Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Morning  After


 blue and clear
nothing to fear
I run along rippling waves
the heart craves
 for gentle lapping near

beyond water’s shimmer
darkness seems to simmer
giants in the distance tall
untouched by mankind’s fall
the sky grows ever dimmer

Ahead a man alone
against his ear a phone
in other hand a gun
glittering in the sun
I stop at border’s twilight zone

will  stranger shoot
not give a hoot
if I live or die
out of the blue,not of sky
 but shadows of the brute

“Good morning,” smiling, with a nod
I return the greeting as I plod
along  walkway on water’s edge
between mother and child wedge
life has returned, I thank,  I laud

Some Master plan away ,afar
a moment’s madness, a bloody bar
mind invaded
reality jaded
on world’s soul,a wound,a scar


Monday, September 21, 2015

Tashlich-casting away

Rosh Hashana-
water lapping jagged  rocks
wiping them clean
of dust and dirt

like a dog’s tongue 
licking with love
leaving  behind wonderful wetness

we empty pockets of leftovers
perhaps long forgotten
moments of coldness,
fear and untouchability

crumbs of callous forgetting
that she too hurts when ignored;
cast them away 
and fill the emptiness with human empathy

Yom Kippur-
Casting casts a frightening net of contrasting consequences
“Al Taslichaynu”-pleas of “Cast us not away”
pierce vaulted sanctuary ceilings
 I feel my “koiach”  seeping out,
of hardening arteries, wrinkled skin,
eyes filmed with fog
ears snatching  muffled 
 waves of sound

is it time to be cast away?
has the moment arrived for God to do some 
housecleaning , to clear away the clutter?

allow us our crumbs, all we have now
is the Rebbe’s ‘sherayim’
the Master’s remaining morsels
rendered holy by divine devotion
like shattered fragments in Your Holy Ark-

 we ask not for more.

not ready to submit 
to  tides that will cast us back into ocean’s depths
swallowed up by the beast of inevitability
a place of eternal darkness

not yet, not yet,

“Al taschlichaynu!”

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Alongside a butterfly

a butterfly followed me today
weaving an invisible wreath of lightness
with his wispy wings
around my heaving body

he floated, shining blackness in
a late afternoon’s
fading sun

and I plodded along a country road
heavy legs of flesh and bone
barely bearing me along the way

She wings by
brushing my sweaty arm
with a silken kiss

my winged companion
flutters ahead
a silent counterpoint
to my gasping breath

oh to be a butterfly, I thought,
recreated,  rewired with willowy wings
From  caterpillar , invisibly  inching along a gravel path
laden with a heaviness of being
to a fluttering flash
in that same waning sun

to feel the fling  of freedom for one fleeting moment,
the lightness of being, the summer air my home.

A New Prayer for the New Year

God gives and God takes
i’ve prayed all my life for God to give
bicycles, beauty, brains-
Can’t ignore
some modest gains
a bicycle waiting for me after school
prayer answered but 
never enough
don’t want stuff-
adoration, love
from those I love.

We pray “please give”-
this year, soul gears in reverse-
please take
O great Receiver,

Weighed down with waste
agonizing anger
jealousies that gyp me out of joy
fear,handmaiden of guilt
grinding  the heart into ground’s dust

in your Omnipotence, accept as gift 
all ruin and refuse of shattered hearts
for you but a trifle, for me, mud-laden  mortal, crushing,
 I totter in drunken stupor  squashing sadness into oblivion

Purify the pollution of my soul
In Your Compassion cast  it into the vastness of the universe,

claim the  compost of my torment 
recycle it as a medley of  joyful melody 

You are the Great Taker
I surrender all toYou
Pain, fear, guilt, hopeless view of tomorrow
let me be without 
the baggage of so much rubbish

I pray I not litter my life in the New Year 
Accept my refuse with ‘rachamim,”

May it be Your will.


