I have been asked to speak the praise of water,

Which at this interface of ice and fire

Ripples through the hollows of the earth

And falls and rises through the rushing air

And shapes itself to various forms of life,

And flows through them oblivious of death.


And therefore of all the modes of death

There is something chosen about a death by water,

Life begging to be recast into a life

Less thunder-stunned, less scorched by fire,

To unlearn the intaking of this too-sharp air

And grow gills that might breathe at last in earth.


And therefore when springs well up from earth

We deem it is in sorrow for some death.

That shadowed clarity has the air

Of wanting once again to be more than water,

To become an eye that could hold the fire,

Or as if, in that quickness, the lost had life.


And so we come together and drink “To life,”

And eat to fill ourselves with earth,

And dance balancing a torch of fire

To restake our homestead in death,

Calling on the storms of love to water

The ground again, fill up the empty air


We came to know when our arms returned through air

To our own chests.  We bring the dead to life,

Only their faces are changed, as in water,

And our approximations fill the earth

Until, looking on life, we see death

And know that somehow we have missed the fire.


And then we begin to send down fire

Instead of rain through the shrieking air,

Devising more dead things that deal death

Or enforcing an unendeared life,

Causing the heart of wisdom to tremble lest earth

Escheat to fire, forfeiting grace of water.


Yet may these sorrows water the rose of that fire

By which we see, on this earth embraced with its air,

Life mirroring and mirrored upon death.



Where the barn-field funnels down

toward the ravine, we descend,


our jeans brushed by dry stalks,

thistle and chicory, those owners


of masterless land. While my father’s strength

lasted, the enemies of pasture,


seedlings of cedar, prickly ash, and apple,

were held off. He had


no need, might have conceded

to the blue epiphany of chicory,


the thistle’s purple offering, pleasing

to fritillary and finch; but though


for his holiday he came to the beauty of this field,

this ravine, this wood-fringed valley, he could not pass


among them without purpose. The weeds,

whose life means disorder, say


he is gone. We pick our way

down the ravine. I find


in the outwash, loosed by the winter rains,

new concretions, concentric sculptures of iron


bonded, he once explained, in the sandstone.

I will keep them in the glass corner cabinet,


.where the old farmer’s wife, whose narcissus

still come up in the phlox-choked garden,


.kept her china. She came back one year to tell

my mother of the dances in the kitchen,


.to say, "We were happy here." Few farm now

in these hills, nor will my father


return to laugh at my decadent display. But I would

not know, after all, what new shape the strength

had taken, in what world

it might now be making


for order and beauty,

luxury, calm and pleasure.








1.  Money Magic


Do you recall when we were poor together?

We’d sit and talk like councillors of kings

Of art and soul and world and why and whether,

Drinking cheap Chianti among curious things

Gleaned from Good Will, from beaches where we went.

But everything was cheaper in those days;

We didn’t have to scrape for food or rent,

These met, we could feel wealthy in a phrase.

It is the old story: you have grown rich

And never visit now and seldom call,

Leaving us to mull those spells that leach

Life’s substance, and to patch affection’s hole

As best we can with what we still can buy,

The cost of your replacement being too high.


2.  Upon Looking Into “The Wealth of Nations”


The tendency to barter, truck, exchange,

Said Adam Smith, distinguishes the human

From all the other animals that range

In social groups, and find their food in common.

The strong may rob the weaker, or the weak

Beg from the strong, but neither thinks to pay

The other for the benefit they seek:

This is, as much as speech, the human way.


Then why do poets castigate the coin,

And coin so seldom visit poet's purse?

Are we the baby chimp, the big-eyed whine,

Still striving to appoint the world its nurse?

Unless we speak for earth, from whom all wares

Are taken, and for all of trucking’s heirs.




I know how to crochet and weave

And write a sonnet that will scan;

I know how similes deceive

And how alliterations span

A verse; through the sestina’s plan

My muse victoriously wends;

I know all that less thoroughly than

I know how to make foes of friends.


I know for what the willows grieve,

I know who won, who also ran;

I know what tales were told by Eve

Before her bite brought down the ban;

I know where are the snows d’antan

And what tomorrow’s dream portends;

I know where fools fool’s gold may pan;

I know how to make foes of friends.


Who made the mandrake-root conceive,

How one may get a moonbeam-tan,

How carry water in a sieve,

How most efficiently to fan

Fox-fires, just where time’s thread began,

I know, and where the rainbow ends;

I know what makes my own hope wan:

I know how to make foes of friends.


Prince, Rabbi, Magus, Fellow-man,

On whom all that I sing depends,

One skill take from me, if you can:

I know how to make foes of friends.







I can tell you where though not exactly what year

I learned the blessing Shehechiyanu --

“Who has kept us alive and enabled us to reach this time.”

I was getting off the bus where Herzl Boulevard

meets with HaPisgah Street, the main drag of Bayit Vegan,

an “ultraorthodox” neighborhood, changes its name

if it isn’t changed already, I forget,

it’s been ten years since I left there, and goes on.

The bus stopped by the Alexander Calder stabile

(red-painted legs like the octopus from outer space

in a horror comic I read in summer camp)

on a rainy winter afternoon, maybe it was the last

bus before Shabbat, which I was invited to spend

with a survivor of Bergen-Belsen and her family.

I had also gotten there by way of Death and Destruction,

although if I told you what happened you would say

it was nothing.  But nothing is sometimes not nothing.

My friend who had come by way of Bergen Belsen,

a few years into her second marriage, became subject

to fits of uncontrollable laughter.  She went to a psychiatrist

who naturally assumed it was an aftereffect,

probed, but couldn’t find the connection.  At last

they noticed that the fits only occurred when

her mother-in-law, a perfectly nice old lady,

was around.  Her husband spoke tactfully to his mother,

the visits became less frequent, the fits stopped.

But a portrait of the late mother-in-law hung on the wall,

showed her sitting beside the lit Sabbath candles,

their glow by the way was very well rendered, in pencil,

facing you.  She looked like an iron-willed sheep.

Anyway on that rainy Friday afternoon there I was

with my overnight bag and my problems with Orthodoxy

and my bad conscience and life grazed casually but irreparably

by the Great Wheel, and a future murky as the sky that boiled

with clouds and bone-chilling winds, and suddenly an understanding

of this blessing came to me, how can I explain,

I grew up with so much sadness, the music

I liked always had a dying fall, yes, even the music

that had brought me to that place and time, and I had

no reason to expect anything, but perhaps

it was because the mountainside stepped off from the stabile

whose lines mimic the mountains, into the wadi

where fog churned upward like an answer, that it came to me,

not an optimism exactly, but a sense of Time

as an energy welling up from somewhere.  Not a fall.







So bend above the garden once again

And clear the spurge from round the peonies

That have not bloomed this year, because their sun

Is taken by the growing cedar trees.

Come August we’ll transplant them to a place

Where they will have more light, and maybe then

The enfeebled roots will strengthen and produce

Until we can cut peonies again.


But shall we ever see them and not say,

“He would have loved their fragrance and their hue”,

Nor feel the shadow of his being gone

Between us and the sunlight of that day?

I know the meaning now of cypress and of yew:

Grief’s shadow lengthens out as time goes on.







                                    (from the Proto-Nostratic)


Mammoth bones, heaped beside this swirl of river.

I stand watching the others tug and strain

And heave the huge bones up onto their shoulders

For the new roof to lengthen out our longhouse.

I should go down and help them as I can;

Find a few smaller pieces I can carry

The way I see the children doing now.

A moment more and I will join them, though

They are accustomed to my being useless

Except in the one thing: lacking in strength

For heavy work, in quickness for the hunt,

In steadiness of hand for knapping flints.

“Put-Together-Keep-In-Head” they call me,

Although my ancestor made the name “bard”

You’d think they would find handier.  But they

Find laughter in the older, longer names

Which I would keep for song.  They know it galls me --

One of their ways of keeping me aware

That although needed, I am not much liked.

It would be wise now to forsake these thoughts --

No matter for a song they’d care to hear --

And go among them, try to bear a hand

With the alertness they must have; it might

Lesson me, and lessen their dislike.

Which way would you, old fool?  Not eagerness

But weariness both drives and holds you back:

Weariness of others’ loads and rhythms,

Weariness of the friction generated

By rubbing up against these lifelong strangers.

Without me, they and all their thoughts would scatter

Like wind-blown sand.  Without them, I would starve.

But I and they are like a man and woman

Who need each other, yet each to the other

Is like the stinging plant.   Only at times,

As when a man and woman lie together,

Or when a winter storm walls the lodge in

And they must have a song, or start to quarrel --

They sit down looking at me, let me cast

My unseen thong of words around their circle

And draw it tighter, tighter, till at last

They’re right inside my skull, not seeing me

But seeing everything the way I see it.

And then I can forget that they are there.

The Unseen Mother holds me on her lap,

Rocks me, sings to me.  Until I am

The Mother, feel within my womb of words

This newness knitting, yes, on the old patterns,

The ones I’ve learned, but never quite the same;

I feel it taking shape, coming to term,

Until it shatters into mere applause.

Then I am ringed by strangers once again,

And Go-Do’s look is like a sharpened stick

Held against my throat, about to take

Revenge for holding him against his will

And for the attention I have drawn away,

That sweetness I’ve just tasted -- well I know

The praise I give is no again-gift for it.

He’s never happy unless giving orders,

His in-shape craves that.  Look at him down there,

Commanding those who lift the mammoth bones,

Although I think they would know how to do it

Without his say-so.  By the way the heads

Turn toward each other, I’d say they exchange

Glances of weary patience.  Well they know

That when time comes to plan the hunt, to stalk

The living beast, to lay the trap, to plant

The spear -- he’s there, casting a rope of men,

Wielding them all, the way each wields his spear,

Or himself like the spear-point thrusting in.

I’ve seen it, when there was a place to watch

And not be in the way.    Watching, I learned

The Mother guides him, in a different way.

Acts come to him, as likenings to me.

He sees beyond the next step, just as I do --

Sees the whole hunt, the way I see the song.

No doubt the Mother knows what she is doing;

Why do I wish that he could like me better?

I’ve never had close friends, never been easy

With anyone, nor felt anyone want

Me for a friend.  Just that unlucky Aspen.

How many summers since the spirits took her?

She had, herself, the gift of putting-together.

Why the Mother gave that to a woman

I do not know.  She made some lullabies,

Love-songs, healing-spells, the sort of thing

Women like and men sometimes resort to.

She was always watching me.  She wasn’t

Ugly, either, but she had too many

Thoughts for a woman.  Where she was I wanted

Not to be.  She would have understood me,

No doubt did; but I chased Mint, who only

Laughed at me.  Then it was my turn to make

A love-song; I saw Aspen when she heard it.

Now of course I know Mint would have bored me

Before the moon had come around.  I have

Willow; she keeps the fire and fetches water,

Cooks the portions that the hunters give me

And brings me brats.  That third boy has the Gift.

I’ve given him the name of River Talks,

Of him who was bard of this clan before me,

Taught me the measures and the ancient staves;

And if the sun comes back to where it stands

Four or five more times before the spirits

Call me, the people will still have a bard

When I am gone.   So one hand lays the thong

And needle down, and another picks it up.

Our lives are only stanzas in the song

The Mother sings, and no one but the Mother

Sings or hears it all.  And if we jostle

One another, as words sometimes jostle

Each other in a line, perhaps that keeps Her


               I wonder, now, are all the staves

Alike, except for things that make no change

After a few suns: one hunt more or less,

A winter of much snow, a summer flood?

Or is each different from the last, because

They are the steps of something that is coming

To be, of some big story that is happening

If people only had the wit to see?

But we are gone before the shadow moves

A hand’s breath, and the ones who take our place

Cannot be certain it has moved at all.

If every generation were one finger,

And I’d as many hands as I have fingers,

And if I could remember all that time,

Not just the knotted cord of fathers’ names,

What story would I hear? 

                                                The tales I learned

From River Talks, and teach to River Talks,

Speak of the time when things were made, and then

Of ancestors who were far greater hunters

Than Go-Do, or his best friend Spear-Strikes-Home,

Of bigger mammoths, fiercer wolves and bears,

Even of man-bears and man-wolves, with men’s

Cunning and beast’s strength, terrible to face,

Of men who talked with spirits -- ay, the way

River Talks taught me to pretend I do.

Was there a time when such tales were not told

But done?  Where do they come from anyway?


Something comes back to me I had not thought of

For many years.  I must have seen five summers;

River Talks had just begun to teach me.

It was on the way down summer range,

Where the path bends around a bluff, we came

Face to face with a small band of -- what

Shall I call them?  Beasts or men? They walked

On two legs, but their faces and their bodies

Were hairy.  They were short of stature, bow-

Legged, heavy-boned, low-browed and chinless.

Their eyes had whites, like human eyes.  The males

Held pointed sticks, and round their waists were tied

Pouches that bulged, I think with throwing-stones;

The women bent, like ours, beneath tall packs.

Seeing us they stopped short, drew together,

Talked among themselves with grunts and hand-signs.

At last one male walked toward us, made a gesture

Of grovelling, and signed as if to ask us

To let them pass.  The man who led us then,

Gets-Done, he that was Go-Do’s mother’s brother,

Spoke a few words with other tall men round them

And we drew in to let them pass: a hand

Of males, perhaps, one or two fewer women,

And even fewer young.  We watched them out of sight

And then walked on ourselves.  But Gets-Done softly

Called the hunters of the band together,

And half of them, with Sneak-Up in the lead

Set out to track the strangers at a distance.

Toward morning they came back, bloody and silent.

They’d tracked them to their camp I guess, surprised them

Asleep, and made short work of them, before

The males could get their sticks and throwing-stones.

No one found fault with what Gets-Done had ordered --

The man-beasts might have hunted off our game.

But no one bragged of what he’d done that night

And no one sang that day along the track.

Men quarreled with each other and their women,

The women traded taunts.  As for us children,

We made ourselves unseen as best we could.

An evil spirit seemed to dwell among us

Right up until the time of making ready

For the Great Gathering of early autumn.

Then thoughts turned to packing, to the kin

We’d see for the first time since early spring.

Then River Talks had little time for me.

Beside us on the trail to Council Bluff

I saw him walk around with lips that move

And eyes that seemed to stare through everything.

I felt shut out, scared and even angry --

Perhaps that’s how I make the others feel.

The big night came.  Around the council fire

Sat the chieftains of the bands, their bards

Beside them, and their warriors round about,

Women and children huddled in the shadows

With a few smaller fires around the fringe

And lookouts posted.  I could barely see

Who was talking, but when River Talks

Began, of course I knew his voice.  He sang

About the mammoth hunt we’d had before

We left the summer range.  He praised each hunter,

Mentioning their fathers and forefathers,

Braiding in their tutelary spirits,

The sun and moon and stars!   Old River Talk

Was making it a greater kill of words

Than it had been been of beasts.  But all the time

I wondered: would he tell about that other

Hunt, the one that no one yet had bragged of?

Then he began to tell the ancient story

About the Man-bears who had roamed the world,

Carrying off men’s children, driving off

The game.  Fierce were these Man-bears, very strong,

With claws as sharp as flint and eyes of fire.

But Burning Spear, first father of our band,

Gathered a few brave friends and drove them back

To the spirit world.  But sometimes they return --

And so he told the story of that hunt,

Inventing mighty deeds for all concerned.

Of course it was a lie from start to finish,

But all were glad to have the boil of silence

Cut, and the memory that caused the boil

Taken out, and the poultice of a story

Bound over it.  Months later, River-Talk

Had me learn his song about the Man-bears

Along with all the rest.  It has become

One of my winter songs.  No one but me,

Perhaps, remembers how it really was;

Those hunters are all dead now, and the living --

I sometimes think that if it weren’t for me

They’d hardly know this summer from the last.

Each time I’ve sung this song, I’ve wondered when

I’ll see the Man-bears next.  But I have never

Seen them since.   A hand of summers past,

Along the north end of our summer range,

We found the entrance to a cave.  Make Seem

Was thrilled: another place of winding tunnels

That he could cover with his colored shadows

Of bison, mammoth, aurochs.   But what I

And others saw, was that inside the cave-mouth

There was a pit where many fires had burned,

There were scattered bones, a few flints crudely knapped,

A sharpened stick, like those the Man-bear males

Had carried.  There was no trail to the place,

It must have been a long time since the fires

Went out.  I stooped down and picked up a flint,

-- A large piece, yet it had a kind of balance,

Must have made a handy throwing-stone --

And for a moment then I was the man

Who held it last, and everything he knew,

His ancestors, his family, his hunting

And being hunted -- all that was in me

And then gone, like a dream that slips the trap

Of memory, or a flash of lightning even

Make-Seem could not retrace upon the clouds.

I did not speak of this.  Whom could I tell?

