In the dead of the winter after Celan’s death I quoted to someone from Emily Dickinson’s poem “My life closed twice before it closed.”  Actually it had only closed once at that point.; the second time was when I left Jerusalem.  In 1971 I felt everything  collapsing around me and seized on the connection with Celan as a lifeline.  He had given me a great deal to do, he had sent me on a quest.  In 1990 I felt that I had pursued that quest to its ultimate destination, and had failed there.  What could lie ahead?

            In Jerusalem I had read a novel called Irregang (Mistaken Journey), by by Martin Buber’s wife Paula Winkler, who as Georg Munk wrote fiction that reminded me of Isak Dinesen.  Her heroine, Theresa, beautiful but feckless, not very bright but oddly serene, drifts with the current, undergoes various reversals of fortune, and in the end loses almost everything.    Returning to a house where she had lived in better days, she finds a half-finished piece of embroidery from that time.  She picks up the embroidery and begins working on it again.  

I too, back in Madison, found myself picking up my embroidery.  It dawned on me that one can, after all, live without necessarily living for anything.  Already in 1988, in a poem called “Poet in Time of Drought,” I had written:  “Yet I give thanks for that in me/ That will not know of what I know/ And, ignorant as a bird, sings on.”  I   remembered, too, that saying my father had quoted to me from his father: “The city of happiness is in the state of mind. ”  A lesson I had failed to learn in Jerusalem, about controlling one’s own inner climate and cultivating joy no matter what, now had to be learned and was, to a certain extent.  And after all it was good to be with my parents again

In the fall of 1990 I entered law school.


Law school: aside from having no better ideas, my motives for accepting this suggestion were a mixture of quixoticism and mistaken practicality .

Quixoticism: already in 1975 I had put Shelley's "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world" on a poster for the Small World.   Moreover, I had always been one for rules and structure; that was part of what had drawn me to Judaism.  Needless to say, the law as embodied in Western legal systems bears little resemblance to the either to the Law of Moses or the “hidden law” (Auden) to which poets refer.

Mistaken practicality: I was temporarily disillusioned with the results of my poetic enterprises, and thought of doing something that would enable me to be solvent. I should have trained as a paralegal instead; it would have been less costly and might have made me employable.  A lawyer is supposed to be responsible, and outside the field of poetry I have never been able to assume much responsibility.

I did not enjoy law school, except in moments of pretending it was something else, for which I always had to pay.  No doubt the experience was tinged by the dark charcoal gray of my internal atmosphere after leaving Israel.  The Israelis speak of those who leave the country as “descenders,” and I felt that I had indeed descend.  In the gloom of the pit I could make out the faces of other poets with different yet similar histories, and saluted them as follows:



We take to law because our love has failed.

We study how to sue instead of sing.

We still plead; but our pleadings have a sting:

They're meant not to reach out, but to be hurled.

Farewell, the uncorrupted word that held

In visionary light each common thing,

That fitted symbolism like a ring

Upon the hand of the abandoned world.


Here we avoid each other's eyes in shame,

Learning our lawyer tricks, earning the blame

For half the evils of this addled time.

Wish other people could have valued us

When we spoke to them in truth and trust.

They cast out reason, when they turned from rhyme.

In the end the main thing that came of my law school career was more poetry, plus a few epiphanies and mental notes about what I would do if I ever succeeded in getting a group of people together to survey the law from a poetic height.

A few of these notes were incorporated into my one extensive piece of legal writing, an International Law Journal article entitled “Global Aspiration, Local Adjudication: A Context for the Extraterritorial Application of Environmental Law.”   After a survey of some technical issues I concluded by calling for an establishment of a global community of thinkers to counterbalance global capitalism.  Nearing the conclusion of this article, I realized that I was back at “The Meridian,” which even in law school had not quite deserted me.  This realization combined with Philip Sidney’s sonnets, which I happened to be reading at the time, to produce the following:

The Proof


When in the press of time I have forgot

Thine influence; when thine idea seems

No more to fulminate with dangerous gleams

Over my mind with other matters fraught;

When all the tumult which thy words once wrought

Seems mere besottedness to reason's eye

Which like the rising sun laughs to descry

The wreck of revels it remembers not;

When I high questions chase beneath its light,

Hewing with pen a path through ways o'ergrown,

Myself as well as thee forgotten quite,

Then pause and read, and find the thought thine own --

Then it is proved again self cannot flee

From self, nor I estrange myself from thee.

The experience of law school did clarify some things for me.  Thought-patterns learned in childhood die hard, and for me the concept of law was still entangled in the opposition Christians have set up between law and love.  In a reaction against this I may have tended to believe too much in regulation.  But as Jews keep trying to point out, “Torah” does not mean exactly “law” but “teaching, direction,” and is inseparable from a personal as well as communal accountability.  Moreover Torah is understood as a bond of love between the Creator and the community!  Whereas recently I heard a lawyer describe the tax code as the product of “an evolutionary struggle between the tax lawyers and the IRS,” with the lawyers trying to find loopholes and the IRS trying to close them and so on, till an impenetrable thicket of regulation and counter-regulatory gambits has grown up.  This is very different from the Talmudist’s good-faith effort to discover the effect of a principle in various situations, or the poet’s attempt a creating order and coherency.  Both Talmudist and poet draw on an inspiration that transcends Darwinism.  The absence of any such inspiration gave the spiritual milieu of law school a kind of infernal closedness.  I could go into more detail about my observations in that region, but refrain so as not to darken these pages unduly.  If I ever get a group of people together to talk about what the law ought to be..