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Grateful for the Threefold Blessing of Teshuvah, Tefilah and Zedakah
We all suffer; life is hard , even for those who are blessed with much. Suffering is beyond objective measurement since it is so deeply  a subjective experience as well. Indeed, only the very fortunate few suffer little- sadly, overwhelmingly vast numbers of sentient beings suffer much too much.
Suffering can be alleviated in many ways-multiple resources that help healing, feed the hungry, provide shelter, educate and entertain, make life more just, secure and livable, are available but sorrowfully inadequate to eliminate suffering entirely. Moreover, sources of suffering happen beyond human control-natural disasters, happenstance occurrences, accidents, and a wide array of circumstances that are haphazard and  random.  Suffering’s end seems to be reserved for some distant, eschatological moment in the far away future.
And yet, what most of us pray for, in traditional ways or unconventionally, is the removal of suffering from our lives. We wish to be comfortable, secure, happy. These are the things we desire most, for ourselves and our loved ones.
On the High Holidays, we pronounce a brief statement of instructive prayer.
“U teshuvah”-Repentence
“U tefilah “-Prayer
“U’zedakah”-Deeds of kindness
“Can remove the severity of the decree.”
In earlier translations, the wording was different-”Can avert the evil decree!”
If we pay attention to the wording of this threefold response  to “evil” in this world, the traditional reading-”Can avert the evil decree”- suggesting that the performance of these actions will prevent evil from befalling us, is incorrect.  The text does not read: ‘gezeirah raah’-an evil decree; rather it reads ‘ roah ha’gzeira,’ namely, the severity or negativity of the decree. Therefore, the traditional translation is inaccurate and holds out what I believe to be a false promise. This earlier translation conveys a  literal understanding  of reward and punishment, one that is  is no longer feasible in our contemporary world. To the best of our observations  as rational beings who subscribe to science as a meaningful way by which to deal with painful problems, the quid pro quo relationship between wrongdoing and punishment or doing good and being rewarded by God as a prize for goodness, simply does not work for most of us.  Not only doesn’t it correspond with the our rational observations  of life, it also leads many to suffer unnecessary disappointment and resentment.
 The above triad of responses to the  inevitability of suffering cannot protect us against the decree but it can help lessen its severity and remove those features of life’s many unkindnesses that have the potential for crushing our lives into paralysis or dejection. The threefold spiritual path proclaimed above points  to  ways by which we can come to terms with the inescapable reality of evil over which we often have no control. Further, they guide us to discover a way by which to extract life’s  joy and meaning that can be contained in the  human experience  in spite of its many miseries and atrocities.
Let us examine each approach.
1.Teshuvah-literally, the Hebrew definition of this term is “return.” What do we return to as a means of dealing with life’s unfairness? Traditionally, it represents  a beckoning  to return from ways that have lead us astray back to the right path, back to God’s ways, if you will. 
 ‘Return’ can be understood as a “getting back to basics,” as discerning those dimensions and qualities of life that are essentially simple things, fundamentals of human existence. When we can achieve such awareness of life’s myriad gifts available to all, then this journey of return  to the center of our lives can uphold us and anchor us in our encounter with “evil” and suffering. Even those who suffer most for no apparent rhyme or reason, can discover the tiniest crack through which the smallest glimmer of light can shine through and cast its precious life-enhancing light on the darkness enshrouding  the victim of life’s cruelty. This return to life’s most elementary components-a flower, a blue sky, a gentle breeze, a warming sun, human love- while challenging and seemingly  out of reach in the midst of despair, nevertheless,  contain the seeds of  hope and  relief, well-being and a feeling of gratitude that is self-nourishing and opens the heart to receive the eternal light of the universe’s goodness.

2.Tefilah- Prayer. For me prayer does not mean asking for things .Perhaps for others, in a state of helpless suffering, the possibility or the faith that God will respond in a direct way and alleviate our pain in some miraculous way does provide strength and a potent way by which to soften the blows of life.
I  believe that the prayer of greatest potency is that of praise and thanksgiving, words rooted in gratitude. If one reviews  the  basic prayers of Judaism ie. Amidah, one discovers requests for the fundamentals of life in general and Jewish life in particular. Such gifts as wisdom, healing , justice, prosperity direct our prayerful attention. If we could translate these requests into statements of gratitude for these basic gifts of life both in their reality and potentiality, I feel convinced that prayer can serve as another powerful prong in the triadic path  toward easing the severity of dreadful decrees.The Hassidic  tradition maintains that God showers us with unlimited gifts; the purpose of prayer is to open our hearts to receive them.
Tefilah guides us in a direction that takes us beyond ourselves to God, a transcendent reality, the universe.

3. Zedakah-compassion.
One of the impediments to gratitude is the feeling that it carries with it  an unending obligation  to someone or something. Many dislike the  feeling that they owe something to others; it interferes with our desire for autonomy and self-determination and is seen as onerous, an obstacle in our path to greater ease and joy. Yet, gratitude itself requires only two things-to simply say thank you, and show that what you receive is deeply appreciated and needed, acknowledging the other’s goodness and kindness, which is, in itself, an  act of compassion toward the other. Acting  gratefully is a form of compassionate behavior allowing  one  to recognize that now and after you are gone others will  think of you and your life out of a sense of the very same gratefulness and praise that is expected of you toward others. Gratitude generates love and kindness; awareness that all of life is a gift-even your own hard-working accomplishments-enhances your clarity  and sensitivity to the giftedness and value of other peoples’ lives and our capacity to respond compassionately to all living beings. 
Zedakah’s focus is another human being,  the “ other “ in our relationship to life and the world.
One can say,  gratefulness  is the basic measurement of human morality and compassion. 