Name-Cord perhaps, or others whom I see

At the Great Gatherings.  But each of us

Is bound by what he knows his clan can hear.

We trade songs, yes, but do not trade the thoughts

Behind the songs.  I have not spoken of it.


But now I think: there must have been a time

When there were more Man-bears than there are now.

I think we must have hunted them before,

And that was where the ancient story came from

That River Talks made use of at the gathering.

I wonder if there still are any left.

So that has been a change, not like the changes

Of fall and spring, not even like the changes I

Feel in my old bones, while my son grows up.

My son brings back my strength, although it is

No longer mine.  But nothing brings the Bear-men

Back into the world.  It seems there are

Stories too long for us to tell or hear,

And all we guess of them is like a glimpse

Of the river through the trees.

                                                   Have I had other

Such glimpses, or such feelings, where I seem

To put my hand upon the fell of some

Beast, far larger than the wooly mammoth,

Not knowing if I touch its haunch or flank?


Those mammoth bones, down there -- they are very old.

They lie heaped at the river-bend, as though

The first to snag there in the raging flood

Had made a dam for others.  What a herd

That must have been.  I have not seen such herds.

Three hands of them we saw, on our last hunt.

Is that, too, such a story?  Even while

The hunters urge Make-Seem to cover more

Cave-walls with his colored shadows, so

The Mother will conceive more herds of mammoth,

Bison and aurochs, and drive them on our spears,

Is something taking them away, not bringing

Them back? 

                        I do not like these thoughts.  I feel

Them building toward a moment of the Sight --

Mother, spare me!  I don’t want to see

Men living among things You never bore,

Hunting each other.  Take this Sight away!

What use to give me this, a lame old man,

Who can do nothing, only sing to make

The current of Your days run a bit smoother,

Build story-shelters round the life of men.

What if I spoke to Make-Seem and to Name-Cord,

Ask if they have seen this, and what else

They’ve seen?

                        We could do nothing, just offend

Go-Do, and make life harder for our sons.

If this Sight was a true one, they will always

Have work to make up stories to disguise

What’s done. 

                        I should have gone and carried bones.

They’re finished now, I think; the last are leaving.

Tomorrow they will build... We are now many.

I shall be called on when they’ve stretched the hides

Over the arches.  There will be a feast,

With songs to praise the doings of Go-Do.

It is the bard’s work, Mother, which you gave

As you gave the hunters, too, their work. 

There’s only so much even the best bard

Can put together.  Even if all the bards

Would put their thoughts together, we could never

See more than a short length of your long story.

It’s just as well we do not see the end.







We watch the politicians on parade

Through the balloon- and promise-crowded air.

We do not know what bargains have been made.


Their lines are smoothed of all that might abrade

A voter’s sensibilities anywhere.

We watch the politicians on parade


For decent (but free) speech, free (but fair) trade,

Fire that will not burn.  Buyer beware:

We do not know what bargains have been made,


We do not know what interests have paid

For all those videos that show they care.

We watch the politicians on parade


With family feelings prominently displayed,

Spreading arms wide or lifting them in prayer.

We do not know what bargains have been made.


We are not in this game that’s being played

For somewhat higher stakes than we can spare.

We watch the politicians on parade.

We do not know what bargains have been made.





Art for art’s sake alone?  Consider this:

Critters survive by following their bliss.

The genes of those who groom and mate and fight

Often, are handed on; those who delight

In such activities most often do ‘em,

So with delight the genetic fates imbue ‘em.

And not just with delight, but urgency:

The critter feels that it will cease to be

Unless it gets its fix of love or war --

It feels that’s what it was created for.

Likewise with poets.  Those who indite today

Don’t do it for utility or pay.

We do it ‘cause we’ve got to, feel we’ll die

unless we do.  What drives us won’t ask why.

Nevertheless, to the extent we use

Our wee gray cells, the reasons why the muse

So goads us, aren’t exactly rocket science.

The bard’s ingenium was an appliance

That served our relatives in days of eld.

A kinship-group that had a good one, held

A picture of the world that fit the head

And hung together, stood them in good stead.

It mapped their wanderings, adjudged their quarrels,

It stored for times of need their lore and morals;

It entertained them through cold foodless days

When “bored to death” was more than just a phrase.

Hence the delight in singing and in hearing,

Till writing, then the media, interfering,

Captured our functions and supplied enjoyment

Cheaper than ours.  Therefore our unemployment.

Gadgets and widgets, artificial sweets,

Content our former listeners.  The treats

We offer, need a certain concentration

To take them in.  The media’s dissipation

Goes down much smoother than our mindful fun:

True, it may make them sick in the long run,

But foresight’s not our kin’s proclivity --

It’s rather a poetic specialty,

Like memory.  The bard’s prophetic soul --

That always was the aspect of our role

That made us somewhat spooky to the rest.

The Muse’s honey helped them to ingest

Many a bitter medicine, until

They could get sugar-coating with no pill

Inside.  And so, the listeners are gone,

But still the late-born singer lingers on,

Must still compose, though the world decomposes

And makes coherency look like psychosis.


We have to do it ‘cause we’re built that way;

If that’s what”Art for art’s sake” means, OK.

Only, I do not think we’ll really find

Much bliss, while in some corner of our mind

Hunkers the consciousness of our futility --

The bards of eld found bliss in their utility,

In others’ need of them, which they could fill,

In the results their exercise of skill

Produced, the healing and the harmony,

The shining eyes of a great company

Fixed on them, or a chief’s approving nod,

When he acknowledged that through us the god

Had spoken.  But to sit and cobble verse

Knowing that no one in the universe

Is waiting for it, that it has no power

To make things happen -- well, it turns one sour.

Must we resign ourselves to this?  I say

Nuts!  though things look bad for us, the day

Is not yet over.  Poets, let us take

Counsel in verse, to see how we might break

The spell that holds our hearers in its thrall.

We’ve got the smarts, if we can just let fall

The pride that plays us off ‘gainst one another.

Like kids that play off father against mother,

Our former listeners have learned to tangle

Us up in rivalries until we wrangle

To see who most deserves the goods which (if

You’ll look around) were stolen during our tiff.

Wise parents learn to put a stop to that:

They see what’s happening, resolve their spat,

And tell the children how it’s going to be.

There is a lesson here for you and me.

If some of us in concert could appeal

To the many in our polity who feel

That things aren’t going just the way they should,

Then we might do ourselves and Earth some good,

Rebuild -- or build -- the dwelling-place of Mind,

And render human fates a mite less blind.

Sound “too good to be true”?  I can agree,

Yet find this dream an aid to minstrelsy.

It mobilizes thought, it gives more scope

Than strictures that are safe, but cut off hope.

“Seek and ye shall find,” says the Good Book;

Science observes, “To find, you have to look.”

Satire’s unfelt where expectation’s dead,

Nature looks pale these days, and we have said

What needed saying of relationships

Where no birds sing -- of paintings -- and of trips.

There’s not much left to fuel a strong-winged steed

Unless this cause... Art for art’s sake, indeed.







Long before those paintings in the cave,

The poet and the people grew entwined

From the deep taproot of the human mind

Which mainly through our makings came together:

The names of things were born upon our tongue,

Our stories were the people’s living tree.


Before the clan had climbed out of the tree,

Before the fire was made to serve, the cave

Inhabited, even before the tongue

Was freed to wag, before signs were entwined

To sentences, when all were wrapped together

In the dimness before the dawn of mind,


There was our pulse and breath.  Then, as mind

Laid its circuits, learned to build the tree

Of the sentence, breath and pulse together

Pulled these learnings back into the cave

Of concerning, so that knowledge was entwined

With living, heart remained the twin of tongue.


As tellings collected on the tongue,

A bundle of skills became a mind:

Hand, eye and ear brought news that were entwined

To a language growing like a tree,

Enlarging backward like a treasure-cave

Filled with all we had been through together.


In those times all the people worked together

And knew that those who had a poet’s tongue

Communed with the common spirit of the cave;

Without our sayings and our laws, the mind

Of the clan would wither like a girdled tree,

Without the tales in which all fortunes were entwined.


And the people’s and the poet’s fate are still entwined,

Though this has been forgotten altogether,

Though the tree of knowledge and the tree

Of life have been severed, as word from tongue,

As breathless calculations make a mind

Without the pulse of heart, and community must cave


In to entwined cunnings that twist the tongue

-- Unless poets can come together and make one mind

To replant the tree of mind at the mouth of heart’s cave.





This house of cards that we are living in,

This air-balloon that oil-fires keep aloft,

This palace built on piles of sufferance

That at a moment’s notice may go soft,


This country driven, hypnotized, where no one

Knows their neighbor’s face, their leader’s mind,

But set their courses from instructions given

Out at a window few will look behind;


And Israel, like an external soul

Of that great nerveless body, hard beset --

What vital threads run through that distant pole

This country does not guess -- as yet --


Outpost of conscience far from any base,

Hammered to factions, and most grievously

Compelled to acts it weeps for, then accused

By those who fashion the necessity;


And we who find ourselves both here and there,

From whose hopes in intractable furrows sown

We are -- when did we dream this? -- made aware

What hateful harvest once again has grown:


This morning in the shul some walked around

Seven times and chanted “Hosha-na!”

While some appeal to heads of state and press

To whom the market seems the only law.


And we, in whom the pain of what we know

Wells up in words that cannot be denied

By us, though by the masses entertained

With facile falsehoods, lightly brushed aside,

We poets here convene to hear each other,

To unroll in verse the maps of our perceiving,

To pool and sort our knowledge, though the ill

Appear far past prescribing and relieving:


Still toward a common center we press in

Hoping for synergy, that each one’s word

May gather strength and resonance from the rest,

And so increase our chance of being heard.


We have all read the legend of the breaking

Of vessels and the scattering of the light

To sparks, around which grew obscuring hulls,

Until the righteous find, release, and reunite


Those sparks.  Perhaps, if anyone, we poets,

who sense both the particular and the whole,

could give the legend meaning, and thereby

make, too, a case for the outmoded soul,


rebuild and reconnect a center of awareness,

nerve unto nerve, heart unto heart, until

the body could again be moved to fairness --

not by shouts, no, but by breath-held skill:


-- A dream to warm us as we gather round,

However much or little may come true.

O let us pray it may not be too late

For such a hope -- and do what we can do.


                                                                        October, 2000







They tried to give the thing a human face,

Arrange its features into an expression,

Write speeches for it, though the void's confession

Leaks poisonously out through every space.

It is an image of a marketplace

Where every interest has its concession,

A store-front office for big-league aggression,

A poster saying we lost the human race.


The alternative was not quite – though a man

Of blunders, who had handled too much pitch –

A fit logo for our bipartisan

Inanity. And now, stand back: the rich

Plunder the commonwealth. The rest of us can

Look forward to being left without a stitch.


                                                                        December 2000





from the Russian of Osip Mandel’shtam


Let me tell you with the ultimate


All’s just blather, brandy-lather,



Where once beauty gleamed to gladden

The Hellene,

There for me disgrace from black holes

Gapes obscene.


Where Achaeans smuggled Helen

In their ships,

Salty foam is all I’m feeling

On my lips.


Yes, across my lips a beggar-

Grease will glide,

I shall get the strictest fig-sign

From the void.


Oy veh, why veh, why me, ay me --

What the hell --

Angel Mary, guzzle whiskey,

Cocktails swill!


Let me tell you with the ultimate


All’s just blather, brandy-lather,



                        December 2000





for Reva Sharon


Say that Jerusalem is

Paul Celan


I hear that you were in Jerusalem

Among three hundred thousand gathered there

To say that we must stand, that we must stem

A rushing of concessions that could tear

The ground from underneath our people’s prayer

And bare its heart to blows which those incite

Who have built a den of war and cursing where

Once stood our Father’s house, the nations’ light.

The press here speaks of “protests on the right.”

Remind us that the heart is on the left,

And let its pulse be felt in what you write,

Its cry be heard, that we be not bereft

Of pulse and breath and light and hope and will.

Say to us that Jerusalem is still.




I came home one evening
In the first month of the year
To learn I am a great-aunt,
That we have you, dear.

You come in with the century,
A new Year One,
A new leaf to a story
We had thought was done.

Welcome to our world!
It's a bit of a mess,
But may God grant you vision,
Patience, kindness,

And if ever among stones
You lay your head,
May your mother's courage
Stand you in good stead.





Your name,

twice.  Your answer:

“Hineni.”  In three words

the whole Bible, old testaments

and new.






for Frederick Turner


It is true the engineers have built us round

With edifices mightier than fair.

Their calculations guide them without error:

Set in concrete their soulless forms are sound,

Whilst we, poor poets, flutter in their spaces

Like the last butterfly in Terezín,

Or camp in some diminishing oasis

Encroached on every day by their demesne.


And yet we too could build, if we could find

Again the ancient compass of our trade,

Access the plan, imprinted on our mind,

That makes one form of all that we have made,

A temple, whence the Word might gradually

Transform the kingdoms of utility.






based on an incident recounted by Flora Thompson in Lark Rise to Candleford


“All my life,” she’d say, “I have supped sorrow.”

And no one understood.  Her kin were poor,

But the whole village had to scrape and borrow,


Hard work, small gain.   She had no less nor more.

Her melancholy lasted till she lost

Her husband, then her sons in the Great War,


And then she grew serene.  (Can griefs exhaust

Grief?)  In springtime she would cull white may

And place it in her house, although she crossed


Her neighbors’ superstition, for they say

The may means death.  “But all I loved are dead;

Let me look on beauty.”

                                            So the spray

Gleamed in her front room, lovely beyond dread.






(from a catalog)


Something’s missing here, I’m not sure what.

Certainly these works do not lack skill:

Artist’s prints, mostly landscape and still-

life, bright colors, more and less abstract.

Maybe it’s shadows, depth.  They all look flat,

even when the subject is three-dimensional.

There’s Goethe’s portrait, colored by Warhol,

the face subordinate to the scallop hat.


Many are quite complex, on the surface,

offering to those who wait in line

the pleasure of an intricate design

to follow, even if it leads nowhere.

The prints are leased, they change them every year.

Your doctor probably subscribes to this service.




 Why do we try so hard?  This little boy
At less than four months has the art of joy
Down pat.  He never studied meditation,
And would, if asked the cause for celebration,
Respond with "Goo!" or syllables to that
Effect -- nor would we deem this trite or flat --
In fact, we'd all be wishing *we* had said it.
A smile like that has good deeds to its credit
Right at the start, reminding everyone
That being here is really lots of fun!




A long time we have lived here,

Long enough indeed that we should have seemed

At home here, were it not for the stories

Still tugging at us like a wind from the desert.

The stories kept us strangers here;

And of course, there were the others.


They were here when we came, we came to them,

Drawn by some need of theirs, and ours,

Yet without meeting.

The set of their shoulders, their long eyes,

The sidelong smiles they had for one another,

The smoothness of their motions, as if they moved

In time to some dreaming dance we could not learn:

All was of one line, continuous

With the riverbank and the motion of the river; 

Whereas our steps moved in ragged directions,

Pulled by the wind from the desert.


I think we seemed to ourselves,

All those years, like people awake

Who walk among dreamers.


Yet ours too was a strange dream, the dream of waking

In a place you know is not home, though knowing no other.

There were those who forgot, building houses

Of sandstone, like theirs, imposing and horizontal,

Taking wives from among them, begetting

Children who merged into the dance of this land,

Looking back at them with the eyes of strangers,

Only betrayed by the occasional misstep

Which their children will know how to avoid.

To watch this happen was like watching someone sinking

Into sleep.  But soon there would have been no one left

To regard it so.


And why not, after all?

The stories say we are children of one man

Who left a green land, a land between rivers

For the desert, for the unreliable hill pastures,

Led by a voice he heard, a voice without face.

We had ceased to understand this,

As we do not understand, now,

Why the face of this land has changed toward us.

One decree, then another, then another,

One burden piled on top of another

Until we groaned aloud,

And there was no appeal,

We were strangers, as before, only their plans

For us had changed.

And then that man, that homicide who fled,

In our midst again, stirring up trouble,

And the plagues that fell on the land, on the others,

Ourselves so unaccountably spared,

And now, the new instructions, from the voice,

We are told, that woke our forefather

In a far land between rivers,

That voice, like a wind from the desert.


All around is haste and confusion.

A baking is being rolled out

That will not have time to rise.

A smoke of sacrifice wafts among our houses

As we sort our possessions, taking what we can carry,

With the ruins of this land around us

And the wailing for their firstborn in our ears.

Well, we go to serve this God in the desert,

This God, our God, mightier than the king of this land,

Whom may we always please.

Through what lands, I wonder, shall we pass,

In what unseeing eyes mirror ourselves,

In what tongues barter without meeting,

Beneath what decrees

Bend?  I foresee

It will be a long journey.






