my being slips into place

and I am whole.

****************************************************************************************************************

The Things You Taught Me

When you fell into our lives, you fell into my heart.

We’d barely dusted you off before you began to touch the lives of hundreds,

your influence spanning a thousand times your wingspan.

Then just as suddenly, you were gone,

but not before you left a set of bird tracks on my soul.

These are the things you taught me.

After a hard fall, keep fighting.

Take life in small doses.

Don’t be afraid to get your feathers wet,

though if you’re going to get soaked, bring a trash bag and a smile.

Stop and feel the sunshine- get ruffled by the breeze.

Fruit smoothies make everything better.

Stubbornness will only get you so far.

Love at first sight- it’s real.

In death, you return to the ground, surrounded by life,

where wings become roots and roots become leaves and leaves are home to wings.

The things you’ve taught me will teach millions.

I let them drift into the sky and hang suspended among the clouds,

strung along the stars.

And I thank you, my feathered friend.

****************************************************************************************************************

Red Yarn

I somehow managed to weave all the love in the world into a single ball of red yarn.

Yet when I search the depths of my soul, I find the skein just keeps unwinding.

I thread my affections between your fingers,

a promise binding us together,

and you laugh as my lovingness gets all tangled up.

You shake the strands into a jumbled mess in my lap,

then gently take this mess of threads and rewind them,

a comforting assurance in your steady repetitive motions.

Chagrined, I begin to knit a scarf in the shape of the future.

One that will never wrap around your neck to keep you warm because this scarf is not meant for you.

You settle in next to me,

pressing against my side and letting my fingers work in their dexterity,

humming a low melody.

Your calm settles around me,

seeping into my soul the way the darkness steals over the hills at dusk.

As my fingers move in their predetermined pattern,

forming row after row of unbounding affection,

I let your fingers trace over my arm

because in the end I know that they’ll outline the truth somewhere among the freckles.

See?

You peel back my skin that you’ve traced,

cradling a paper cutout of my heart

in your warm, tense hands.

****************************************************************************************************************

Lover At Sunset

You shroud yourself behind layers of dark filmy clouds that are a deep kind of periwinkle,

blushing,

peering around their ragged edges with your warm delightful glow.

Suddenly you’re shining,

unabashed,

in full view for the whole world to see,

and I have to avert my eyes because your beauty is so dazzling and painfully breathtaking.

Contrite,

you slip back on your wispy coverings.

You would stay longer, but mama always said nothing good ever happens after sundown.

So you slide below the horizon, dragging some of your garments with you

tinting their edges with your golden light and beauty.

The brightest remnants of your soul are threaded along the clouds that linger over the edge of forever,

shielding you from night’s cold touch.

All that is left is a reddish glow,

and the echo of a sailor’s delighted sigh rising up to the heavens.

****************************************************************************************************************

The Boy Who Holds My Heart

He is not my lover.

He snagged a strand of my soul with his smile

and just kept reeling me in from there.

Somewhere, a bright new spool of red thread is just unwinding,

And somewhere else, we’ve reached the end of our rope, and all that remains is a bone-white bobbin.

Or, worse yet, the thread snaps, and I’m left clutching at two frayed edges.

Over the years, I’ve been knit together-

A meshed, knotted net of people sewn into my flesh,

Composed mainly of loving strands that have been carefully nurtured.

Worn, restitched, strong.

The boy who holds my heart cut our braided knot with the sharpest silvery shears

Clean, crisp, done.

Final goodbyes

Leaving pinpricks in this woven tapestry I call my heart.

The boy who holds my heart.

He is not my lover.

He is my friend.

****************************************************************************************************************

Emptiness

The absence of self from the vibrating web of a world.

I picture it.

I drink in my poisonous convictions with huge gulps, letting their acrid fluid burn down my throat and simmer under my skin

Cleansing me until I’m hollow.

Better off without her, without her, without her, without her.

A resounding echo should careen around the empty space I’d leave behind.

But instead, sound rushes to fill the space,

Like a footprint along the shoreline that is filled with sand as the waves rush to kiss the earth,

And you never even know there was a hole there in the first place.

Strands reknit, waves resound,
My name, like a blemish, fades from the face of this earth.
This little scrap of your soul is my solace.

****************************************************************************************************************

Lying

As I lay down on the bed-

big, flurry handfuls of it-

I scatter your preconceptions of the English language to the wind

And blot out the error with fistfuls of white.

****************************************************************************************************************

Bottled Memory

I offer you a memory

Glistening, contained, and a little skewed because it is not mine.

But then again, what kind of memory isn’t warped a little around the edges?

This one, we view through a thick, veined layer of glass

Tainted by childhood

Dusted with time

And scraped with life experience.

I add my own details to a world that I have only glimpsed only through a looking glass.

There is a little room filled with moving boxes-

A one-room apartment in a country that is stifled by heat.

The boxes, piled up, tower around this family

And this girl

Small and happy.

Because in surrounding herself, she feels safe

Cozy

Warm

Loved.

The suffocation of the cardboard

Smothers her in a warm embrace,

the black characters on the sides define the building blocks for her world, her city of skyscrapers.

To her, this world is perfect.

This perfection is the world.

I see only what I remember of a remembering. And then I fill in the gaps with my own detail. A shaft of sunlight. A sharp word that goes unnoticed by a playing child. A stray fly caught in this web of memory.

Now, it is yours

To remember as you wish.

****************************************************************************************************************

Drunk on Words

I stumble back onto the scene:

a street shining with new fallen rain.

Words cupped in my hands, dripping from the edges of my fingers

As I twirl madly round to look for a song that was whistled behind me

A cat call?

Nah.