An ancient Eastern sage once said:  there are three essentials  of life:
simplicity, patience and compassion.
Judaism would declare:
Teshuvah-return to simplicity.
Tefilah-pray with praise, patiently.
Zedakah- Let gratitude be translated into compassion.
May the severity of any and all decrees be lessened and made  tolerable by the sweetness  of a brand New Year.

Grateful for the Shofar Process

Interpretations of the shofar abound. Saadiah Gaon, a Jewish luminary of the 10th century provided ten cogent and inspiring explanations referred to widely during this High Holiday season.The fascination with the shofar has elicited countless other associations and implications.
I would like to humbly add one more.
The sounding of the shofar represents to me a fundamental spiritual process of change. Each set of sounds, and the Hebrew words that are pronounced to evoke these sounds, point to a psycho-spiritual dimension of this process.
The first sound -Tekiah - is closely related to the condition of being immobile. The Hebrew root word “takoah,” is defined colloquially as ‘stuck.’ We cry out the sound -Tekiah- calling for help, hoping that somehow someone will  throw us a life line, a rope, a cable, and yank us out of the mire of our stuckedness.
How does this experience of pulling ourselves out of the place of feeling that we are trapped, that we can’t make any headway towards a new possibility in our lives, find some resolution internally so that we can begin to feel some looseness, some lightness, some emerging glimmers of freedom?
The shofar process invites us to recognize the next step. “Shevarim”-brokenness, the root word  “shavor,” to break,  contained in the instruction. When we allow ourselves to feel our brokenness, without fear, shame or a sense of inadequacy, then we discover that we can slowly  slip out of place of paralysis and move in the direction of greater openness and acceptance, one which lifts the onus of an intolerable weight from our souls. Moreover, the psychological function of “breaking apart,” of “partializing,” can ease the overwhelmingness of being stuck in a place of over-generalization, of experiencing a  particular life circumstance  as absolute, unchanging and unchangeable. The hardness of ‘Tekiah’, with its rigid and static brittleness can be softened and made nimble  with the permission to be broken, imperfect, incomplete.In the words of Ernest Hemingway,
“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are stronger at the broken places.”

The non-judgmental  awareness  of human imperfection and brokenness allows us to  understand and accept that so much of life is unstable, hanging on a thread, shaky and uncertain. The”Teruah “ comes along-its root-”ra- oah”- wobbly, flimsy, tottering- further instills in our hearts the wisdom of life’s impermanence and fleetingness.  The teruah’s definition of crushing and shattering  takes the three sounds of shevarim and lengthens them to a total  of nine, the parts of life’s puzzle being shattered into even  tinier fragments and components.The picture puzzle of our lives has been disassembled. We stand at the crossroads of a new opportunity to reassemble the broken, shattered fragments of our life.
At last we sound the final note of the shofar process-”Tekiah gedolah!” -the great tekiah ! This  is much more than a temporal length of sound; tekiah’s inherent definition contains the concept of connecting, of plugging into, something of greatness-‘gadol.‘ How do we put back together the pieces of our lives? How do we create a coherent picture of ourselves and life using the myriad components of mind, body and heart?

Tekiah gedolah-the process announces the crescendo instruction of -take heed, pay attention-”shema” -listen carefully to these notes of spiritual dynamic movement, to the greatness and largeness of the universe, and the  inner, infinite , authentic self, the  capacity of the human soul  to achieve greatness , even divinity. Essentially, the lens of this awareness of life’s greatness is linked to our ability to say thank you, to praise in the face of all things. Thus gratitude becomes the spiritual insight by which the disassembled pieces of life’s puzzle can be reassembled  as interlocking  components that  fit into a place of unity and clarity, completing a picture of beauty and security.

Friday, June 19, 2015

I say Kaddish for

I say kaddish for 
my mother -in -law,
her years four score
and eighteen
yet feelings fresh and  raw
life no longer safe,  routine

I say kaddish for
the ashes of an infant
on a crematorium floor
burned up in an instant
swept under the world’s torpor

I say Kaddish for
the ashes of a Jewish warrior
in the bowels  of a twisted tank
curls and smiles no more
sacrifice was his rank

I say Kaddish for
the girl who once hopped , danced and ran
tomorrow will never adore
comforting arms of a man,
rape her initiation, to the world, a whore. 

I say Kaddish for
bulging eyes of a child
overflowing with the  roar
of terror gone wild
wretched from pore to grimy  pore

I say Kaddish for
an empty carriage
without blanket, pillow or toy
the elusive grail of marriage
cuts down life’s branch of joy

I say kaddish for
a father’s dreams
to fill the world with song
instead my mind shatters with screams
at life’s unfairness, choices so wrong.

I say kaddish for
yearnings once so real
possibilities for sure to come true
 but hopes hopped away, like a rabbit on a wheel
or dashing to a thicket, disappearing from view.