Summer’s nunc stans.  The peonies, that flaunted

last in the floral hubbub that greeted

the sun’s annual comeback, have completed

their act.  Now comes the green we’ll take for granted

soon.  The dead, that in raw April mounted

to Avernus’ very mouth, whom we entreated

to come out, to speak, to stay, have retreated,

their moon-pull slack, at last.  We are unhaunted.


It is the good time.  Air cool and clear,

warm sun – the perfect balance.  Gardens give

still, but in measure.  The long evenings make room

for walks, and games.  Tennis balls thump, frisbees veer

above the park.  We could begin to live,

if only we knew how, and where, and with whom.







The Iliad stands on the shelf beside

The breakfast table, a bookmark slowly making

Its way through, as those ancient revenants glide

Across yet one more screen, their gestures vacant

Of so much we have known.  No arch or column

For them, no schools that labored to explain,

No Phidias has poised the body=s volume

Nor vase-painter contained it in a line.

Their bodies are the only forms there are,

Their gods that come and go like flaws of wind

The only spirit.  Conscience and eye are clear,

Unshadowed by a thought of having sinned.

Their poet, though, had guessed invention=s force B

Had seen robots, and automatic doors.






Grouped round the dying thespian’s bedside,

His friends asked how it felt.  The man replied

(With fit expression though with faulty breath),

“Easier than playing comedy” — and died.







No one has ever photographed the soul

except those icon-painters – anyway

the first ones.  Afterward maybe the style

takes over, and the later ones convey

something the painters didn’t feel themselves.

The trick is all too obvious: that large

eye, around which all the facial curves,

drawn with compasses, diverge, converge,

in constant motion swung around the still

darkness.  Eye of angel, virgin, saint

and holy child are ports through which you fall

into God-mind.  The eyebrow’s arch: a faint

salute from mortal sadness.  Then you are gone,

vacuumed up into the All, the One.









Jebusite voices

from under

the Holy of Holies,






Rachel, immured, pleads


the adversary-akedas,


visitations of the Unreturned

–a Then-word

speaks itself into the Now –


the gold, dimmed,

fends off its alloys,








Saw-screams of


Temple stones:



cut the seed

from the groin of the past


lest these bones



lest from Judaea's

sifted dust

the Exodus people,

the Sinai people,

the Sabbath people


lest the ashes again

become Ariel


and roar

from the rock of all hearts

the prayer for all nations, against

the Dark Lord.




I have asked for a word to place

on the graves of those who have died


although crows replace the songbirds in our suburbs

and I no longer hear the voice of the mourning dove


although it seems there is an anti-god

who makes many in its image


an anti-life that only desires

to shatter itself into spores of destruction


although from where stood the house of prayer for all nations

a flood of cursing is poured on the world


although threat displays result in deference

and billiard balls vector off from the one that's hit


and the machine ties the hands in complicity

and cruelty opens the gates of the heart


and even the muse can yield to a murderous tremor

and crime commandeer the vocabulary of conscience


and blasts disfigure beauty in the mind

I will say temples still stand1


In the middle of the crater stands the memory of love

lifting her hand

lighting the candles


                                    Summer 2001






For Jerry Mander, and for the street musician who played a blues version of “America the Beautiful” near the wrecked wing of the Pentagon


It was not unexpected, after all.

We had been told about a malice growing

Within the social tissue, cell by cell,

Of guns and fuel and information flowing

To men who rage had made mechanical,

Bereft of human conscience, yet well knowing

How to seem human, with an actor’s art,

Until the moment came to blow apart


The illusion that our lives seem to have been --

We knew that too.  We had seen towers crumble

In miniature upon the movie screen

Made huge, and human simulacra tumble

From burning windows; greed had found us keen

For more of this; and if we heard the rumble

Of the real cyclone, heard real sirens blare

Through faked alarms, perhaps we did not care


Enough.  For we had witnessed year by year

The building of a tower that confined

The freedom of the earth to few and fewer,

Had, right by right and grace by grace, resigned

Our share of the inheritance of the poor,

Of justice; one by one the ties that bind

Gave.  In the flux of strangers without end

Distinction wavered between foe and friend.


Yet all our topless towers were built on faith.

Our airplanes were suspended in mid_air

On reckonings to the microfiber’s breadth

That presupposed that human beings fear

For sweet life, do not meditate the death

Of others, or their own.  A patent error,

And many times exposed; its recrudescence

Only reveals that it is of the essence


Of any common world.  On this we build

And build again, as on the lava_flow

The grass re_greens.  Life destined to be spilled

Mounts in the latest vessels, even though

In retrospect it looks as if a skilled

Hand had piled up kindling, row on row,

Tier upon tier, for flames to catch and climb

Most readily, consume in shortest time.


This prodigy of corporate intellect

Assisted by computers and obeyed

By all the power_tools wealth could collect,

Where Mind and Might were stunningly displayed

Against the sky, was in one hour wrecked

By half a dozen men with simple blades,

A few months’ flying_lessons, and the will,

Forged in fanatic fire, to die and kill.


O weep, weep for the dead whose monument

Excelling modern art in harsh profile

Is this stark grid of steel, blackened and bent,

That juts above the settling rubble_pile:

The expert with his earnings still unspent,

The secretary parted from her child,

The fireman who heroically rushed

In to the workers, and with them was crushed!


Yet weep the more, if loss should make more dear

An edifice which when it glittered whole

Spelled slow disaster to the biosphere.

An outgrowth of the greed that rots the bole

Of government and public weal stood here,

A prison for the bought and managed soul,

A torture for the eye that loved to see

Earth-given forms in sweet complexity.


Yes, those who have for decades felt the march

Of corporate power on all that made life fair,

Have seen their land bestrid by golden arch,

By logos replicating without care,

The culture swept by media_storms that parch

The springs of mercy, while bulldozers tear

The earth for mansion-tracts that keep no range

For the working homeless, orphans of this change;


Those who had heard of farmers overseas

Bought out and herded into urban slums

Where prostitution, slavery, disease

May choose them, where fanaticism drums,

While their old fields are sown for luxuries

– Of half a thousand men whose fortune sums

What half of the inhabitants of earth

Could reckon as their aggregate net worth –


Of corporate economies that swell

To nation-size, yet are not ruled like nations

By laws within; where the command to sell

Trumps every claim of justice; where no patience

Holds those who cannot keep the pace, pell-mell;

Where humans are cast off as automation’s

Accomplishments decree them obsolete,

Where the least-paid are lodged upon the street:


To those who can’t forget, even at this moment,

Such things, that heaven-bound simplistic shape

Through which so many bodies fell in torment

From floors whose very height foreclosed escape,

Becomes a kind of allegoric comment,

A dual coffin of the human race,

Of lives summed up in logo, and confined

To the prism of a careless alien mind.


America!  your patriotism wakens,

In rightful anger against those who planned

And grief for all those broken in that breaking –

Will you remember not to this land

Was the allegiance of the power that reckoned

Inside that shape, but to a web that spanned

The globe in an embrace of greed.  That steeple

Was not erected to safeguard your people,


Rather to bring them down until they share

The bed of universal poverty.

And though the doers seek not to repair,

And though their madness works toward tyranny,

And though their leaders manage their despair

And wield it from pure hatred of the free –

May we be free enough to hear what truth

Is brought us by these couriers without ruth.

Or else the fire is not yet out, nor closed

The wound that burns and bleeds us.  From the slain

Among us now are vengeful spirits roused

Which if they find the trail, if they attain

Their rightful quarry, may then rest appeased;

But if it should, like a virus in the vein,

Stay hidden, we may find our infed ire

A foe, than many outward foes more dire.


The White Knight, the defender, sleeps and dreams

A challenger approaches, clad in mail

Of midnight.  Through the lowered visor gleams

An adversary’s glance with fire of bale.

He charges, thrusts – and the opponent seems

To topple back. He sees the visor fall

Back from an empty helm.  Then he hears

Around him – Where? Here? No, there! – taunts and jeers.


May that in us which holds to freedom still

Hold still a moment, while the voices tell us

What is the precious thing they must not kill

In us, no matter how what gods are jealous,

And what are our own fetters, which with skill

We must unbind.  If we rebuild our palace,

Let it be open to the air again

And open to the pleadings of the sane.


I, a poor poet, made this song – among

America’s deaf ears a doubtful bother –

Just for a croon to calm the pain that stung

These guts – to place one word upon another,

And on the harp of civic song, restrung

As best I could, invoke the common mother

Of song, of earth, and of community –

One of Her names, perhaps, is Liberty.


O Lady, may your torch have light to shine

On us even now, and show things as they are,

That we may rescue Ours from Mine and Thine

And bind to peace the god or gods of war,

Silence the curses that befoul the shrine

Of prayer, and turn again the peoples’ ear

Toward the true word, the honest song, the Law,

That having known, we may repair the flaw.


                                                September 12-13, 2008




      Teach me Your ways

                              Psalm 27

O God, in all our shatterings

We turn to You, though it is plain

You move not to prevent these things;

Those they befall cry out in vain.

When the wicked call their evil “God”

You lift no grim chastising rod.


Throughout the universe we see

The workings of mechanic fate,

In atom and in galaxy,

In life-forms that configurate

To their environment’s demand,

Their habits, as their forms, unplanned.


The human constitution seems

A mere contraption patched together;

The human brain, its fears and dreams,

Desires that urge, restraints that tether,

And customs whether cruel or kind,

Which among human tribes we find,


Each strand, each trait through time evolved,

From some advantage it conferred,

With contradictions unresolved

While self-deception veils the Absurd:

No star cries out, if circumstance

Should favor fraud and violence.


And yet in us – by chance, maybe –

An eye was opened that could gaze

Beyond its own necessity,

Could lift itself above the maze

Of reflex, and with plural view

Could see the sight of others too.


And with this eye our language grew

That names and sets things in relation,

The ear that sounds for what is true,

The will toward higher integration,

Justice, and beauty, to make whole

Both world and individual soul.



And in all this Your shape appears,

O You whom we have named the King,

In Whose light, when our vision clears,

We see each person and each thing

And almost, almost can divine

A world made one beneath Your sign.


We know that not by wrongful might

Could Your dominion come to be,

But by shared truth and shared insight

In covenanted minds made free

From fear of one another’s hand,

Where only force by force is banned.


Now therefore since accusers rise,

Command our hearts be steadfast still

To seek Your face; O make us wise

To walk Your ways, with strength and skill,

Through whatsoever war and peace

You bid us make, till war shall cease.







I never liked the man before,

Thought him a cypher elevated

To tasks he was not fitted for,

But now I think I underrated

His fight and basic decency.

Though heaven knows I don’t agree


With much that he has said and done,

We would do well to keep in mind

Those parables where the Third Son

Comes out ahead.  What need will find

In anyone, can’t be forecast,

And they are wisest who speak last.


Many an evil ails this nation,

That’s true today as yesterday,

But in the enemy we’re facing

Evil has undivided sway.

We need to draw a line in sand

And take an unambiguous stand.


This he has done.  And now we have

To hope that he can make it stick,

Not be too clever by one-half

And superciliously dissect

Words that ring true, but heed their call,

For with this truth we stand or fall.


Those who acknowledge truth when spoken

By other folks, ungrudgingly,

May also hope by the same token

That other folks will likewise see

Our truth in time.  All truth is one;

Let it be heard, and justice done.







         Our speech inaudible at ten paces.

                                    -- Ossip Mandel'shtam


Last night I watched part of a concert

Meant to commemorate the brave.

United Way seems to have sponsored

The effort. Listeners called and gave


For the relief of the disaster.

But how such moanings could inspire

The qualities we need to master

In order to put out this fire


Escapes me. There was not one phrase

To stick in mind, no bar you'd hum

To get you through the draining days,

Only the same impoverished, dumb


Stuff that has sapped the mind of youth

For decades now. No grace whatever,

No ringing lines to carry truth,

Nothing for folks to sing together.


So here I sit and grumble out

This verse no one is going to read

Save fellow-bards. The lines are cut,

The common people can't be reached.


But I have said, and say, that we

Need to revise our own convention

And figure out some strategy

For to regain our kin's attention.


Yoo-hoo! Is anybody there?

Speak up and answer, if you hear,

In verse, if for your Muse you care –

The summons of the hour is clear.


Civilization's final test

Is now in progress. Everyone

Is drafted. We too have our quest.

Our mustering has just begun.


I hereby thrust a stake in sand

And found the Civic Poets' Guild.

Bard, may this be your heart's command –

We have a culture to rebuild.






September 27, 2001-May 2002


“I never liked the man before,

Thought him a cypher elevated

To tasks he had no fitness for,

But now I think I underrated

His fight and basic decency.

Though Heaven knows I disagree


With much that he has said and done,

We would do well to keep in mind

Those parables where the third son

Comes out ahead.  What need will find

In anyone can’t be forecast.”

– I wrote those words, a few days past,


After a speech in which he seemed

To take an unambiguous stand.

Methought determination gleamed

From words that drew a line in sand.

The hope we were not leaderless

Had many charms, I do confess.


Poor sinner.  Now he tries to keep

His upper lip stiff.  Utters threats

And tells us to go back to sleep,

Courts treacherous alliance, lets

Israel know they must give in –

The “war on terror” thus begins.


America!  Do you exist

Today as more than an address

For corporations that could list

Riyad or Singapore with less

Convenience, maybe, for the nonce,

But things move quickly.  We were once


Rich in all natural resources

And in our home-forged industry,

We had (unsapped by media-forces)

Some culture of integrity,

And (consequently) we could choose

Leaders who’d act upon our views.


My father!  Late in dreams I saw him.

He noted certain of these things

In At the Crossroads.  It would gnaw him

To know our state.  He knew the stings

Of slighted foresight – tried to shake

The leaders of this land awake


While I, his daughter, tried to tell him

That not on mineral wealth alone

A nation stands, but on truth’s spelling

In minds no profit-power can own –

That counsel in community,

Perhaps, might keep the nation free;


I urged him help me to convene

People of foresight and good will

Who might assess the current scene

And with coordinated skill

Might then prescribe and recommend

In serious speech from friend to friend


A plan of action.  I relied

Upon the words of Jewish sages

Whose thought, through long experienced tried

Had kept a people through dark ages.


Unless some teaching hedge it round,

Democracy’s an empty sound.


Perhaps I could not say it well,

Or else my quirks confused the case –

Wisdom is always slow to jell

While history keeps a quickening pace,

Nor seemed my thoughts proportional

To institutions that built tall.


America!  A name, no more.

Mocked by her children, Liberty

Stands – for how long – beside the port,

Awaiting a foul shivaree.

Is anywhere that name still dear

Enough to rouse some Paul Revere


To ride through sleeping streets and summon

Defenders to some mustering-hill?

That would be too much more than human.

The dream showed me a funeral.

Well may our enemies rejoice –

We are defeated half by choice.


I find no cheerful note to end on,

But may these verses tell a few

That here is one they can depend on

To make a note of what is true,

Who knows the odds, but still is game

If anybody feels the same.






We say it’s not too late because we say

it’s not too late.  We carry on in words,

ignoring that whatever undergirds

our overconfidence was knocked away

some time ago.  We’re like a character

in a cartoon.  We’ve run out on thin air

and haven’t yet looked down, though we will soon.

Then maybe we will reconvene ourselves

from smithereens, as in a Loony Tune.

As in a dream we watch the enormous structure

in which we live.  It slowly-swiftly shelves

into the dust.  And yet no sudden rupture.

A social body inwardly dissolved

prepared this first great haemorrhage.  And who’s

awake?  To whom shall I report this, Muse?








Go back to sleep.  Don’t wonder what the pain meant.

We’ll sell you your demise as entertainment.



It is a common doctrine, though unsound,

That falling objects will not hit the ground.







We ate them in the days when we were kings.

Those crimson orbs that took so high a sheen,

That deep clear red with just the spot of green:

Bite them, and you would break the sweet-tart springs

Of juice that had a kind of cidery tang,

Or think of dry white wine: a taste that sang

Of autumn sun, of earth’s low summonings.

The flesh was crisp – and yet not hard.  It gave

Like snow fresh-fallen, glazed with slightest crust,

And glistened just as white.  With wholesome lust

We’d chomp them till November dug sun’s grave.

They’d soften by Thanksgiving, sunset glory

Gone.  That took them from the category

Of foods designed to store and sell, not eat.

Computer memories won’t retrieve the treat.





for Sylvia Grunes


When listening to parents’ memories

We fathom how they struggled to survive

Our present life appears a fabulous ease

In which, no matter how the stocks may dive,

We still remain suspended by a spell

Above the dark abyss of want and pain

The flow of food and heat can never fail

Nor the destroying hordes break in again.

And yet we know that at this very hour

Dark hordes are gathering and twisted minds

Devise our doom.  G-d grant our mothers’ power

May summon us, beyond this ease that blinds,

To fight for what we love with every nerve,

And as they heard and served, to hear and serve.