I had an epic story poised on the tip of my tongue for my triumphant return

But I seem to have drowned it out with a sour taste of forgetfulness.

A bow, an exit

And good night.

****************************************************************************************************************

Woven Strands

Tonight, I want to write something beautiful.

I want to find words that enrapture your soul and weave them around your fingertips until your hands are covered in glowing golden strands of your own heartbeat, pulsating in this mitten I’ve knit with the stardust of the universe.

But what’s the point?

My words fall hollow.

They empty my very self before I can fill it up again.

There is a huge hole gaping in my chest, and not all the words in the world can fill it.

I try.

Until I remember that I am alone.

With You.

When I inhale, You empty my self and fill it will your love.

Breath escapes my lips in a tranquil hum,

a slight buzz between my parted lips.

A faint exhale into the darkness, the sound of air moving, nothing more.

In the near silence

The space between words creates a space for You to breathe

And live.

My whole body resonates, humming with your love.

****************************************************************************************************************

Your Name is Cool and Sweet

I sit here letting the cool goo of junior mints envelope my tongue,

trying to taste you.

A remnant of your holiness.

A host of unleavened bread. Manna.

Jewy on the inside.

Like a Bach chorale in the middle of a Mendelssohn symphony turned inside out.

Mints spilling everywhere on my bedspread leave dark stains, circles that spell your name.

THE name. Hashem.

I could read it if only I would stop eating them.

****************************************************************************************************************

Precious Baby Birds

I cup them in my hands.

My dreams.

Tiny fledglings, covered in fuzz,

Flutter their wings, longing to take flight.

I understand now why hope is the thing with feathers.

Because that’s what dreams are made of.

****************************************************************************************************************

The Snake

I stare at it through slitted, venomous eyes-

a hare,

its life force vibrating against me.

I watch despair leaking into its eyes and spilling over their edges into rivulets that glisten with the clarity of desperation.

How I wish snakes could cry.

But they can only shed skin, leaving behind crinkly paper souls

that shrivel and fade.

The sorrow in my breath

catches, lodged in unshed tears.

I can barely breathe.

I wonder how I became this snake of a woman,

coiled around a fragile body, poised to strike.

I desperately wish my prey were far far away-

its nearness lends itself to a fear that becomes tangible.

I taste it, mixed with the irony taste of blood in my mouth.

Something in the damp gray of the afternoon-

the way the geese above fly homeward, melting into a sky that is streaked with the color of their feathers

speaks to my soul and calls me out of darkness.

I look at your twitching nose,

avoiding the broken gaze of a trapped heart beating hopelessly against orbs of shining pain

an apology on my lips

but no words come.

Only a crushing embrace tinged with death

and relief.

****************************************************************************************************************

Frozen River, Damned Heart

Before she could breathe she could sing the winter away until it melted

into puddles beneath her feet.

They spring up into fonts,

summerizing her existence,

before falling back to droplets that rest

between her toes.

Only fear remains suspended,

fogging her breath and dewing her hair-

ice crystals snared within each fiery strand.

Marshall the bears,

Sound the drums.

This is when the winter comes.

****************************************************************************************************************

Message in the Stars

If I could write the parts of my soul into

a letter of sorts

it would be to say that I love you.

That I look at the stars scattered by the wind into star dust

and I see the imprint of your nose.

Your big nose.

And I smile.

****************************************************************************************************************

Past Life

I think in a past life I was an umbrella stand

a bird

and a sun-worshipping aztec

because i still soar with my brass wings stretched across a golden sky

the light caught in the metal claws beneath

and umbrella stands are ugly.

Maybe my soul is still trapped in someone’s feathers

getting ruffled by the breeze while I’m here folded up

over and over again until crumply

ta da

an umbrella.

But wait I’m the stand.

Reincarnation is a tricky thing.

****************************************************************************************************************

Gratitude

dawn of a new day

and my lips are Silent.

The dust from the scattered remains of dead leaves,

dancing their last tarantella,

Create smoky shafts of sunlight as they fill in the gaps in the air left by your breathing

and still,

my day begins in silence.

Without a spoken word between you or me.

in the dirt among death springs a green plant,

leaves reaching for life,

green bathed in yellow sundust,

not silent.

I’m sorry what did you say?

Across the bridge, hands stretching for a door held by a stranger,

the first words of a newborn woman leave my lips.

Thank you.

and spiral into the sun.

Before I close my eyes that night,

my fingers tap out a string of characters that crawl across a glowing screen

and fly to a man who waits.

Thanks.

And now I hear the song the plant sings as she blows in the cool breeze of another morning,

filling the silence.

a cycle of gratitude could heal this world.

****************************************************************************************************************

Glimmering Fragment

I wanted to say something and now I don’t remember what it was.

Something about warmth and familiarity. Words that were in my head moments ago have slunk off into the chilly night, shivering to pieces before they splinter into the air.

It was a warm thought.

Sometimes thoughts fade in and out like flickering lights, like people who wink in and out of your life. A dash of joy, a smudge of buttery happiness on your cheek, and then they’re gone.

I am but a piece of glass that resonates with sunlight, refracting every note. (Sun and song are interchangeable, you see.)  Many notes, thoughts at once

an interwoven cacophony in my mind

blend into a chord

which slowly diminishes and fades.

For a moment I feel

there’s the thought!

and gone.

How frustrating. There’s a darkened relfection of its shadowy imprint on the window, there, there, there! What is it? An elusive tune my mind is humming tonight…

Writing is such a bother sometimes, a means of expression not at all like music. Music allows you to exist and become something more than yourself; writing forces you to probe yourself until you can assemble the fragments in your mind into some sort of corpus.

I can’t seem to catch my breath, let alone recessitate these dying words.


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