I say Kaddish for
The Holy One, no where to be found
push open a  portal , every possible  door
I crawl along each inch of ground
my eyes to heaven soar

Is He shrinking, 
since the world began
What could He be thinking
in a creation of catch as catch can

I say Kaddish for
with praise to fill  the void, the space
each YitgadaL an open door
at the head table, please  take Your Place.

I say kaddish for 
the gush of ire
seeping out of every pore
If only I could fling it on a funeral pyre
so it rises to heaven’s door

it clogs my heart
like plaque in body’s vein
will prayer my soul jump start
to flow like gentle rain 

but prayer is paper thin
as long as hurt chokes every swallow
heart so hard, where to begin
every effort, empty and hollow  

And so the kaddish I recite
attune my ears to every sound
Each day, morning noon and night
some feeling to be found

the same words holy and ancient
say over and over again
counsel to be calm and patient
I cant help but beg Lord tell me when

amidst inner doubt and storm
if to Kaddish  I hold on
no single foe or those who swarm
though they’re encountered hither and yon

can fully rid my belief
in what’s beyond and yet so near
to bring a breaking heart relief
and for one blessed  moment,
 banish hopelessness and fear

Yitkadash-reality of sanctity
B’almah-gift of creativity
V’Yamlich-purpose not living chaotically

Bezman kariv-let it come quickly
Amen-we’ve been waiting oh so patiently
Yehay shemay -we need the Name to live, to be

Mevorach-blessing ,life’s discovery
Leolam-flutters of eternity
Leaylah-all we know is mystery
Shelamah-and finally 
Shalom-all fragments now a unity.

I say kaddish for 


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

From Generation to Generation-For Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Day)

There is a pipeline that runs 
not across the rugged terrain
Of Northern Canada or the wilds of Alaska
But across the tundra of tragic generations,
A pipeline gushing the energy of life,
Genes of fear seeping through placentas
Into innocent bundles of soon to be 
Bawling babies.
The source of this sticky fluid
That clogs the capillaries of clarity and courage 
Lies deep within ancient strata of 
Compressed hatred,
Hatred solidified into the shale of shame and terror
Trickling through seams of a grandmother’s uterus
Coursing through veins bulging with the  borscht of Russian steppes
And the “barakes”
 of the Balkans
These strings of  chromosomes stamping identities of  fear
To the forefront of children’s children
Reaching its evolutionary eruption through smoke stacks belching tender toxins
Of children’s flesh,

And those that live
Are “fracked”  into sources of continuity-
But life’s  liquid has been blackened by the soot of
Jewish skin trapped inside the chimneys
Of refineries wishing to purify Europe’s foul fuel
Of Jewish contaminants-
Yet  the oil of Hebrew babies  flows , emitting the energy 
of  breathing,  learning  and playing, and showing the world hope
But they tremble with the oil  of  terror’s transmission,
One that  stalks the pale and pretty face of my daughter.

I want to go home-for Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Day)

Her new home
she's come a long way, baby
Laura Ashley-
goyish, but gorgeous,
delicate, refined
the smell of  “Waspy” freshness
in every corner-
“It's very clean” she mutters, an accent 
 of some far away location
far away from the shimmering shores of the Hudson river
and so long ago, before her world died,
when she could boast  of a father
with  modern machines who
could crush kernels into
and recite the  mantra of
lines of gentile farmers waiting for
the miracle of a wealthy Jew-

“I want to go home” she declared, eyes blankly looking ahead 
at some dim memory of 75 years ago-
“and where is home” she is asked, fear in the daughter's voice,
lest she reply
“the Queens!”
“Sosnovitch” came the barely audible 
a tiny shtetl
 of carefree days,
not a Jew in sight today, unless 
you dig underground.

Another home, another grey haired lady 
lost in the emptiness of time
upon hearing her plea-”I want to go home!”
a social worker asks, pity and professionalism mingled in a desperate mind,
 “Where is home?
And she answers with a certainty born of confusion


“Unetaneh Tokef”(High Holiday Prayer) For Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Day)

What do angels do?
Each day they agree to praise
In tones gentle and pure, obedient, loyal…
Such calm and serenity
A daily  celestial celebration
Then the New Year arrives..
And angels change their course,
In the heavenly heights,  fidelity gives  way to frenzy
As Angels scurry about,
Chaos , not the chorus of sweet melody,
To praise , to protest, to stay silent?
A day of judgment!
Who shall live and who shall die, and how???