Out in far Afghanistan our men are fighting

To preserve the world from terror’s evil sway,

And to you, our country’s President, I’m writing

In the hope that this will reach you in some way.


You must know, far more than I do, how enormous

Are the powers that this evil has in tow,

What percentage of the energies that warm us

Rise from springs in the dominion of a foe –


In a region ruled by tyrants whose clear purpose

Is to bring the world beneath a cruel law,

And who scarcely try to wear a sheepskin surface

To conceal their deep desire to eat us raw.


We, who’ve drifted, cannot get back what it’s lost us

All at once, nor strike at every hostile state,

But if standing by our friends is going to cost us,

We had better know it sooner than too late.


I’m no military expert, but I’ve noted

Here and there what martial artists have to say.

“Take a centered stance” (that statement’s often quoted)

“In yourself – and let blows come from where they may.”


Now our friends are us, and all those who love freedom.

We must back them, whether odds be short or long.

For the others will not be there when we need ‘em,

And a nation must be faithful to be strong.



And to Israel our nation owes a vision

That has guarded us.  On history’s stormy course

We were steadied by the voice of our tradition:

“Cling to fairness, and you need not bow to force.”


Mr. President, God has not changed those orders.

You are chosen now to lead us in this fight.

Softly speak – but firmly stand at Israel’s borders,

And America will back you in the right.


For in liberty our nation was created,

And it has a strength that’s always seen it through.

Till the terror we are facing has abated

You may count on us – as we will count on you.







The scene is somewhere in the afterworld, in the region (undescribed by Dante) of souls whose fate is yet to be decided.


Dear Robert:

                       It is over fifty years

since our exchange about the poet’s duty,

if any, to respond to what’s afoot

on the historic plane.  The Second World

War, in that case.  A war with certain nations

who were engaged in killing off my cousins

and anybody else they had no use for.

Our countrymen at first had been reluctant

to join the fight.  The First World War had been

so horrible, so pointless, we’d concluded

that any war was something to stay out of,

and we stayed out, until bombed into it.

The country then responded, as it had to.

Men were called up and factories were converted

to making weapons.  Journalists and actors

picked up the drum.  And even serious artists –

the term I guess means those who take themselves

seriously -- felt drafted to compose

something that would contribute to the struggle.

But you -- the greatest poet of our time --

you stayed above the battle.  When I begged you,

to leave, for once, your vigil of detachment,

you answered me with a long blank-verse letter,

justifying yourself.  I saw that I

had overstepped one of those fences friends

seem to need to keep up, as well as neighbors,

and I accepted your position, as

a part of what you were, and we stayed friends.

I let your word of silence be the last word.

I couldn’t, of course, have forced you into speech,

and I felt awe before the greater poet –

it feels presumptuous even to apply

the term “poet” to both of us.  I was

just an anthologist.  Although I couldn’t

resist the chance to sneak myself and Jean

into the great anthologies I gathered,

I knew my place, at bottom -- and knew yours.

You won your point; and on their front, the Allies

won the war.  The fascists were defeated.

And I can’t even say it was no thanks

to you, whose sturdy verses may have served

as shelter from the blasts of cosmic madness

to many souls; helped men rained round by bullets

to keep in mind New England’s quiet hills

under the sane, remote, noncombatant stars. 

Whereas Millay -- what did she give by writing

shrill propaganda, tearing up her art

as primitive women tear their clothes and cheeks?

Nothing that lasted, certainly.  And likely

even the gesture, at the time, appeared

like mere hysterics.  Folks stop listening

when song becomes a screech. 

    At any rate,

things seemed to have worked out, in ‘45.

We had our peace, then, for awhile, although

the mechanism of combat, in our souls

as well as in the economy, proceeded

to throw the image of another foe

upon the screen for bravery to tilt at,

even if it did turn out to be a windmill.

Our poets thought themselves well out of that.

We had protestors, bards who like Millay

thought earnestness excused them for bad art

and lack of intellectual clarity.

And we had those who went on making verses,

good verses maybe, calling on your spirit,

whereby it was increasingly assumed,

as beyond question, that a poem has

no civic mission, and is draft-exempt.

Around us we saw equity eroding,

the culture that had made us what we were

being gradually leached away, replaced

by predatory lures that learned to play on,

and magnify, the worst traits of the worst.

But still we made this none of our affair.

And at the same time, on the edge of vision

a new and ancient enemy of freedom

was gathering strength.  We did not give the warning.

We had disclaimed the poet’s ancient claim

to the prophetic soul.  Could we have seen

more clearly than the rest? If we had felt

a people’s destiny laid on our shoulders,

would it have weighted us to sink down deep

enough to see the roots of things to come?


I hear your reasons -- oh, I hear them still.

You didn’t want “to sing and cheer young men

into dangers you could not get hurt in.”

You didn’t want to praise the likes of Stalin,

to bless the necessary compromises

by which a nation gets things done in war.

But was that, Robert, what was asked of you?

Is it not the commission of the poet --

a standing order, not from government --

just to be open to what’s going on,

to take the shock into one’s constitution,

and, facing one’s own danger as a poet,

work out some form to hold it?  Yeats once said

it takes a greater courage to descend

into one’s own depths, than to die in battle.

That goes too far, but there is something in it.

“Aw, come on off your cosmic politics,”

you wrote.  That kind of joke cannot be answered

by someone like myself, with little wit,

but it’s what Dante called il gran refiuto.


Well, and since I seem to be assuming,

despite myself, the stance of wrathful prophet,

I’ll mention one more thing.  You wrote to me:

“I know what’s wrong: the war is more or less

About the Jews and as such you believe

I ought to want to take some part in it.”

And later on you came back to the subject:

“The best part of my friendship for your race

Is that I thought of it as lost in ours,

And the long time its taken me to see

It was in part at least a race apart.

And even the part that is a race apart

I sympathize with.  Give them back I say

All Palestine.  No race without a country

Can be a nation.  I take sides with all

Who want a platform they can call their own

To speak their language from -- a platform country.”

But still you felt it wasn’t your department

to speak on our behalf.

                                      I should have quoted

Donne to you.  I should have said: the war

is not about the Jews as persons only,

not about us as a nation only.

It is about the honor of the nations,

it is about the hope of right, not might,

ruling the world, it is about the future

of human consciousness and human conscience,

the good I always thought we meant by God.

It is about a promise never kept

so far; but, so far, not quite thrown away.

You could have said that better, Robert Frost.

You could have helped us see what we were doing,

you could have warned us, then, of peacetime dangers

that undermined what we had fought to save.

And now the world must play that play again,

with good and evil still more intermingled,

more intricately, lovingly entwined.

What subtle skill of soul could thread this maze

perhaps you could have shown us, if you’d wished to.


I let the matter drop.  The war had taken

enough from me, without your friendship too.

And then I feared to stir you into anger,

make matters worse.  I wrote no poems either,

those years.  I was too personally involved,

afraid that it would sound like special pleading.

Perhaps I should have tried it anyway.

Although I had no more than middling talent

perhaps I would have found a certain greatness

in grappling with the impossible.  The prophets B

were they such geniuses?  God gave them words

to tell the truth.  They told it without quibbling,

and probably (one hopes) did not engage

in contests as to who’s the greater prophet.


I answer you at this late date because

these questions, these regrets have haunted me

into the afterworld, have given me

no peace in death.  And how now, Robert Frost?

You must sense that the fire of burning books

would scorch our souls.  In the name of all that’s human

my ghost commands you, ghost, to walk and speak,

appear to all you’ve influenced and tell them

that you were wrong.


                                               fall 2001






It seemed a grace when first

In May it appeared

As if a white wave-crest

Unexpectedly reared


On the sparse pasture slope,

Sprays crowded close

With dainty flowers whose shape

Proclaimed the rose.


Each spring we saw it gain

More ground. Then we were warned

And noticed that each cane

Was razor-thorned.


Round it the tiny hips

Ripen, a crimson cloud

Birds eat, excrete the pips,

And these, once strewed


In soil, for twenty years

Will bide, then sprout.

It is a foreign curse,

Hard to root out.


With time the field becomes

An impassable wall,

Like the dark hedge that hems,

In the old grim tale,


An ill-wished beauty's sleep.

Ah well, I say,

Then let these briars creep,

Let them have their way!

They came by our own doing.

Then let them hide

Our works, not worth the ruing,

Till far and wide


In May above

Our ultimate repose

Shall wave the lovely

Multiflora Rose.







So many different things to do,

And time for only one or two!

So vast the world, and finite man –

Let me give thanks for what I can.







“Du holde Kunst...” That song brings back a friend

Who sang it, sitting on a tattered couch,

Salvation Army salvage, in a house

On Berkeley’s Derby Street where I could spend

A student’s afternoon.  The living-room

Was paneled in dark wood, and held a shadow

(Anchored doubtless in the square piano)

Of some ancestral mansion’s pleasant gloom.

Marion too, maiden yet matronly,

Bending beside the fireplace in her dark-

Blue velvet robe (another junk-store find),

Appeared a Tyrian prophetess to me

And still appears, though friendship pulled apart,

An envoy of art’s grave and gracious mind.








                        dedicated to the memory of Naomi Shemer


Near a great school of many fish

A barracuda’s head

Suddenly loomed.  At his first gulp

Thousands of them were dead.


The barracuda tracked the school.

He came now every day.

The fishes realized he was

Not going to go away.


Then certain fish began to say,

“He’s really rather nice,

And in his gut those he engulfs

Enjoy fish-paradise.


The barracuda smoothly said,

“Of course, it is not right

To eat a fish.  If this occurred,

It was an oversight.”


The barracuda and the fish

Could coexist, as long

As there were fish.  But they ran out,

And with them ends the song.


[Note: this poem was written before I became aware of Naomi Shemer’s “The Shark.”]







The words of two young lovers I have read,

Now long estranged, and separately dead,

But they have given me to understand

By primal paradise for two was planned.

“You give the world a new dimension,” he

writes.  And she writes, “How unstintingly

you give your best!”  In such and such a phrase

we (distant) are made witness to a grace

almost beyond desire.  The rest will tell

(the end is known) how even that Eden fell,

how bitter memories, drink, and despair

with prior loyalties conspired to tear

that house of confidence, and thus refute

what rang so true, appeared so absolute.

Love’s pavement that they danced on was revealed

as cloud, and strewed them on Earth’s stony field.

He was a poet of most high degree,

a sensitive and subtle artist, she;

their works are left, and his at least will stay

while poets still have anything to say.

But somewhere in the archieves of the years,

or in the eternal present of the spheres,

for children born upon this crowded stone

amid a silent spring, a voiceless dawn,

to grasp at, not to know, the interplay

of all their kindnesses is stored away –

a lovelier show than any we’ll attend,

we, for whom things are over when they end.







Of gold,


of words,


of gold,


in other substance




by meta-



the wearers multiply,



the earmouth,

the heartmind











Peace: wrap that word in velvet of the heart,

wrap it three times around, then reverently

place it within a golden box within

a silver casket in a copper case

within a chest of iron with a lock

of adamant, and five steel bands around it. 

Carefully dig a hole between the roots

of the Tree of Life, the World-tree.  Put the chest

inside that hole, and fill the hole again,

carry away the earth the chest displaces,

fit the sod back above the dug-out place,

water the sod.  Then write in cryptic code

upon a slip of parchment, the exact

location of that hole, and fold it up,

place it in a locket on a chain

and put that chain around your neck and vow

to wear it till you may again return.

Then to the place where you may find the sword

meant for you, go, with the blessing of the Earth.

Pray for the strength to pull it from the stone. 





My heart speaks an archaic dialect

Whose accent is a mark of scorn these days,

Where “Thee” and “Thou” are not yet incorrect,

Where “not” suffices in a verbal phrase

Without the offices of “did” or “do,”

“Alas” may be pronounced sans irony,

Object and verb need not inversion rue,

And I have leave to state that woe is me.

Aye (from what gut-strings twangs that sillable,

While “Yes” is of the superficial tongue),

Time and newfangleness eexceed the pull

Of kind rememberance, true love fades unsung,

Good faith is jeered to hush by thoughtless spite,

And hope is blotted in the spirit’s blight.








                        (to a Broadway tune)


How can I ever do it?

How can I go through it?

He doesn’t care

About the Jews,

And he’s got within his palace walls

So many other girls

That he could choose.


He doesn’t really know me.

One false move and he’sll throw me

To the guards

Who stand and wait.

Vashti found that out before my time –

I don’t have pleasant dreams

About her fate.


You used to be my best friend.

Now you send me to this end.

Though I tried

To run and hide

You tell me I’m the one G-d wants to use.

I guess that is my fate –

I can’t refuse.


I’ll go now and get ready.

You’d better hope my nerves are steady.

Go tell all

Outside the wall

That this is not a joke.  This time they need

To take it seriously

And fast for me.

We cannot flee.

Please fast for me.






Do not suppose me less aware than you

Of the dark wave now cresting overhead,

Nor think the drone of ever-nearing dread

Does not sound constantly and loudly through

My days and hours.  Almost before I grew

I knew that we are twinned to monsters bred

In the same womb of time; that our bright thread

Is on the shears; that our large bill is due.


But no tear falls for towers tenantless

Chiseled in sandstone by the desert gale

That cracks them as it carved.  We could not mourn

Had we not seen honor and loveliness.

I hope to see and show them yet, nor fail

To witness that for which our kind was born.







Defend not Wordsworth!  Where his strains divine

Fail to persuade, what could thou hope for thine?







Voice of our teaching, counsellor of old,

Source of the claim by which we have held this land

Though but in heart, while scattered far abroad

For our sins, or beneath the stronger hand,

Bearing its memory on many a road

Till our return at history’s command:

The face is hidden, and the heart is flawed,

And how shall Jacob stand?


You tell us that the world was made for good

By higher will, and that our place is planned;

And yet from every quarter force and fraud

Are launched against us.   Evildoers brand

Us evil as we flail amid the flood

Of accusations which within us find

Echoes that cause our conscience to explode –

How, then, shall Jacob stand?


If true we have committed what must cloud

Our faith in self, obscure the trace we scanned

Of better destiny than Might has clawed

Out of creation’s clay: shall we disband,

Surrender, while demented mobs applaud

And everywhere the people understand

They dare no longer doubt that Force is God –

How then shall the world stand?


No! lest the source of law should be outlawed,

Beneficence in its own name be banned,

Bid us to live; bid us to mend each road

Of wrong we can, yet, as we must, defend,

Even as we dig to find Your well that flowed

With wisdom once, beneath our desert’s sand,

That Humankind, to whom our works are showed,

May yet with Jacob stand.






More than we wish to understand, there are

today these others who understand each other,

who understand us well enough for their

purposes.  They know that we would rather

assume all will be well than assume the bother

of living, as we must, on the alert;

they guess we lack the energy to gather

as we are gathered by the will to hurt

into a target, our selves that range apart,

our thoughts unwilling to be organized.

We’re stalled on the tracks, our engine will not start,

when it hits we shall be again surprised

though we dream screams.  I cannot sleep, and so

would wake you.  Take my hand, tell me you know.






In memory of Simon Halkin, 1898-1987;

and of Danit Dagan (24),  Uri Felix (23), Orit Ozarov (28), Nir Borochov (22), Limor Ben-Shoham (27), Livnat Dvash (28), Natanel Kochavi, (31),  Tali Eliahu (26), Dan Emunei (23), and Baruch Lerner (29)


If we live like mice in a hole, the enemy will have won.

                                                  – Baruch Lerner


 I used to meet a friend at that café,

an ancient poet who loved Whitman and Shelley.

He’d walk there from his home until one day,

  he found the road too long.  But what a spell he

still knew how to cast, that traveller

through mental space!  Nor did he spare to tell me

  harsh truths about our present when and where.

Some rage at what the years had done to him

helped to stoke a vision that burned clear,

  discussing now the poets, now the grim

outlines of a people’s fate he saw,

like his decay, through no self-pleasing scrim,

  the cracks that kept on spreading from the flaw

that always had been there, beneath the stress

there was no way to end.  And I, a raw

  newcomer to this grief, what could I guess?

I don’t remember any music’s jangle

behind our talk.  It was a quiet place,

  though it was situated at the angle

of two main streets.  It was there, the other night,

that hate again blew up, leaving a tangle

  of mangled bodies.  Nothing that I write

will piece that quiet where he said to me

– from the ancient noble skull what angry light

  blazed when he said it – “Someday, humanity

will grow up!”  I do not suppose it will

now.  What chance has talk and amity,

  the growth of thought, with those who die to kill,

pushed by a mass indifferent to pain?

All that remains will be the inexorable,

  the automatic progeny of Cain.



  Of course, I still say we should meet and talk –

some place, of course, where we can watch the door.

To keep from being scattered by the shock

  Is still the inmost battle of this war.

G-d wagered us, it seems, on consciousness,

and we do what we were created for

  when we take thought together.  Then, no less

than when we pray, we serve the G-d that made

the world of which the wicked make a mess.

  Let us consider all that still may aid

our cause, to whom and how we may appeal,

and how our various strengths may be arrayed

  to amplify each other.  As we feel

so let us think, Jews, menschen.  It is late;

but still our G-d of life is true and real,

  and there is no inevitable fate.




How doth importuned April now proceed

To clothe (as mercy wakens to their need)

The naked trees!  At first diaphanously,

Soon in full majesty and modesty;

Just to my shredded hope she pays no heed.


See how the new grass glitters in her light!

Even on dry old blades she finds a bright

Surface.  How she does it, I can’t say;

Perhaps as easy as folks find a way

To show the right as wrong, the wrong as right.


April, I’m winter-poor; you’re rich and brash.

There are some things won’t come out in the wash

Of all your showers.  Yet I too am primed.

Your moon grows full, and I go off on time:

See, I sing, although my notes be harsh.







                        for Tsipporah bat-Avraham ve-Sarah


Upon the threshold of great enterprise

To which the Torah calls us every day,

Our heart incessantly sends forth its spies

To see what waits for us along the way.

And some of these are folk of high degree,

Sure of themselves.  To them the new appears

A danger, not a possibility –

Its very richness only rouses fears.

But there are also those who know not just

What they know, but that G-d’s help is great,

Whose eyes are not the heaven-blue thread of trust

G-d bade us wear, to follow it past fate

Along the trail that gleams in G-d’s own light

With vision keen, decision swift as flight.








The waters had been rising for a week,
Each arid gulch a torrent broad and brown,
With logs and planks and what not floating down.
In the afternoon the clouds would thin and break,
But in the watches of the night the freak
Storms would begin again. Plans overthrown,
The members of the wedding hugged the phone
Trying to re-track guests, flowers, cake,

Musicians, church, and preacher, while the bride
And groom were parted by the waters wide.
At the last possible hour the rains abated.
Flowers were found; preacher, food, friends and band
Swiftly assembled in a plot re-planned,
And love's resolve was duly celebrated.







Come, let us sing a cheerful villanelle,

Obsess about some sweet and pleasant thought.

All may be well, all may be very well.


The towers glittered brightly ere they fell.

The food was great before the joint was bought.

Come let us sing a cheerful villanelle,


Leave sorrow to the ones for whom the bell

Has tolled.  We’ve time to schmooze while plotters


All may be well, all may be very well


When the New Age tooth fairy waves her spell

Over the ones who murder as they’re taught.

Come, let us sing a cheerful villanelle,


Drown sense in floods of champagne and Chanel.

We’ll conquer death and keep what we have got.

All may be well, all may be very well.


From graveyard roses wafts a heady smell,

An alabaster gleam conceals the rot.

Come, let us sing a cheerful villanelle.

All may be well.  All may be very well.



"Break, shatter, blast."  Too many days

This year have known the sullen blaze

And blast disfigure our design.

Our hard hearts, G-d?  They're shivered fine --

What's left, then, for these sounds to craze?


But still by old-convergent ways

We come to speak the word that says

We're what no force can undermine,

       Break, shatter, blast.


Then may, this year, the shofar's phrase

Speak to us with gentlest praise

Of steadfast love that shall combine

Us still, while truth may disentwine

Our foes, and all their plotting's maze

        Break, shatter, blast!






“Never Say That There Is Nothing You Can Do”

                                    tune:  “Zog Nit Keynmol”


Never say that there is nothing you can do

When the whole world was created just for you,

And in a relay that extends from end to end

Of earth we all may be connected, friend to friend.


All the questions of the world are intertwined,

And a clue is dangling somewhere in your mind,

And if we hear each other we will understand

The steps we need to take today at G-d's command.


Though the sky is shaken with our engines' noise,

In our hearts we still can hear the still small voice,

And if we say that we will do and we will hear,

We'll look around and find a thousand comrades near.


When each person brings their special sacrifice,

>From our offerings a temple shall arise,

Where the prayers of all the nations shall be said,

And on that sacred ground no foe shall ever tread.


Never say that there is nothing you can do

When the whole world was created just for you,

And in a relay that extends from end to end

Of earth we all may be connected, friend to friend.






I have returned from the lonely land of prayer
That waits and thirsts for mercy and for rain.
Could I ever tell you what I found there?

Ads and indifferent faces everywhere
Were all I saw when I got off the plane.
I have returned from the lonely land of prayer.

Before I left some told me to beware
Or blamed the people for their haters' pain.
Could I ever tell you what I found there?

Between the blasts they're searching, those who care,
To find the oil to light the lamp again.
I have returned from the lonely land of prayer:
If on my face you cannot see the glare
Of that light in which history is made plain,
Could I ever tell you what I found there?

To the great city where scare after scare
Ripples the mall, and wealth is on the wane,
I have returned from the lonely land of prayer.
Could I ever tell you what I found there?







A corporation doesn’t have a soul,

Whatever be the case with you and me.

Although it steps into a person’s role,

A corporation doesn’t have a soul.

Unlimited expansion is its goal,

Pursued per automatic strategy.

A corporation doesn’t have a soul,

Whatever be the case with you and me.



"Fidelio" is battering in my brain,

Though I could not sing back a single strain

Of all those that stormed in, one evening after

Christmas, with echoes of demonic laughter

Giving the music its Titanic battle,

Spirit singing to drown its own death-rattle.

"Preposterous plot!"  the demon-voices say.

"Those sets, costumes, and faces, khaki-grey,

They tell the truth. The music is a lie

To which the modern soul resounds: Nice try.

In wedded love he puts his faith, to boot --

A cause long since divorced from the pursuit

Of social justice.  The jailer's daughter knows

How well that little tuft of basil grows

In prison pots.  It takes a man unwed,

Proclivities unknown, to crown his head

With the mad garland of a hope like that,

Fit rival to the horned and bell-tipped hat." --

I hear these voices, yet I also see

How love descends into absurdity

As music into deafness; and although

The arias did not thaw my tears to flow

(Whether from my own dullness to the art

Or from the century's chill about my heart),

Somehow the hope imprisoned in me knew

That something was attempting to get through

To it; and I can recognize the dream

That here is manifest in its supreme

Effort to change our lives, as Samson clasped

The pillars, and brought down the house at last.

Too wise to dream it now, we still are fed

On crumbs of this two-centuries-old bread,

The memory of something generous

To which I pray:  Great Love, deliver us

Out of the prison of our cold disdain.

Make us the fools we'd have to be to try again.







a corona of sonnets


in memory of Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) and Paul Celan (1920-1970)



No, I have heard no voice, have seen no vision.

I saw the world in love and reason’s light,

Not mystic, but intolerably bright.

To bear the pain of sight was the decision;

That taken, there could not be much misprision

About the constitution of our plight.

The only comfort was thought’s own delight

In consequence, completeness, and precision.


And though not uncompanioned in perception –

For often when I reached into my hoard

Of language that might give it some conception,

A formula some predecessor stored

Assured me that my thought was no exception –

I was not told to say: Thus saith the Lord.




I was not told to say: Thus saith the Lord,

Nor can I say I ever felt Him near

Or could suppose myself especially dear

To Him.  The opposite: I could not ward

Myself from feeling, once, that He abhorred

My being – which, as promptly as a mirror,

Flashed back resentment.  But it was a mere

Moment, and long ago; best, then, ignored.


No, I am on my own here; human love

And human fear were all my instruments,

And source of all the light by which I pored

Over life’s text until I sensed what drove

The plot, divined among things and events

An immanent and intricate accord.




An immanent and intricate accord,

A weft of symbol and foreshadowing –

It started with my mother’s cherishing

Of small things kindred memories record,

Symmetric birth-dates, omened names.  These bored

My scientific sib, betokening

To him mere hazard, but configuring

A kind of circuit, on the motherboard


Or inmost retina of my inner eye,

Which outward sights would sometimes activate;

And though I was unconscious of prevision,

It gave me lines where hindsight can descry

A pattern – immanent and intricate –

Of tokens centered on the grim Parisian.




Of tokens centered on the grim Parisian

Before the senses gave me leave to know

I knew that he existed, I could show

A long account; of mental worlds’ collision

Could speak at length; could trace the cold incision

Space made on one small earth, and have done so,

Because he charged me with such speech, although

The positive world might well return derision.


I had divined that this was the Waste Land

And so must have a Fisher King; and he,

In Hell, could not but think there ought to be

Some ladylike salvific apparition,

Nor would-be nurse refuse to understand

One who desired to be the world’s physician.




One who desired to be the world’s physician

Thus cast me in a role where any breath

Must falter: bade me, in the grip of death,

Decipher and deliver his prescription;

Though written in a hand defied decryption

Save to the eye of desperate good faith,

I came to feel that I might say, “Thus saith

Paul Celan” without great self-suspicion.


“Readers and scholars of his word!”  I cried,

“Acknowledge what that word has said to you,

Coming together, letting down your guard.

His last appeal should bind us far and wide

In council.  Cast off – it is overdue –

A caution we no longer can afford!”




A caution we no longer can afford

Or jealous pride of each in their own making

Or else commitment to some group’s mistaken

Set of assumptions, firmly set once poured,

Or deep-set cruelty, made hearing hard,

And though the pillars of the house were shaken

They slept as those whom no alarm could waken,

Kept playing into patterns they deplored.


That all of this occurred beneath the tent

Of economic contest, where the race is

To self-seeking strong, does not reward

The simple Yes, the step into covenant,

That might give solidarity a basis,

Blocked secular scholars from a poet’s word.




“Blocked, secular scholars!  From a poet’s word

Could you not furnish your imagination

With some conception of what fragmentation

Of discipline and theory has scored

With butcher-lines? – The human image, gored,

Is no one’s ox.  Could you not draw some ration

Of love, wisdom, without which agitation

Is vain?  For you, has not the lion roared?”


– I sputtered.  But my words were as the wind

Keening at midnight in the corporate park,

Or like the hum traced to a faint “illision

Of inward spirit” in bees.  Therefore I turned

To where a Voice once poured across the Ark,

Calling us toward a point beyond division.




Calling us toward a point beyond division,

That voice had spoken to a wandering crowd

Living on marginal land between two proud

Empires that ever menaced with elision

That small irrelevant bunch that could envision

A state where no oppression was allowed

And where the human being walked unbowed,

Conscious of rights not subject to recision.


They heard that voice, they took the consequent laws

It spelled to them, and so assumed a shape

That carried them through various kinds of hell,

A people still, dancing between the jaws

of Abaddon, which I now saw agape –

So I was drawn, and came to Israel.




So I was drawn, and came to Israel

Like a mad echo bouncing off the wall

Of stony memories that still corral

Those upon whom I, like a snowflake, fell.

No talisman lay in me to dispel

Despair, who came in answer to no call

Of theirs, but of one chip malheur made spall

From battered block.  As one who came to sell


And stayed to buy, I brought my poet’s lore

And poet’s tears down to a sounding ocean

Of information on heaven’s will, time’s ways.

The tipplers of that vast and salty potion

Assured me that I stood just on the shore

And at the entrance to the Torah’s maze.




And at the entrance to the Torah’s maze,

Armed with a clue that would not lead me far

Inside, I knew, I hollered: “If you are

In there, G-d, and if you want my praise,

Then send us laws to counteract this craze

Of Capitalism – laws that set some bar

To endless greed and waste and lies which mar

Creation, cloud Your image in a haze


Of false desires.  Can learned men devise

No rules of play, no economic plan

To balance drive and thirst of enterprise

With human justice and the thrift of earth?”

Thus, though advised my song was under ban,

I sang to call the word of power forth.




I sang.  To call the word of power forth

Would have been more than sage or saint achieved.

Over the sill, instead, a voice that grieved

Seeped, telling of the Temple’s scattered hearth

That covered Zion’s face with exile’s swarth,

Of prophecy withdrawn from the bereaved,

Then of Charisma, that rough beast conceived

In desperation’s womb, to tell of troth


Broken between the spirit and the script;

Of how in the hands of barbarous upstart

The Name became a banner to conscript

Against those who proclaimed it at the start –

How soul was pinned beneath powers that compel

Was all I heard.  The wind through a ruined cell.




Was all I heard the wind through a ruined cell?

No, in a bass-line deeper than all doubt,

Even beneath those impacts from without

That shrink Divine Concern to the four-ell

Cistern of custom, will not let it well

Outward to slake the world’s unwitting drought,

There came, though in a murmur, not a shout,

Some teachings that might be arranged to spell


A word of hope.  If Precepts of the Fathers

Could bind a company of minds at grips

With the world’s need, and if the Sabbath Day’s

Haven of peace could be the space that gathers

Such thought, then beneath havens of eclipse,

Still, on the inward sky a sign could blaze.




Still on the inward sky a sign could blaze,

Even that Star which Israel has put on,

Coerced and choosing: Star so often wan

With horrors!  That a new and radiant phase

May show it to the universal gaze,

Geometer, expound THE HEXAGON:

That day for seeing all in light of One,

Amid and equal to six outward rays.


Let custom and let ceremony bound

A space where the prophetic soul can sound

And true minds concentrate within this garth

Of time, thought’s offerings, whose light expanding,

The world shall hail the Star of Understanding –

Those who have seen it will not lose the North.




Those who have seen it will not lose the North.

They will stay oriented to the Mind

Of Minds, that will instruct them where to find

Connection, till they fashion or unearth

An architecture that will give new birth

To freedom, will enable truth to bind

The monster Force, and foster humankind

Toward peace and a sustainable Henceforth.


I must break off – the form commands concision –

And hope, dear reader, this has served to win you

For further proofs I’ll show when we continue;

Though if the mural writing be not plain,

If all Earth’s stones do not cry loudly, then

No, I have seen no voice, have heard no vision.




No, I have seen no voice, have heard no vision.

I was not told to say, “Thus saith the Lord.”

An immanent and intricate accord

Of tokens centered on the grim Parisian,

One who desired to be the world’s physician.

A caution we no longer can afford

Blocked secular scholars from a poet’s word

Calling us toward a point beyond division.


So I was drawn, and came to Israel,

And at the entrance to the Torah’s maze

I sang to call the word of power forth.

Was all I heard the wind through a ruined cell?

Still on the inward sky a sign could blaze;

Those who have seen it will not lose the North.


                                                                        January 1-13, 2003




            A poem should stand alone; and yet it also must stand against some background the reader as well as the poet can both see.  Hence, something about the different sources of this poem and about its form.

            I owe its immediate inspiration to a friend’s gift of Abraham Joshua Heschel’s book The Prophets, a work I had not known till then, although Heschel’s The Sabbath had arrived, some years before, to interpret Paul Celan’s last poem (which ends on the word “Sabbath”).  On New Year’s Day, 2003, I wrote down a prose synopsis of The Prophets, and the thought of writing a corona occurred to me.  I cleaned out a bookshelf, looking for the back issue of Edge City Review where I’d seen a corona (“Helen, Old,” by Robert Darling, in no. 13), and also found a copy of a translation and essay by Robert Alter: “Saul Tchernikovsky: To the Sun: A Corona of Sonnets” (Literary Imagination 3:2 [2001], pp. 159-78) which another poet had sent to me some months earlier. 

             As the reader will have seen, the corona consists of fifteen sonnets, each of which must begin with the last line of the preceding.  The fourteenth must end with the first line of the sequence, and the first lines must then form a fifteenth sonnet.  The reader may well ask why, as a response to Amos and Isaiah, to Heschel and, as always, to Celan, would one entangle oneself with such external intricacies?   The Hebrew prophets used a simple antiphonic verse without rhyme or definite meter, and most of Celan’s work at least looks like free verse. Though he translated Shakespeare sonnets, though he has a few metrical poems of his own, though much of his verse can be scanned as amphibrachs, though in his early work the sonnet form can sometimes be felt, as it were, just under the horizon – this sort of exercise seems the polar opposite of his poetic praxis.  Indeed, he once said that “a predetermined pattern makes the poem opaque, closed.”  Yet my own experience is different; of the poems I have written that afterwards struck me as premonitory (i.e. proceeding at least from my own depths, if not from that Intelligence beyond our own in which I am very much inclined to believe), a majority employed rhyme and meter.  I believe there is merit in the view Richard Moore expounds in his essay “On Rhyme” (available at Moore, one of today’s leading formal poets, says that distracting the conscious mind with the meaningless puzzle of rhyme actually frees the subconscious to reveal itself.   I cannot but feel that Celan’s views on form were partly dictated by the imperatives of a literary world from which traditional form was positively banned.  Working, as a poet must, within the constraints that were given him, he succeeded in giving a new form to poetry; but after his death the sonnet form floated back to me as a spar in the sea of mental chaos, and I have clung to it ever since with a kind of mystical feeling, connecting it with the human form, the “tselem elokim” or Divine image in which, according to Genesis 1:27, humans were created.   A rabbinic tradition based on this verse holds that the Torah consists of 613 commandments, 248 positive ones corresponding to the organs of the human body and 365 negative ones for the sinews (or the days of the year); it has occurred to me that the numbers 248 and 365 each add to 14, the number of lines in a sonnet!  (I hope that Kabbalists will pardon me this nontraditional “gematria.”) And the corona, which might be called the square of the sonnet, was perhaps forced on me by a sense of the multifarious and seemingly-incompatible demands which today confront those who would like to have a plausible vision of a better world.  The corona also makes demands for coherency that seem likely to conflict.   Yet if these demands, “with the help of heaven,” can be met in the poem... I think of the first poem of Celan’s that was ever shown to me, a poem of rebeginning despite so much:

                        I heard tell, there be

                        in the water a stone and a circle,

                        and over the water a word

                        that lays the circle round the stone.