Below mortals in quiet calm of sacred space
Embraced by coziness of family and friends,
And competent clergy, 
God is our  Shepherd , we read,
counting  little lambs shepherded back to safety after a long  day of grassy grazing
Each one passing under His soothing staff, counting and recording each little lamb;
If  one is missing then, like Moses, He  crosses  mountains and valleys 
And  cradled in the arms of the Almighty, little lost ones come  home.

we pass under His rod-
 a crook of compassion.
He will care for us, see to it that tomorrow’s 
Surprises will be pleasant ones-

Another New Year, without synagogue, 
Without heavenly hopes
This time in hell-
The Teuton god carries a stick,  a crook of cruelty 
He too counts and records , but with  the precision of  German 
 Gemeindschaft, the heart of perverted power
Babies in wailing mothers arms pass under the gold tipped staff-
crazed , they arrive at  stone cold enclaves ,
In cars meant for cattle, not fleecy, cuddly lambs!

No rhetorical questions waiting for an answer-
 All will die, some immediately, others too soon-
How? By gas, by fire, by wild beasts who play the part of  kind shepherds
To fool and deceive –
“Arbeit Macht Frei” the sign reads-
the reward for work is freedom-
And if one little lamb is unaccounted for, 
no effort will be spared to find it and bring it back home, home to the wolf’s claws, 
 where it belongs, soon to ascend 
chimney stacks and join the  smoke filled skies-
Angels abound, angels of death,  scurrying  about, with clear minds and hearts-
Doing their duty with reverent obedience
Performing their tasks of terror and death
Joyfully and with melody and song.

Please God-don’t be so meticulous in your 
Accounting of us and your divine record keeping-
Turn away  for a moment , so that we can escape  and hide 

Until liberators arrive and take us back to pens of promise. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Passover-Eating Matzah

“ The world is the host-it must be chewed.”

Was Cheever at my Seder?
Did he see us munch away at the Matzah?
 Matzah, the Jewish host of life, the flesh
of every Jewish christ on earth?
Simple dough and water- dry land and seas,
the everything of this planet,
to be chewed with gusto 
 Satiated on matzah, do we transubstantiate?
Crunching the crispy furrows of cardboard tasting wafers 
into softened mush, the warmth of our tongues watering the dryness
of hearts into living places of feeling and life,
 into the living flesh of  divine beings?

Do we now know the answer to the four questions of life-
why is this night different? 
The Seder we chew on-
tell and retell stories, 
drink the bloody red wine, 
sample sprigs of green,
 ingest the bitterness of human suffering,
 burn the lining of our guts, 
 fill bellies with a banquet of smells and tastes-
so much chewing, our jaws weary and sore,
finally  reclining , satisfied smiles on our reddened faces, we spit out songs of praise and thanksgiving!
Next year in Jerusalem!
 But  for now we clean up and drag our tired bodies to bed,
 and  again, drift into the darkness of night,
but tonight we  know -nirzah, we have chewed the sacrificial meal and it is pleasing to the liberating spirits on high.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A Personal Dayenu-Passover-2015


If I could only wiggle my toes
And know something that no one else knows,

If I could bend my knees,
And see what everyone else sees,

If I could raise my arm,
Holding back from doing harm,

If I could twiddle my thumb
And scratch my bum

If I could bend the  wrist
And my ankle twist,

If I could hear my belly growl
And wipe away a scowl

If I can slide off the bed
And not land on my head

If I can hear birds chirp
and my gut   give out a burp

If I have my teeth to brush
And get dressed in a rush

And let’s not forget,
Hands and face that get wet,

I cannot overlook,
How little effort it took
To open my eyes 
And for my belly to rise

Heart going pitter patter
It’s not some small matter

Breathing in,
Breathing out,
I can sing
I can shout

Roof over my head,
Simply alive and not dead.

I can do it  all  and so much more
To be grateful is the door
To  our joy , our longevity
Happiness and serenity.

Dayenu-we declare
We thank God for our share.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Angel cards

Finger tips slide along
the glossiness
of two tiny cards
Tucked inside so many others, hiding in a 
 black velvet pouch, waiting to be seen in the light
of someone’s hopes,
Not a game of poker, not a game at all

But a guide , words that rouse the  Sabbath soul 
after weekdays heavy toll

Angels walk you home
From synagogue at night
So that you wont get hurt
By muggers on the way
By those who steal  the holiness of time
Wishing  to rob for unknown  reason or rhyme
By the light of a dinner table,
Home at last,
Two little cards,
Like sacred  tablets with one word
To show the way,  lighten up the path
Of treks through wilderness of worry , ways winding  with

With  closed eyes , 
magnifying  mystery , chance,
What word  will arise,
What answer, adventure or romance,
Not prophecies that need come true,
Words of choice,  not happenstance,
But do what  angels do
Climbing ladders,
They take your heart and lead you to what matters

“Shalom aleichem “
we sing
Our guests,  angels coming home
some magic, and some peace they bring
Then off they go to roam
Searching for  the sacred spark
In places cold and dark
For wine that warms
And spongy bread that forms
A family that loves.