If “Prophecy” can be viewed as an expanding ripple of that circle, perhaps a further expansion is conceivable.

            Besides the sources already named, sonnet 6 refers to Harold Bloom’s strictures in The Anxiety of Influence and A Map of Misreading (“poetry is property”).   I also had in mind a book by Erich Kahler, The Tower and the Abyss, which is said to have moved Paul Celan to initiate a correspondence with the author.  Kahler fears for the integrity of the human image, and names the fragmentation of knowledge as one of the sources of danger.   Sonnet 12 refers to a Talmudic saying that was quoted to me: “Since the destruction of the Temple, the Lord has nothing in this world but the four ells of the halakhah” – four ells being the rabbinic measure of “personal space.”  “The wind through a ruined cell” is from Shelley’s “Lines: When the Lamp Is Shattered.”  Precepts of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot), the sixth tractate of the Mishnah, contains a number of rules for intellectual community.  The Star of Understanding is meant to recall Franz Rosenzweig’s apologia for Judaism, The Star of Redemption (where the hexagram or Magen David is analyzed as two intersecting triangles symbolizing respectively the relations between God, man and world and among the three monotheistic religions); but the phrase “the star of understanding” actually comes from John Neihardt’s Black Elk Speaks.   It refers there to the morning star, which seems to stand for the maternal consciousness of the people.  In Kabbala the emanation known as Binah (Understanding, also with a connotation of “structure”) is also called Mother.   In sonnet 14, the term "unearth" is meant to recall a recent book called The Bible Unearthed, which employed archaeological techniques to portray the history recounted in the Bible as mostly fiction.  This disturbed many who rely on the Bible as an authoritative text, particularly considering the recent attempts to deny that a Temple ever stood on the Temple Mount (although the authors of The Bible Unearthed do not question the existence of the First Temple, but only purport to show that most of Biblical history must date to late First Temple times).   The present poem is intended to

suggest that the authority of the Jewish tradition is based not on the factuality of the Exodus/Sinai narrative, but rather on the human centrality of the struggle which that narrative reflects.   In the end, the authority for the tradition lies not in the past but in the future -- in the responses to the human condition which it can still inspire. The name of G-d is a future verb (Ex. 3:14).

            In the scope of the poem I could do no more than name the Hexagon, and refer obliquely to the ‘Olam Katan (Small World) – two suggestions I have made separately, and would like someday to be able to combine.  But are not these things posted, along with the beginning of my epic, The Consciousness of Earth, on Point and Circumference (                                                                                                 –EC







(Note: In 2003 a piece by an unknown author, an antiwar statement in “Dr. Seuss” style, was forwarded to m via the Internet)


When the question came up about war with Iraq,

The Whos held a council, to think and to talk

About how to avoid such a sin, waste and shame,

And one urged allegiance to “Not In Our Name”

In the name of sweet reason and good will and peace

And the hard work that’s needed to make such wars cease.

The Whos cheered.  But a lone woman managed to seize

(Don’t ask how) their attention.  She said to them, “Please!

Almost all that the last speaker told you is right,

But in one or two places it’s not water-tight,

And the sea-floor is littered with wrecks one small leak

Has sent to the bottom.  So mark what I speak!


“If the world were now fixed so that kind words could win

All the time, making war in all cases a sin –

If, wherever two sides in contention are seen,

The truth must lie always exactly between –

If slogans and cheers constituted solutions

And vague good intentions could make revolutions --

Then “Not In Our Name” would be on the right track.

I don’t know, when it comes to the war on Iraq,

If it’s right or it’s wrong, if it’s smart or it’s dumb.

I’ve had varying reports and opinions, that come

From far-distant sources I cannot check out.

Of our current regime I have more of a doubt –

I don’t trust them as far as a toddler could throw ‘em

And have voiced that perception in many a poem.

But that doesn’t mean that whatever they do

Or they say, the contrary must always be true!

Take Israel, there at the heart of the storm.

On the left as in Europe, it now is the norm

To blame her and say that she must not insist

On the needed conditions to let her exist –

That’s called the “peace process,” and covers the name

Of peace, sacred once, with indelible shame.

Our current regime is less guilty of that

Than are most – for the sake of avoiding a spat

With those Christians who back it, I tend to assume –

An example of how, on our politics’ loom,

The threads are so twisted and so intertwined

That it needs a precise and distinguishing mind

To sort them and plot, for the ones who still care,

A course from this Here to some preferable There.

Is that what the ‘peace’ folks are showing us?  Na!

They’re like sheep that go plodding, with bleat and with baa,

To the slaughter.  Some group rents an office, composes

An antiwar statement that strikes righteous poses,

Slips in a few phrases that slander the Jews

(‘Scuse me, the Israelis, since all can agree

The Israelis are ‘them,’ they are not you and me),

Gets ‘John Hancocks’ from prominent fools, makes the news,

And voila!  your leadership.  No one inquires

Just who, behind scenes, may be pulling the wires.

I don’t know.  But I know the things money can say,

And I know where a lot of it comes from today.

Through various channels it oozes and seeps,

But the ultimate spigots are manned by some creeps

Who don’t care for justice and freedom at all,

Who hide human rights ‘neath a black stifling pall.

(Our business and pols helped to put them in place –

Again, how entangled the roots of disgrace!)

We may owe them our present regime, if black gold

Paid for ads, at the time our election was sold –

With them in one room, and the Christians in the other

To placate, our Pres must be all in a pother.

But their gifts to our Right wouldn’t keep them from spying

Around, for more weak links that might be worth trying.

There’s our leftists, our poor intellectual class,

Their magazines chronically looking for brass,

Their radio stations, defunded of late,

All those whom the corporate powers relegate

To marginal limbo.  How easy to dangle –

On condition of slighting the Zionist angle,

It’s such a small thing – the munificent grant

Before eyes wide with hunger.  Of course they would want

To wrap the bait up in a moral disguise –

Hence the long Palestinian grievance they prize

Far too well just to help and to welcome as brothers

Those whose want is so useful a tool against others.

Those people the world may well pity, indeed:

Suppressed and exploited, on both sides they bleed;

The Jews dare not free them, the Muslims incite them,

And while thus incited, no power can right them.

It is a sore knot that cannot be untied

By humanitarians blind on one side.

Fellow-Whos!  Share my fear lest her foes should achieve

Their desires upon Israel!  Then you’d soon grieve

More September 11ths.  They’ll hold off till then,

While the highbrows talk peace and plain women and men

With just sense enough to be scared, back the Right,

Which has pledged to protect them, however one might

Harbor doubts as to whether that pledge will be kept

By those who stole pensions while everyone slept.”


The speaker drew breath.  On her brow the sweat stood.

She looked round to see whether they’d understood.

A few eyes held hers.  Most were fixed on the ground

Or else toward the exits were looking around.

But still she addressed them: “Good people, I pray,

All you who love freedom and justice today,

Hold still, and think back to the start of the way.

Once a people were freed from the powers that oppressed

By miracles – splitting of seas, and the rest.

Fact or fable, that tale has cheered many a soul

And stirred many a people to seek freedom’s goal.

But not everyone notes how the story goes on –

How, the moment their song of thanksgiving was done,

They were told, ‘Keep the Sabbath.  Don’t work on that day

For a living, but gather in solemn array.’

For freedom lives only in community.

They were given more laws, to preserve dignity

And respect for each other, for freedom can’t ring

Where folks think it means you can do anything.

Moreover a wise man, who came from outside,

Said, ‘The people aren’t sheep for one sheep-dog to guide.

Let each ten have a leader, those leaders confer

By tens in their turn, forming tier after tier,

Where each leader knows and is known by the friends

Who trust him or her to pursue wisdom’s ends,

Till it comes down to one, who makes his/her decisions

As the sum of constituents’ knowledge and visions.’


“Friends, that is a word that is relevant now.

If you want to construct a good movement, here’s how.

Clear a space, where you can, from the pressure that bends

Your perceptions, and in that free space, meet in tens.

Pool your knowledge, and talk to your friends till they too

Are meeting this way.  Soon your net will spread through

The whole population, both wealthy and poor,

Everyone who can grasp that we need something more

Than the market to make our decisions for us,

Or we’ll all soon be crammed in the back of the bus.

But each group of ten has to choose, and choose well,

The person who’d be the most gifted to tell

The sum of their thoughts to the wider alliance –

And this, O my comrades, this IS rocket science!

Beware of your own crooked hearts, all too prone

To resent admonition, perhaps feel outshone

By those who have given their best, and ask yours.

If you yield to such feelings you’ll soon be off course,

And then you can talk till you’re blue in the face

About love overarching religion and race

And uniting the globe – and it will not be worth

The littlest pinch of the dust of the earth.

For a peace that’s to stand must be made with great skill,

And not to want that is to not have good will.

But if you can rise to this test – recognize

The ones who you know are both honest and wise –

You’ll discover the joy of a people who build,

And little by little all needs will be filled.”


She ceased – and a silence was heard in the hall.

And no one said anything.  No one at all.

Then, one after the other, they turned and filed out.

They went home and thought.  And they thought.  And they thought.

Then someone called someone.  And someone called others,

Their cousins, their school friends, their sisters and brothers.

They found the address of a website that showed

More detailed instructions for walking this road.

They learned and they taught.  They reached out and they grew.

When it came to elections, they knew who was Who.

The pols, seeing ads didn’t work anymore,

Showed the boys with the blood-money bags to the door

And then buckled down to pursuing the good

Of the Whos, who would not accept nickels of wood.

Did they stop that particular war?  I don’t know:

They’d made a late start, had a long way to go.

But at last they were moving... and History will mention

The day when this plan first obtained their attention.







                                 Think: your

                                 own hand

                                 has held this pain-

                                 reclaimed, pain

                                 requickened portion

                                 of habitable earth


                                           Paul Celan, 1967


You have half forgotten, you almost remember the dream

Of a native country whose language was joy

Despite the numerous crosses, the wide denial

Of an abundance flowing from the infinite

Founding the city upon the reformed heart

And sustaining the world through one small land.


It always was about this piece of land

Where a people held together by a dream

(Or compressed by surrounding pressures into a heart)

Found, between towering walls, the way to joy

Just for a moment that seemed infinite

Before the jaws of empire closed in denial.


But they could meet denial with denial.

They could pay out, while fleeing from the land,

A long, strong cord of story.  The lost is infinite

Possession.  In possession of a dream

They did not unlearn how to sing for joy.

Wandering, they carried with them their country's heart.


For their singers had built the temple of the heart.

It stood unshakeably footed on denial.

Swaying with eyes closed they could enter its joy

Though many kin remained behind in the land

At the mercy of those who had stolen the dream

And changed its vision of the Infinite


Into a conqueror's program of infinite

Empire, feeding the victor's insatiable heart,

Merging spirit with the flesh-hued dream

Of the ravisher who heeds no denial

But goes trampling over land after land

To crush the rose of Sharon, all flowers of joy.


As it nears, humans abandon all hope of joy

Unless they are rooted in the infinite

Enough to hold on to this piece of land

With desperate strength, the last strength of the heart,

Even against kin, the captives of denial,

Who would turn possession into our worst dream.


There are those in this world who do not dream of joy.

The capacity for denial is infinite.

Abandonments lay waste the world's heart-land.








Who cares for ancient writs, monuments of

Unaging intellect? All's obsolescent.

Those we pretend to guard we do not love.

The bottom line, pitted against the crescent,

Collides with it, colludes with it, to shove

Ditchward what’s functionless.  An adolescent

Passion for smashing things is in control,

Heedless of any flappings of the soul.



God's holy fire -- for there are those who call

It such -- is not for standing in, O sages!

And any gold mosaic on a wall

Will be clawed off and sold, for such the rage is;

Though distant from the auctioneers that bawl

Our futures, still it seems that one contagious

Furor possesses them; invention turns

Destruction, other face of the sword that burns.



Whatever is begotten now, and born,

Must live until it dies without the shade

Of custom, save such custom as is worn

Like a black shroud whereby the heat is made

Hotter.  Old Glittering-Eyes, can you not mourn?

Splintered the flute whereon your servant played

Those mournful tunes.  The slope you're climbing, too --

The Yangtze dam has somewhat marred that view.



Only through mourning is the shade of good

Perceived now, by those left with sense enough

To mourn.  To them appears the grieving crowd

Of those who lit the lamp this storm would snuff.

O workers of some fabric that withstood --

Washington, Paul, Hillel, whose moulds we slough --

Return, breathe on our minds, draw civic shape

From gleamless palette, feckless fiddle-scrape.







A poem that twice uses “great”

To stuff a line, I would not rate

So highly as to give it home

On the first page of a tome,

And “great gazebo”!  For my money

That’s unintentionally funny;

A slower joke’s that parallel

Between “gazebo” and “gazelle.”

Now Heaven be praised I have no friend

Who when I’m gone will condescend

So clumsily to my vain thrashing:

The putdown is so much in fashion

It scarcely takes the pains to prink

With wit, for those who will not think.

You, Yeats, when you cooked up that spell

Were not so old you could not smell

What’s burning, and it is not Time.

On your gazebo, too, the flames climb,

And those who feel no common wrong

Have small matter for a song.

Great Dread had almost made you wise.

But folk will take the worst advice

Of poets dead, and leave the best.

Under Ben Bulben, can you rest?







We’ve got this hot new spacecraft

(Also called a map).

The latest thing in peacecraft –

In other words, a trap.

Materials and instruments

Have failed every test,

But won’t you please step into it

And hope for the best.







Children play Shakespeare on a summer’s eve,

Their theater a house they’ve hollowed out.

On a black-painted stage they move about

Among black crates and pallets, props that leave

Much to the imagination.  We receive,

Likewise, a maid-child of eight years for stout

Fortinbras.  Why, ‘tis brave, and conquers doubt!

But isn’t that the way of make-believe:


Less to resemble than to represent,

To posit, more than simulate.  To say,

“Let this be that.”  And in the mind’s eye rises

All of the splendor that the poet meant.

Cynic, behold, be changed!  The human play

Is not yet done, and still may hold surprises.





The voice of mother Rachel I heard moan

For Israel’s children, once again besieged

By those who have no pity on their own,

Who seek not their own happiness or peace

But our undoing and the misery

Of all on earth; whose love of war has turned

The praise of G-d into a murderer’s cry.

She weeps for nations, too, that have not learned

What fruits appeasement brings, but who malign

The attacked, to buy themselves some thoughtless ease

And not to know that they are next in line;

But most of all she weeps, she weeps for these

Children of hers, who turn on her, convert

Even her compassion to her people’s hurt.






"My ship is at the harbor bar,

And I'll be six months gone.

What shall I bring from old England,

The land that once was home?"

"O bring me a pot of Jack-by-the-Hedge,

Which some call Sauce-Alone.


"It adds a tang to salads green,

It bears white flowers in spring.

I'll feel, among the alien plants,

More joy in gardening.


And when you've sailed away again,

And have been gone awhile,

I'll look upon the Jack-by-the-Hedge

And think of you, and smile."


"How may I know this Jack-by-the-Hedge,

And what may be its mark?"

"When not in bloom its leaves are low

And like a deep-notched heart."


The traveler walks on England's shore,

He walks in a country lane,

And there he sees some Jack-by-the-Hedge,

Which some call Sauce-alone.


He's dug it up with its long white root,

And in a pot of clay

He keeps it with him the voyage through,

He waters it every day.


His wife is glad to have him back

And glad he's kept his pledge

And not forgot her Sauce-Alone,

Her pot of Jack-by-the-Hedge.


She's taken it out of the earthen pot

And in her garden gay

She's planted it to bloom; but there,

Alas, it does not stay.


Its many seeds are borne by wind,

By the foot of beast and man,


And the farmer does not smile to see

That leaf upon his land.