Letters  bouncing in my view
The font of faith-PURPOSE,
a sign of Sabbath, a simple clue
A question beyond the surface
life’s essence  is on trial,
where can I find  my soul’s holy smile

I pause  to take the second card, 
A word to forge my fate
What will the next  word have me guard
My life’s goal indicate

Letters carved deep
penetrating, through and through
a font to savor and keep
 my heart makes a lilting  leap
I know its message to be  true

 the word its dictionary  divine
Presents itself  in mysterious fashion
 A way of life yet  to be mine.

 when feeling tired, sad and down
And searching for some solace
In city or in some small  town
Compassion is my talis

It girds me tight,
In measures always  fit
It shines on me the gentle light
Of  precious holy writ.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Beyond all praise

Back from morning prayer
God  praised, again and again
looking everywhere 
to find His hint in the company of men

Again  words declaring
Magnified and Sanctified be your name
Kaddish- worshipers daring
To assure Him of His fame

honored, adored
exalted, acclaimed
toward heaven sounds soared
lofty thoughts  inadequately framed

in a flash, image biting
piercing message, an alarm
father blessing reciting
choking words at life’s harm

wooden boxes in sight
seven in number
angels now taking flight
bodies buried in slumber

children’s smiles and laughter
 now cinder and smoke
infinite pain that comes after
can God’s name one invoke?

“Above all praise”
can these words that follow
drown out dread and the daze
lifting heart, hard  and  hollow

Beyond love and fear
way out of mind’s reach
nothing far, nothing near
can life’s sorrow slightly breach

For a story book ending
we pray God would show
but life  keeps on sending

tiny coffins in a row.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Imagine the day after....

Every now and then
 words pop into my head
words of women and men
to be said after I am dead

my life rolls on before me
I halt it here and there
taking stock of my life’s journey
did I cruise or did I care

I hear them all articulate
pretty much the same
a  fairly decent friend and mate 
heeding  all the rules of the game

good father, and  a husband true,
as rabbi, teacher  grew
to be more honest , test things new
trying hard to be a little more  loving too

an effort made, with poetry,
and many words of  prose
to touch a depth of integrity
its goodness only God knows

to see life as a gift,
 lesson learned a little late
and not make  short shrift
of every open gate

will it matter what they say
I’ll hear them not I’m sure
but to imagine  being ever away
some sadness now can cure

what’s left behind 
is now my focus
so others will find
something genuine, not hocus- pocus

a passing smile
a kindness here and there
without shrewdness and guile

just doing what’s considered fair

Sunday, March 15, 2015

A Patch of Snow

Like an island in a pond of green
a little patch of white thumbs its dirty 
nose and face at the forces of disappearance
by some miracle, 
the sun’s rays, the warming winds,
scraping shovels have missed their objective-
the snow stays, not pure white,
blackened by time’s onslaught
yet still glittering under a clear blue sky

awaiting the clouds.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The dead squirrel

middle of the road
run over scampering for safety 
of giant monster that 
squashes helpless things into nothingness
no longer darting as if driven by ions
racing up tree trunks 
or skipping along branches in search of an acorn,
 a darting flash-gone-
inert, snuffed out, instant death

a photograph;  a far away land,  dirt road, car-less,
a child lifeless, lying alone, distant bystanders, no wailing by his side
 terror has vanished from cherubic face
eyes closed, asleep , feeling nothing,  in the world of darkness,
like the  squirrel
a monster, unseen and sudden,
squeezed  flesh and bones into oblivion

Morning, father and daughter off to school- holding hands,
care-free  eyes, exuberant, laughing, skipping along  not to keep pace
but to keep alive the joy of being alive

The Squirrel

I saw a squirrel this morning
under shopping carts, at the A& P,
without  any warning
scurrying everywhere, seemingly carefree,

for the stray nut
or morsel of food
they do nothing but
they brighten one’s mood

with their speed so jerky
impossible to caress
their movements so quirky
telephone wire homes’ address

not long before,
with a friend at prayer,
not God to implore
but together to share

doubts and dismay
about life and its use
early feelings falling prey
to our minds on the loose

Left with a sigh
surrender to living
so frightened to die
we fall back to giggling

like kids in a classroom
carefree, immortal
a respite from doom
from life's final portal.

I wonder today,
so soon to Yom Kippur
is there something to say
that can rid me of the bitter

truth, clutching and rolling,
like the darting squirrel
we whirl and twirl
death's ringing bell tolling,

another year of closer to 
who shall live? who shall die?
where to find the clue
whether low or high?

in a parking lot
or up a tree
like a squirrel not yet caught

skittish  and free.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Wishful Thinking

“Look toward heaven and count the stars” (Genesis)

Twinkle twinkle little star-
Abraham's wish weighs his will into the dust of the earth,
a burden of expectations, promises and pledges
awaiting four millenia of worry
where wishes squeeze their presence into
crevices of consecrated prayer,
stars seem so far away, untouchable,
the dust is home-from dust you come and to dust you return
but the stars merely twinkle in cold, callous reaches of circling constellations

“I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth”(Genesis)
That's more like it! That rings true-
and so we worry on a particle of dust,
knowing that multitudes -beyond counting or measurement,
will enfold our  being buried below
and  the offspring of our lives-dreams, thoughts,  laughter and loves,
will  float through the void,
stardust- that's all that  remains,
“a haunting melody of love's refrain.” (Hoagy Carmichael)

Me and Abraham -In honor of my 75th birthday ( Nov.1,1939)

“Abram was seventy five years old when he left Haran”(Gen.12:4)

Sixty two years ago, tomorrow,
the Sabbath of Going Forth
 I wander from the warm comfort of nouveau Outremont along  cold yet sunshine drenched  sidewalks  
to winding  staircases of poor Pine Avenue,
arriving finally at a holy place , an altar from which I ascend into Jewish adulthood-
floors creak beneath my feet as I make my nervous way up the Bimah to bless,
bent backs and creaking bones , my choir of hallowed response
-And Abraham was ninety nine years old when he circumcised the flesh of his skin-
youthful chant filling wooden spaces echoing with sighs of yore,
crescendoing in a hail of holy sweets, candies consecrated to sweetening  the sourness of years yet to come,  released with shouts  of praise and hope  from the balcony of beckoning and tear- drenched prayers
Today I am a man-not an ordinary man but Abrahamic-one going forth
stepping into life with only a promise-”and you shall be a blessing.”

Five and seventy years , so many wanderings, alters built and broken,
tests passed and failed, so many questions, so few answers-pleas and arguments, stunned silences , celebrations of success-
Seventy five years later, still stuck in Haran,
A place of haron-of anger, of a closed heart hardened by disappointment 
and broken promises-
it is time to go forth again-from hardness to an open heart, from the altar of anger 
to the shrine of gentle softness-
will I reach ninety nine , a time of circumcision, of peeling away the foreskin of hurt and rage?
Perhaps not-I hear the ancient blessed bidding-Get you forth from Haran, - now, at this crossroads, between Haran and Canaan, the place of surrender,  my seventy fifth year of life - go forth to circumcise the scars of your soul, removing bloody bandages of broken dreams
so that the heart of flesh, bruised  but  able to embrace the blessings of one more day.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

My 75th birthday

Three quarters of a century
Seven and one half decades
Nine hundred months
Thirty nine hundred weeks
Twenty seven thousand,three hundred and seventy five days-
six hundred and thirty seven thousand hours
thirty eight  million two hundred and twenty two thousand  minutes
two billion two hundred and ninety three million and two hundred thousand-seconds

If   physicist I would measure  nanos
If  physician, heartbeats,
If philosopher,  infinity
but merely a child of the universe
my only gradient is gratitude

Monday, March 2, 2015

Ode to the “I” phone

They walk down the street,
Heads lowered to the ground,
As if not a soul is 
Anywhere around

Cars may pass, 
people walking by,
On concrete or on grass,
world has shrunk -what remains is the “I”.

 No, the world 's an oyster,
 press a button and see,
a private space-my cloister,
Whatever I want I can be.

I can text, talk and skype,
any place any hour ,
whether to praise or to gripe,
its within everyone's power

no longer apart,
or terribly bored,
now instantly smart
entertained as a lord.

A mirror to look at 
and  indulgently preen,
the world’s again  flat,
its all on a screen.

Ere the I phone,
not  long ago
Feeling so alone
Without a place to go

But now, beyond space and time,
a gentle tap,
on the lap,
no need Mt. Everest to climb

The world at finger's tip
Like God feel divine
From app to app we flip,
our shrine , a click on line.

Life  is now a great joy,
so eat , drink and be merry,
As long as your toy
is a Noika or Blackberry.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

I want to go home-A mother's plea

Her new home-
she's come a long way, baby
Laura Ashley-
goyish, but gorgeous,
delicate, refined
the smell of  “Waspy” freshness
in every corner-
“It's very clean” she mutters, an accent 
 of some far away spot
far away from the shimmering shores of the Hudson river
and so long ago, before her world died,
when she could boast  of a father
with  modern machines who
could crush kernels into
and recite the  mantra of
lines of gentile farmers waiting for
the miracle of a wealthy Jew-

“I want to go home” she declared, eyes blankly looking ahead 
at some dim memory of 75 years ago-
“and where is home” she is asked, fear in the daughter's voice,
lest she reply
“the Queens!”
“Sosnovitch” came the barely audible 
a tiny shtetl
 of carefree days,
not a Jew in sight today, unless 
you dig a bit underground.