It carpets all the woods, its root

Puts a bane into the ground,

Our native flowers melt away

And are no longer found.


We do not call it Jack-by-the-Hedge,

Nor is Sauce-Alone its name,

And we do not know who brought it here,

But we hold them much to blame.


We are glad of garlic in the stew

And mustard on the meat,

But when garlic mustard perfumes a field

It is not declared a treat.


But man sets nature's will at naught,

And nature mocks his pain,

And if we got back through Eden’s gate,

We’d only wreck it again.







In Voronezh, where Mandelstam would stay

A few months more before they took him away,

The voice of Marian Anderson came over

The airwaves, and acquired a distant lover.


He listened, and the walls that he had seen

Closing around him, opened to let in

A tidal rush of awe that swallowed fright,

A gentle breath from islands of delight,


And from behind the stars a mother's voice

Calling her children home: Repent. Rejoice.

Dust is the throat that sang, the ear that heard.

Still rings the echo in the poet's word.


Zimmerman made it audible, back here.

Grant us grace, Mother. Space in which to hear.



I had thick dark hair with a reddish glint

And brows that almost met above my nose.

I’d take the stairs two at a time; I’d sprint

To catch a bus; sometimes I’d skip!  Flash clothes

And ethnic beads were my delight.  From time

To time I’d dream a myth, or write a poem

Whose deep-caught imagery dispensed with rhyme.

Such are the gifts of youth.  The gods bestow ‘em,

And the wise do not grieve at growing older

If they can see the gorgeous garb of youth

Draped gracefully across another shoulder.

But Earth has suddenly grown old, and drouth

Seals up the souls.  The young no longer dream,

And desolate age alone recalls the gleam.







Can anyone still hear my people's cry,

Even they themselves? Can anybody stand

In the blown-apart heart of the Holy Land,

Can anybody see with shattered eye

All that is done? Can anyone think why,

Marshal a shredded brain to understand?

Can anybody grasp a severed hand,

Can a cut-out tongue still stammer of Sinai?


O GOD, restore the image of Your Law,

Restore the sacredness of human form,

If not for Israel's, for your sweet earth's sake.

Send us a sign, send forth a ray to draw

Love's faithful in against the hateful storm

To uphold the norm, and face down Amalek!







We bear the mark, and do not know

Why or wherefore it should be so.

We cannot read the difference

It means – what merit or offence

Awarded us this weal and woe.


Whether burnt in by Sinai’s glow,

Or whether carved by exile’s throe,

Or borne from soul’s mysterious Whence,

      We bear the mark.


Sometimes, immersing in the flow

Of time, we hope it does not show,

Until the unfolding of events

Or waking of an inner sense

Advise us that wherever we go

      We bear the mark.







That speech should be entirely free

Requires no great audacity

To state these days.  The world of letters

Has long since shuffled off the fetters

Of what was known, some years ago,

As common decency.  Your low-

Browed Baptist still may fulminate,

But otherwise, it’s getting late

To hunt for Puritans.  They’re gone,

And only I still linger on,

Nursing a few last reservations –

I’ll state them, if you’ll hear with patience.

Would it beseem your views to opinion

The wing of an adverse opinion?


First, as an axiom, I’ll mention

The ageold, often-noted tension

Between necessity and freedom:

Both G-d, it’s said, and artists need ‘em

Both.  Whatever’s all one way –

No set of rules, no room for play –

Is lifeless from the start, or short-lived,

Or on the average, abortive.

Folk find that life with rules is sweeter

(I see you write in rhyme and meter).


A survey of the arts today

You’ll find will bear out what I say.

It’s true that seventy years ago

You could not say, you could not show

Some things – except between brown covers

Or in blue movies, which the lovers

Of stolen waters slyly traded –

It made sin more fun to be raided

Now and then.  But the public space

At least was clear of great disgrace

To the human image.  There, respect

Reigned, and allowed the intellect

To unfold, and art to contemplate

The human being in depth, to state

The issues in a way not quite

Oblivious of our complex plight.

But now that sort of things is banned,

Though none admits that this was planned!

Few publishers will even look

At a G-rated story-book

Without profanity or violence –

“Give us the dirt! The rest is silence!”

Amid the mayhem, character

And motivation tend to blur,

Sensation has expelled both Sense

And sensibility from hence.

In the political arena

The tone of the debate is meaner,

Posturing and knee-jerk reactions

Replace debate, by either faction.

All to the lowest level sinks

And, decomposing, loudly stinks.

Where have Truth and Beauty gone?

Shamed, despised, and spat upon,

They’ve fled the public marketplace

with the hounds of “candor” on their trace.

The media, of course, must shoulder

Much of the blame, as bold and bolder

They stun the mind with stimuli

To make folk buy, and buy, and buy

More and more stupid junk.  But why

Cannot, at least, a poet see

This is not good for poetry?!






O what have you lost today, dear heart,

That you look so wan and pale?

O I have lost a golden chain

With a diamond stone and my truelove’s name.

There are gold and gems in the mines of earth

To make you a token of greater worth

As long as love remains.


O what have you lost today, good soul,

That you hang your head so low?

O I have lost a friend of youth

Who has proved no friend in truth.

There are many whom you would love not in vain,

And prayer can warm cold hearts again

As long as faith remains.


O what have you lost today, my child,

The your turn your face away?

Sixteen precious souls of Israel

Were swept away by the minions of hell.

O then I cannot comfort you

Till this world is ended and made new,

For naught can replace these slain.

Alas for those who are lost and cannot be found!







After the present contest is decided

The world will go on rolling down time’s slope

By one path or another.  Those who’ve sided

One way or the other may return (O Hope!)

To the task of making whole, with what remains.

Though after months of mutual accusations

It may take time before the battered brains

Can switch into the mode of watchful patience

Which is the only road the good can ever

Come to the world.  It is the sacred space,

The channel for the Power to Make Over,

The court of judgment and the seat of grace,

The helm of strategy we must protect,

For all is rooted in the Intellect.


                                                fall 2004







(toward a neighborly post-election conversation)


            I must lie down where all the ladders start

– W.B. Yeats




Friend, you have voted for the wrong, I think;

Now pray we may avert catastrophe,

Of which this man has brought us to the brink,

This corporate servant whose morality

Gives the widow and the orphan little quarter –

Who having shown us the Iraqis’ plight

As pretext, now keeps no count of the slaughter

He’s brought upon them, with no end in sight.

A war to which our enemies may well

Have counseled him!  Defend this country, he?

Save us from our defenders, who pave hell

With profiteering and Tartufferie.

– But had the man for whom I voted won,

I would be asking myself what I had done.




For I am one who cares for Israel

And does not want to “reach out” to our foes.

I was not sure the candidate would not sell

Us out, whom I with trepidation chose.

Also, amid your “family values” talk,

I hear a fear the Left has failed to hear:

Of predatory media that stalk

The country, making children hard to rear.

Maybe you cast your ballot for a staid

Domestic image of lost innocence;

And if you have resisted being swayed

By Hollywood and rock stars, you showed sense.

Our ridicule and negativity

Failed to persuade, as lacking dignity.




But negativity and ridicule

Your side, as well as ours, has often used.

Conservative writers aim foul speech and cruel

Taunts at the deprived and the abused

And those who care for our environment.

The democratic purpose of debate

They do subvert, evincing the intent

Less to persuade than to intimidate:

Not by the free choice of the free and brave,

The immortal soul that only bows to G-d,

But by the instinctive cringing of the slave

Whom a sharp tone of voice can cliffward prod

Your side sought victory, and won.  And you,

As well as we, this victory may rue.




 “When going to the people, take your whip,”

Nietzsche, that breeder of bad thoughts, once said;

And as I read the winning side, his quip

Won’t quit reverberating in my head.

That politicians steal and shade the truth

Is old; one bears it with philosophy;

But the attack upon the source of ruth,

The call to servile fear and cruelty,

Bespeaks a tyrant spirit that by stealth

Has for some time been working to suborn

The soul of citizen and commonwealth.

Against this may good people wake and warn,

Lest liberty and justice should depart,

Leaving this land without a soul or heart.




How is civility by all betrayed,

Even by those that on it most depend,

Although without it hopes of reason fade,

And no one can foretell a happy end:

Perhaps it is the waning of our trust

In an eternal Might that stands behind

The humble, and brings arrogance to dust,

And brings to term what Providence designed.

Trust failing, even those who advocate

For the downtrodden, felt that they must posture

And threaten like the haughty, and berate

Their enemies like generals who could muster

The force to make it stick.  Unfortunately,

This prompted power to cast off courtesy.



 “We who believe that a wrong road was taken

And yet must now go down it with the rest,

What shall we do, Mother?”

                                           “Refrain from slaking

Your grief with mere vituperation, lest

You mar your human image, and descend

To levels where there is no remedy.

Be wise enough to make defeat your friend

And, being humbled, learn humility.

Humility: it is the only gate

By which new things can come into the world,

The matrix where true minds communicate,

The seed where possibility lies furled.

It is the ground from which all ladders rise

That may yet lift us to redemption’s skies.”



Still to rebuild the center is the task,

Where thought is shielded from contention,

Where there’s no question that we may not ask,

And no misgiving that we needs must shun;

Where inspiration can be heard, undrowned

By thoughtless bluster and self-seeking lies,

And where investigation may be crowned

By a result that all can recognize.

A still more perfect union we must form

In the spirit both of science and of prayer,

To fortify this land against the storm

That threatens hope and freedom everywhere.

May all we love arise in us and plead

For this.  It is the hour of deepest need.


                                                            November 2004








          Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?
                             -- Job 38:4

You who seek meaning in this throe of earth

By which so many lives were swept away,

Recall that such are but the pangs of birth

Of mountains, rivers, flood-plains where life may

Unfold itself.  Should these upheavals cease,

As in Australia, the continents,

Desert, would offer life the scantest lease:

Out of disaster comes our providence.

O humans, go out from your tiny frame

Of time, climb past the compass of these years

And view the agelong path by which we came!

Such contemplation cannot cancel tears,

Yet with a grander wisdom may we live

The life Creation’s motions take and give.





The night retreated, and the people rose

And did as they had planned the day before:

Launched fishing boats, fed children, mended clothes

Or sunned themselves along the quiet shore.

If anyone had dreamed, none had foretold

That their next day, their every future year,

Would be undestined by a wave that rolled

Across their land like a huge hand to smear

Their lives’ design to blankness, to replace

Structure with wreckage, conscious life with rot,

Mourners and mourned engulfed without a trace,

Their lives in one swift stroke summed up to Naught.

Through sea, through air, the bubble of the WHY

Mounted and burst beneath the stark impassive sky.





Scarcely had that great cloud of souls escaped

To wrap the earth in a vast soundless wail,

When hastily across the void that gaped

First threads were cast.  The shock that on the scale

Of Earth had topped the numbers, sent a surge

Of sea across the hapless haunts of men,

Woke in the sympathetic sphere an urge

That rushed to the breach, to build them back again.

Ministers pondered meaning.  Doctors flew.

Ships, aircraft brought supplies.  Aid-workers fanned

Out over ruined plains.  Charities drew

The coin of many a realm from many a hand.

The widow’s mite, the corporation’s dole,

The state’s, flowed to the spot, to make the great wound whole.





Wounds fester still, and still survivors comb

Lists for a sign of their mass-buried dead.

From loss of occupation and of home

Through years to come the aftershocks will spread

Their menace.  Yet through all this, we are shown

The face of human mercy, and the will

To succor, to befriend, uplift the prone,

Toward reparation bending every skill.

A world made void, without a place to lay

Our head, nor field to till, nor face of kin –

This is not our desire, however we may

Give cause to fear it through mistake or sin.

O no!  We want a world where seed may grow

To fruit, and age may bask in children’s faces’ glow.





O you who perished for no other cause

Than that your track of life had placed you where

The great deep lashed its blind tremendous paws,

To your attendant spirits be this prayer,

To your attendant spirits, to the One

Who breathed you, Who breathed order to the void

And breathes it even now, through everyone

Who lifts a hand to right what was destroyed:

O may the angels these good deeds have borne

Be with us still, hold steadily to our mind

Our Godly image which such works adorn

And strengthen, that we may be wisely kind,

Staying the yearlong course of this repair,

Keeping faith with Earth’s orphans everywhere.





                 29,000 children die each day from hunger

                 or avoidable disease.

                                                  – U.N. report


                 One good deed brings another.

                                                 – The Talmud


That lifting and rebound of the great sea

Which sprang back like a trap on isle and shore,

Smoothed nature’s and man’s work to nullity

And children from their clutching parents tore,

Built in the realm of Lost only a small

City beside the far-flung conurbation

Of lives and goods that daily, yearly fall

Through human rage or thoughtless machination,

Tending toward ends that we cannot desire.

Yet if we here make remedy, then may

The thought of that accomplishment inspire

Us to address our own-made disarray;

And there where conscience points “Thou art the man”

Give heart to say, “I will repair, and can.”


                                                                        January 2005





 [Note:  In a leap year, the 14th and 15th of Adar I are known as Purim Katan.  The rabbis say that while we do not read the Megillah or send shalach monos on Purim Katan, we
 should rejoice, and a festive meal is in order.]

 Purim Katan: a leap-year guest,
 Not hailed by portions, scroll or jest,

 A child in double masquerade
 Grateful for all attention paid,

 Not many see it come and go,
 But it is there for those who know.

 It is a day to hold a feast,
 Or quietly rejoice at least,

 To pause and see the morning star
 And the full moon for what they are,

 To thank for wonders small and great
 That guard our path and fill our plate,

 To spare a thought for things unseen,
 The hidden just, the exiled queen,

 The sign, now traced in gray on gray,
 That will gleam out in gold someday.





Imperfect things! What else have we

To lean on, in reality,

Seeing our actions cannot draw

A virtue’s portrait without flaw

Or type its orders accurately?


In all that is not cruelty,

Self-seeking, error, laxity

Appears.  We cannot hold in awe

Imperfect things.


Yet not in those who cannot see

The aim, or who deny or flee

The task set by some higher Law

Or brighter Image one once saw

Resides the power to heal and free

Imperfect things.




Poet, be not a critic overmuch,

For why should you aspire to a degree

Beneath your birthright, and with cavils smutch

The shining scutcheon of your minstrelsy?

It ne’er was vision’s bravest feat to see

The fault, or plant a fault in its own field,

Rather to view from all obstruction free

The beauty that desired to be revealed.

If means by which some blemish may be healed

Are shown to you, propose them!  Yet the Muse

Loves those who to her sweet persuadings yield

Most readily, whether at first she choose

Their voice, or sound upon another’s string

To rouse them to a song of glad acknowledging.







I have lived my life -- and found that it was not

Like anything they’d told me in advance.

Books of religion, reason and romance

All lied, and science too left out a lot.

It almost seemed as if there was a plot

Afoot, to keep my youth in ignorance

So fate could whip me through a stumbling dance

Of steps I might have graced, had I been taught.


“Someone must write to warn the young!” I cried,

“Lest they, as well as we, should miss the gate!”

So I began.  But all the words I tried

Appeared reluctant to collaborate,

They turned and twisted so.  I gave it up.

Truth can’t be told, and youth must take its luck.







Somewhere far away

a gigantic crystal leans

upon a mountaintop.


From it emanate

instructions, pulsing outward

in wave upon wave.


Those who receive them

come together, synchronize

watches, pick their leaders.


They pool their info,

receive their assignments, then

scatter to do them.


At regular times

they reconvene, compare notes,

reassess, reassign.


All this to the pulse

of that distant crystal becoming

their breath, their song.










Vav conversive, where

are you now?  Come back, turn back

the arrow of time.






Send the rain, dear G-d, please send the rain,

let the pasture grassblades drink and spread their roots,

so that, when the cattle are brought in again,

they have enough of densely crowded shoots

not to lay bare the ground.  O send the rain!

Well is it known to You how dryness mutes

the songbird’s throat, the insect’s trill, makes vain

the fling of seed.  But sweeter far than lutes

is the sweet music when You’ve sent the rain

that sings to earth of leaves and flowers and fruits,

to grief of tears that loose the grip of pain,

and many an anxious wakefulness commutes

to heart-slaked slumber.  Then, please, send the rain.

And be Your mercies everywhere made plain.






Is none to raise the loud and bitter cry

That all along our shuttered streets could roll

And through the palace walls that hide the soul

Could penetrate and rouse it lest it die,

Could overtake the fragment-souls that fly

In all directions, heedless of the whole?

Does not one circle pass through pole and pole?

O where are you, where are you, Mordechai?


Shall no one give us eyes to see the fight

Is now in every street and house and heart

And calls for every knowledge, every art,

To speak of Israel's truth and Zion's right,

Source of the Law by which the world might live,

Not die?  O where, where are you, Mordechai?!!