Another home, another grey haired lady 
lost in the emptiness of time
upon hearing her plea-”I want to go home!”
a social worker asks, pity and professionalism mingled in a desperate mind,
 “Where is home?
And she answers with a certainty born of confusion

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Hands-in memory of Betty Lederman, 1917-2015

Kneeling, not in church
but by mother’s bedside
not standing, superior, dominant,
not even equal in line of vision
but humbled in devotion 
to her source of life;
her cold, red hands 
caress the stretched out skin
of blue veined hands,
almost bloodless with age 
and severe anemia
“Azoi kalt!” she exclaims
eyes widening with surprise and concern
the supplicant still kneeling, rubs the skeletal bones 
of her personal supernal Imah,
and coldness thaws, redness turns pink
and the warmth of a mother’s heart 

flows beyond blood’s coagulation.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Modeh Ani-Thank You

Modeh ani,
Good morning God,
My thanks to Thee,
For the usual and the odd

I open my eyes,
Wriggle my toes,
What a surprise 
 and know what nobody knows

I can bend my knees
And do as I please
Jump out of my bed,
Or roll off instead

Hear my heart beating,
Either fast or slow
Up and down belly breathing
Like putting on a show

On a wintry morn
Shivering and cold
I snuggle  reborn
A life to unfold

My heels on the rug
Soft and sure
Toasty and snug
I feel so secure

Sounds all around me
Silence and snores
A morning melody
The opening of doors

Through the clear window
I am able to see
Lights coming on below
And   rising sun’s   mystery

My  nose  can smell
The toasting of bread
My ears can tell
Of a family  being fed

A mother’s smile,
A father’s hug,
Lying back a little while,
Relishing life’s tender tug 

my eyes still shut
 I open my heart,
getting out of the rut
A new day to start

 Im alive, with no effort
And nothing  must I do,
For Your gift and support
I sincerely thank You.

A WInter's Snow

On a rocking chair,
By a winter’s window,
From prayer book I stare
At the glistening snow.

The white beyond price
Disappears in the speck
Of a droplet  of ice
On the edge  of the deck

As if in trance,
All the colors in the sky,
A moment of chance
Nature’s miracle I espy.

Like a neon sign
Flashing off and on,
My heart could only pine 
For the rain after dawn

Not to advertise,
A car or  boat,
Nature’s wonder  to promote.
And open heart’s eyes.

Many minutes  go by
And all I could do
Was to fix my eye
On  God’s  tiny clue.

Green and red ,
Like traffic lights above,
Gentle guidance ahead,
Flickerings of love.

It’s Shabbes and  quietly I sit,
Looking in  the book and looking out,
To catch God’s presence if only a bit,
Within my soul a silent shout.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Minyan

Driving through shadows,
The world asleep,
Some trudging to the  toilet,
Splashing  stored up urges
Into unknown paths of darkness

Flickering  amber
Dancing along charcoal coated streets
In the distance a red thread cuts 
Across the sky, a reminder of sun yet to rise.

I head toward the harsh light
Piercing the blackness around it
Blinking I step into a space awash with 
The white  glare of fluorescence ,
A blank page inscribed 
With black circles of leather straps
And black  boxes, holding tiny gems
Of holy letters.

Some stand, waiting silently,
Some sit, waiting with eyes shut
Relishing traces of tucked in warmth
Some peer at prayers, preparing,
Lips limbered up for the race to God.

Silence is broken-“I have Kaddish to say 
For my father”- almost tearfully,
Pleadingly, “will there be a minyan?”  
Amidst the chorus of assurances 
Footsteps are heard , the arrival of the morning messiah.

Chanting begins and curls along
The  white walls of  this miniature sanctuary,
A tiny chapel to fit the smallness  of the crowd
Its crannies cramped with the drone of ancient words
Words centuries old.
Some sway, some simply sit,
Frozen in a far away stare into
A distant past-
Some sing, 
Bringing a lilt to morning’s awakening.
One is wordless, his prayer-
 His presence, passing along alms plate,
And when aging , shaky hands, barely able to hold  hymnal
Are summoned to raise the weight of Torah scroll
He praises with powerful arms lifted on high-
And all can see the black on white, like waves of the sea
Flowing over beds of dry land, watering thirsty mouths
Parched  by time’s irreversible passage.

Yisgadal v’yiskadash-
Sons praise God, purging guilt
Preserving  memory
Sustaining the soul somewhere
Widows weep, sitting patiently,
Wondering what to do,
Now standing , the center of attention,
Whispering  sounds of loss and loneliness,
Letters mispronounced, love grammatically correct.

I step into the sunshine of a new day
And above, draping the world in hope
Is a canopy of blue, unfolding, outstretching, from 
The  single  thread of  a humble  prayer shawl.