Forsythia hangs its golden fleece
And maples' green, not leaf but flower,
Broods palely at the park's far edge
Beneath that gloom that bodes a shower.

Hyacinth, daffodil and squill
And tulip revel in the garden --
Look! look! you cannot gaze your fill
At spring's fresh glaze, before it harden.

Hawthorn shimmers in the air,
So dimly white, it’s barely there.



Grape hyacinth, replacing squill –
Blue florets flounce from a green stem,
Each floret bears a tiny frill
(Or show of white beneath the hem?).
The cherry blows. Ah, daffodil,
Leaving so soon? The rising spray
Holds the dying fall. April
Bursting and withering into May.







Note: This poem meditates on Rashi's first comment on Genesis.   Rashi asks why, instead

of just giving the laws, the Torah begins with the creation of the world, and reasons

that this is in order to justify Israel's claim to the land: "All the earth belongs to the

Holy One, blessed be He; He created it and gave it to whom he pleased."  The

poem relates this to a Talmudic saying that is quoted by Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle

Stengers in Order Out of Chaos, to the effect that G-d created the world a number

of times but each time it crumbled, until He added the attribute of teshuva

(repentance, return), "and then it stood."


The birthday of the year again comes round,

The days when we remember the Creation

And the world’s provenance, on which we found,

As Rashi says, the title of our nation

To the small, much-contested piece of ground

From which we draw our life.  A slender fable,

Some say; but is life’s thread a stouter cable?


Creation!  Who, they ask, was there to plan

When out of nothing burst the formless mass

That mushroomed out, occasioning as it ran

Physical laws, and very time and space

And the ascending forms that led to man –

Haphazards that became a tale of woe

When matter sorted into minds that know.


That sorting too, only a coalescence

Within the dissipation of the All,

An accidental being without essence,

An upward flutter in a downward fall,

Where matter, settling after effervescence,

Thins into nothingness through unmarked ages –

Effaced the letters, and dissolved the pages!



So must the universe indeed appear

To one who measures meaning with extent,

Who seeks for cause in what came earlier

And takes the later thing as consequent,

Who, bent upon externals, cannot hear

His own soul’s voice, nor, schooled by it, perceive

In outer things themselves the Maker’s weave.


But once to have seen time’s procession checked

By premonition, synchronicity –

Whatever name you think may best reflect

The glint of these small haps that hold a plea

For something beyond time that may project

What seems to flow in sequence down time’s slope –

Is to have glimpsed both origin and hope.


Scattered and small appears such evidence

Against the background of determined fact;

Small, too, is planet Earth amid the immense

Desert of space, our span amid the tract

Of time whose emptiness astounds the sense –

A point in all; yet if that point were missed,

To what purpose would all the rest exist?


Our cause is found not in that plasmal state

Where even physical laws did not yet hold;

No did the laws of physics contemplate

The laws of chemistry which then unrolled,

Nor inorganic chemistry spell the fate

Of organisms, nor biology

Predict their actions in society;


Nor do the rules of human give-and-take

Contain the Torah that to us is given,

That shook the conscience of the world awake

And strengthened those who like the leaf were driven

To stand in dignity and, pacted, make

A further level of coherency,

Though this, as yet, not all can or will see.


There’s that in humankind which would go back

To sleep again, and silence the alarm,

Those who prefer a world of strife and lack

Where they can spread themselves and work their harm,

Till it could seem as if the world’s off track

Permanently, committed to decay,

Where entropy, as in cold space, holds sway.

Last century saw destruction, clothed in lies,

Swell and advance as if to efface the mark

Of covenant, put out compassion’s eyes,

And plunge the world in final utter dark;

And yet the morrow saw fair Zion rise,

Sign of our destination beyond time,

And of the world’s repentance for great crime.


So we must pray that still that sign may stand

And with it, conscience and the very frame

Of human consciousness, that what G-d planned

Man may yet build, with once-more-steadied aim,

Not crumble back into time’s sterile sand

In which no secret of creation lay,

Which brings not forth, but only wears away.


But the direction of the true return

Is to the One who willed and wills Creation

Which to Moshe shone forth in flames that burn

And not consume, round which he formed this nation –

Source of the light whereby each can discern

Their share in what may have been wrought awry,

And of the strength to fashion equity.


Time’s arrow – let it fly then!  We have seen

Our borders are inscribed into the world,

Whose course is thereby, like the loaves we mean

To eat these days, into a circle curled,

Or no, a spiral!  May the nations glean

This truth, from deeds, words, thoughts that without sound 

Roll out, as once again Creation’s day comes round.


                                                                      3-8 Tishri 5766






I heard a voice from deep within the land
say "Tell them so that they will understand.

"Our enemies are many, we are few.
This is the land that we were driven to.

"Among ourselves we are divided, and
those who'd betray us have the upper hand.

"They have denied the teaching we were taught,
have given away the lands that we had bought

with our sons' blood, and have abandoned those
who trusted us to the fury of our foes.

"And though against all this we loudly spoke,
we now must share the guilt, being of one folk.

aye, and the blame for what must now be done
lest we be altogether overrun.

"Yet still we clasp the treasure we were shown,
which was not given to us for us alone.

"Could you but see all that we have in store,
you would hold fast to us, and would ignore

the voice of our deluded and our weak
who at your courts for vain advantage seek.

"Hold fast, hold fast to us, and stem the rout
of the good! Let not the Sabbath's light go out

on Earth, and leave it prey to utter strife,
lest rage expunge all trace of human life!

"Yet there is One who will not let us fail
at last. Hold fast to us. We shall prevail.

"We shall come through this strait to mend the earth,
And peace will come, and freedom have new birth."




                        when I am gone

                        make no verse about me

                                                -- Lea Tanzman Appelman, 1926-2006


Each one with his secret

And the grave’s open door

And the trackless white silence

Of the vast Evermore.


The black fire of your writing —

Will it go out, blaze up there?

And will love win forgiveness

For staves that would step there?


It is we, we the living,

Still hungry, still breathing,

Who cloud the cold mirror,

Who trespass on Nothing.


Each one with his secret

And the grave’s open door

And the trackless white silence

of the vast Evermore.


                                              November 2006







Four fat

squirrels had found

a berry tree, and fed

till all the berries they could reach

were gone.


That last

squirrel was bold!

He hung by his hind legs

from bending twigs, then sized it up

and left.


The next

day I saw two

stretching for the last red

berries at branch-ends; but they soon

gave up.








            for the dead of Virginia Tech


Why art thou angry? And why art thou crestfallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?

Genesis 4:6


"One sinner will destroy much good." Those words

from Proverbs kept on hammering in my brain

as I surveyed the pictures of the lost

and read the information on each one:

the Jew with a kippah who blocked the door,

the language teacher's lean and humorous look,

the radiant young actress, "Residenthippy"

who had his own songs posted on his website.

A multi-cultural, multi-ethnic gathering

of faces that projected love of life.

Honors student. Only child. Distinguished

To think of all the caring, all the labor

that went into the making of those lives,

of all they'd been preparing to give back,

exchanged   for what?

                                      The sinner who did this

is dead, has done what justice he could do

upon himself. And yet we feel the case

is not yet closed. He was not solely guilty.

The headline in the paper shouted WHY?,

making one want to savagely grab hold

of whosoever set that headline, shake him

or her till teeth should rattle, yelling loudly:

Look into the mirror, journalista!

There has been more than enough screaming. But

the point was driven home when it transpired

that in between two murders and the rest,

the one who shall be nameless here had sent

a video to the networks, which of course

played it. So he got what he wanted, set

a record and a mark for other sinners

to aim at, G-d forbid. The killer, then,

is still at large. Could we ever apprehend him?

The least that we can do is think about it.

If there is anything that could console

those who have lost the ones they loved the best,

it might be the assurance that from what

the world can feel of grief, some resolution

will rise. That they will not have died in vain.

Of course, we cannot wholly overlook

the little perpetrator's private motives.

His face was not a handsome one. He was

a foreigner. (But so were some of those

he killed.) In the video he spoke of "rich kids

and their debaucheries." I think of Loki,

who made a spear of mistletoe to murder

Baldur the beautiful; of the villagers

who brought the bird-girl down (oh Reema, Reema );

of Alberich in Der Ring, who spoils the world

because, being ugly, he was barred from love.

Did others really mock him? Did they fail

to reach him? Could he have been reached?

           No one

could give him what he did not have   the gracious

gifts of nature   nor the kind of love

that beauty and achievement can awaken.

Life, which we love so much, is never fair.

Each one must make the best of what they're given,

and only in that struggle are we equal.

Envy's the deepest failure of our kind,

envy or else ingratitude, its twin,

that cannot prize what G-d has given to others

nor feel the privilege of being part

of G-d's brave world that has such people in it.

He failed to find that joy. If others failed him,

perhaps the failure lay in not conveying

to him that nothing is more glorious

than the soul's struggle with its bosom foe.

Driven to reach for love and for distinctions,

we give, perhaps, not enough sanctuary

to the dignity that's common to us all.

No, we cannot disown him altogether.

And least of all can poets pass him by

as alien. For he was one of us.

He was an English major. In his classes

he frightened people with his gruesome works.

Some of us may have met him, in a workshop

or at a poetry reading: the one lacking

in talent, or at any rate unable

to write the work that widens heart and mind,

the work built up from loving observation

by ingenuity, that makes us feel

the grandeur of creation. There's a core

of truth in each of us, we must assume,

that could bring forth at least some little thing

worthy attention, if we always paid

attention, if our teaching inculcated

awareness of the one eternal Reader

who always pays attention. Failing this,

there is an easy shortcut. At a loud

noise, at the intimation of a threat,

the head swings toward the source of noise, the nerves

go on alert. Attention is obtained.

This tactic takes both crude and subtle forms.

Read many a poetry magazine these days,

notice how many poems recommend

themselves through imagery that's meant to startle,

sometimes to offend, cause pain   whatever works

to arrest the eye, the hand that has to shuffle

heaps of submissions, that cannot take time

to notice the good qualities that once

made songs that helped folks live.

                                                       These last few days

a song by Stephen Foster   "Gentle Annie" 

kept running through my head. People once sang

such songs. They were best-sellers. In the evening

I started reading Thackeray's "Henry Esmond"

and could not stop. How vividly his figures

stood out, in this production of a time

when life as it is lived was found of interest,

and not just its ingenious demolition.

(True that time also had its grievous wrongs,

but yet for these some remedy was found,

because the public had not yet been rendered

incapable of thought and resolution

by television's crash and flash, designed

to stun the sense and sabotage reflection.)

I thought of concerts that are meant to deafen,

where melody and harmony are stomped on

by rhythm, which itself is simplified.

And then I thought about the "war on terror."

Which also, this week, was not going well.

Suicide bombers. People who convert

themselves, their own lives, into murder weapons,

and who, unlike the wretch we just have heard from

(although he wrote "Ismail" on his arm),

hold a belief that this is what G-d wants,

a belief that is spreading. I keep thinking

of Robinson Jeffers' lines before the last

great war. In "May-June, 1940" he wrote:

"Foreseen, for so many years: these evils, this monstrous violence, this massive agonies: no

easier to bear.

We saw them with slow stone strides approach, everyone saw them; we closed our eyes against them, we looked

And they had come nearer. We ate and drank and slept, they came nearer. Sometimes we

laughed, they were nearer  Now

They are here. And now a blind man foresees what follows them "

Yes. They are here indeed. They are in our hearts.

Last summer, on a trip to Israel

which coincided with the war they had there,

I sat one afternoon in an apartment

overlooking a wadi in Jerusalem 

the shells weren't falling there, just north and south.

A friend and I spoke about present things

and things to come. She said, "The terrorists

get half of their ideas from action movies."

Against all this, my thought clings to the one

good bit of news heard recently: a truck

full of explosives that got to Tel Aviv

returned undetonated, possibly

because the driver had thought better of it.

We have to hope that we may all think better

of blowing up the world. That we may yet

consider that the One who made the world

cannot desire such end. But we can't hope

to make this point to other cultures while

our own nation is reveling every hour

in images of ruin and destruction.

Each one of us has some small power to stop it.

To each of us some good has been entrusted,

there's something each of us can keep from blowing

away, or letting slide to the abyss.

Here is one chance: there'd be no point in sending

these words to NBC. But you can spread them.

Please do so; and please think about rebuilding

a culture that could once again reflect

reflection, pull us back from the verge of nothing.

Your friend and fellow-citizen,

Esther Cameron







In winter darkness we are called to light.

These candles of remembrance and of cheer.


In our safe homes beyond the western seas

In winter darkness we are called to light

While in Jerusalem our friends seek ease


In sleep from false peace and impending fear.

Shall we then give hope’s name to fraud’s black blight,

Ignore their peril for our comfort here?

In winter darkness we are called to light,


To the fierce light of mind that shows things clear,

Of soul that will stand up in time’s despite

For truth, and make the face of G-d appear

In winter darkness.  We are called to light

The spark of courage that calls freedom dear


In one another.  And we dare not ask

If we have any chance to win this fight.

We must believe, in hour however grave,

In winter darkness, we are called to light,

We are committed to One who will save

If we have will to undertake the task.


For this one hour draw near, O soul, and bask

In the radiance of these flames, fed by an oil

That knows no earthen springs, and cannot fail.

In winter darkness we are called to light

That sure must show some way out of this coil

Where we seem caught, some stroke that will avail

To cut from substance’ trunk the evil mask.


In winter darkness we are called to light:

To Intuition, drawing from the source,

To Understanding, that can plot a course,

To Love for all who stand with us tonight,

To Judgment, that won’t have what isn’t right,

To Balance, which Compassion also hight,

To Steadfastness, that gets us through all pains,

To Acknowledgment, which consolidates the gains,


To Righteousness, which keeps connections tight,

Upholds that greatest good, Community –                             

Community, that wears the eternal Crown

And one day must embrace the ends of earth

Unless this world’s distortions drag us down –

O our Preserver!  Grant we keep in sight

Your good ends.  Give our truthful deeds renown,

That we may feel our struggles as a birth.

In winter darkness we are called to light.




Even this is, this must be for the best:

We, pledged to G-d for better or for worse,

Have no choice but to welcome as a test

Whatever comes to meet us, though adverse.

We may not cease from gratitude, from seeing

The good that G-d has made, that G-d has given,

Praising in every good the Source of being,

Dwelling on good, and so not being driven.

So from this week I will recall how bright

Silver and crystal glittered on the boughs,

While amaryllis blared its red and white

To all four compass points within the house.

The parsha, too, poured forth its weekly treasures,

And rifts of gold gleamed from a fellow-poet's measures.*






They heard about the massacre at the wedding

and still the dance continued, though each dancer

had a heart torn between dancing and wailing,

–perhaps one more bright soul would volunteer

for duty in this world of dark and wrong,

O Yonadav!  When song’s bridegroom is taken,

another poet needs to spin grief into song

and re-enrich a world robbed of its gain.

All very well, if the one who’s gone has pressed

his brain, and left his treasure, to be grieved

by a pupil who, as he sings, receives;

but a weary mouth that long since gave its best –

to refresh the desert of your absence, how should it blow?

to lament what was not yet formed, how should it know?







When a life ends, the in-held mystery

That only patchwise to a friend was shown

At last transpires and can in part be known,

Although the most part go invisibly

Back to the source.  The praise that was not free

In the living presence wholly to unfold

Now in the shade of death appears, a gold

Glimmer of parting, wonderful to see,

Though grief it cannot hush.  G-d gives, reclaims,

And gives in taking.  May our hearts be pure

Enough to hold these gifts, to make their names

Our standard!  And make, too, our vision sure

To see their like who dwell among us still,

And spare us further grief.  May it be Your will. 





Tu B'Av/Nachamu


Dance, maidens of Jerusalem,

Dance your round and sing,

And call the lads of Jerusalem

Around your pleasant ring.


Dance, maidens of Jerusalem,

Defying guns and drought.

Though foes surround Jerusalem,

Love can banish fear and doubt.


Dance, maidens of Jerusalem,

Bring down the holy fire,

That there may be another generation

Of those who love and aspire.


Dance, maidens of Jerusalem,

The moon is full tonight,

All the world will bathe in silvery beams,

And in Jerusalem's delight.


Dance, maidens of Jerusalem,

In beauty like the moon,

And may G-d comfort Jerusalem

Speedily, yea, soon.





I was

like that small child

who cried during shofar

not knowing that the shofar cried

for her.






On a March afternoon the wind was raw,

The sun, half overcast, gave pallid light;

But in a corner of your yard I saw

The aconite.


Like sequins stitched to a dun beggar's cloak,

A handful of flung golden coin, a spring

Of sunlight from the earth, those blossoms woke,

Just opening.


You walk amid the cherry trees' display

And share a distant people's spring delight,

But on your still-brown lawn I saw today

The aconite.








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