The reader may recall that in the 1970's I cherished a Romantic notion of the Constitutional Convention as faintly comparable to the Sinai encounter.  But if an informing spirit had been present at the Convention, it had long evaporated from the field of American law.  In law school I learned mainly about how organized self-interest had learned to use the Constitution to defeat equitable labor laws, reasonable restraints on harmful speech, and efforts by local communities to resist economic homogenization.  In the summer of 1992 I worked for the Public Intervenor, researching a law that was supposed to discourage excessive highway construction but actually did the opposite if you read the fine print.  Law school held a number of lessons for me about the social implications of obscure language.

That summer a book called Who Will Tell the People. by William Greider, was published and led to discussion of an "information gap" between the government and the people   I read this book, and while driving back from a hearing on a new highway project, on the 14th of July the morning after a full moon, composed the following:



All in the dewy morning

On the fourteenth of July

I went to walk beneath the trees

That grow so green and high.


And there I met Tom Jefferson,

He was pacing up and down,

His head was sunk upon his chest,

His face it wore a frown.


"What is the matter, sir," I said,

"Or what is it you seek?"

"I'm looking for the people

With whom I wish to speak."


"What do you mean," I cried in fear,

"I see them all around."

"I see their bodies just like you,

But their spirits are not found.


"They do not hear, they do not see,

They walk with empty eyes."

"I guess you mean the media

That have got them hypnotized.


"Their ears are filled with crashing sound,

Their eyes with flashing lights,

Their minds too full of greed and gore

To sort out truth from lies.


"They have no time to meet and talk

And hear the liberty bell --

It is as if some evil king

Had bound them in a spell."


"Climb up, climb up into that tower,

"And ring that bell once more."

"That bell has got a crack," I replied,

The sound would not go o'er."


"Then you must forge it new," he said,

"In the flame of your desire,

Until they come together

To hear what freedom requires.


"Tell them to keep the Sabbath,

A day when all are free:

That day they must not buy nor sell

Nor sit and watch TV.


"It is a day to meet and talk

And find the ones they trust

To keep their hands from bribery

And on wisdom to insist.


"And these in turn together

Will meet in council high

To write a Constitution

For the coming century.


"For everything wears out at last

And needs to be renewed

Out of the ancient spirit

Of truth and rectitude.


"That spirit has a mighty power,

Although the odds be high;

Will you go and tell the people?"

I said that I would try.


That one has a tune that is almost pentatonic; it’s supposed to sound like an eighteenth-century broadside ballad.  Who Will Tell The People inspired a further song, with my idea of a music-hall tune, a few months later:




Well, I was a starving poet not so very long ago,

And I came to law school hoping it would help me make some dough,

But I also hoped that it would help me work for liberty,

But the very day I got here, this is what they said to me:

“Lawyers never cry, they don’t dream at night,

Spend their long days working under fluorescent lights.

If the principles we’re teaching you do not seem very high,

First thing you must learn here is, Lawyers Never Cry.”


There were some who came here thinking they were going to save the trees,

While others spoke of helping women and minorities,

But I saw their dreams grow dimmer as they learned about the game,

And their faces with each passing week looked more and more the same.

They’d found out Lawyers never cry, they don’t dream at night,

Spend their long days working under fluorescent lights.

If your interviewer says to you, “Why did you even try?”

Just keep saying to yourself, Lawyers Never Cry.


When the fall came round we all began to go for interviews,

And they told us very frankly, “This is what we mean to do:

We will pay the winner sixty grand to run a treadmill race,

And if you burn out there’ll be plenty more to take your place.

But you know Lawyers never cry, they don’t dream at night,

Spend their long days working under fluorescent lights.

If your supervising attorney comes on like Captain Bligh,

Grit your teeth and tell yourself, Lawyers Never Cry.


Well, I used to think the purpose of the law was to define

The rights and wrongs we live by, and to keep the bad in line,

But the view that now prevails is that it’s just a power‑tool,

And if you mention right and wrong you’re made to seem a fool.

They’ll tell you Lawyers never cry, they don’t dream at night,

Spend their long days working under fluorescent light.

If you get the blues for justice and your heart is asking why,

Close your eyes and yell out loud, Lawyers Never Cry.


Now come all you lawyers who have time, or who did not get hired,

Or who burnt out or who expressed convictions and got fired:

Grass‑roots organization is the job that must be done

Until we have a law again that’s fair to everyone.

Till then let the lawyers cry, let them dream at night,

Let them take long walks and get some fresh air and sunlight,

Let them help the people find out what is going on and why                                                

And how to build a government that won’t make people cry.

I said let the lawyers cry, let them dream at night,

Let them take long walks and get some fresh air and sunlight,

Let them help the people find out what is going on and why

Until we have a government that won’t make people cry.



During my third year in law school, the lectures induced a fury of boredom that could find release only in doodling.  The bookstore in the law school basement sold highlighter pens in rainbow colors, and I had discovered the erasable ball point pen; so in that last fall semester I drew many variations on the Star of David.  The triangles and hexagon into which that figure can be analyzed were filled in with further triangles, with cubes that seemed suspended in midair, with vortices; the hexagram was surrounded by a circle or an outer hexagon and the added spaces sudivided; the points turned into an exploding corolla, winged eyes ringed the design, the points became six-pointed stars in their turn, like a chaplet of flowers surrounding the central space, or they metamorphosed into trumpets; or else the points turned into little houses ringed by a hexagonal castle or city wall.  And then one day in December – perhaps I had just reviewed Longfellow’s Hiawatha – the internal voice began stating:

In the middle of the city

stands the house of song and story,

built of stone, its rooms are many,

and the rooms are all six-sided,

ranged around the central courtyard

where a single fountain plashes,

and the fountain has ten basins,

from the highest flow the waters,

now united, now divided,

to the lowest and the largest,

on whose brim the poets often

sit and scan, their eyes half marking

how the ripples in their motion

touch the brim and seek the center,

then turn outward once again.

The fountain, of course, represents the tree of the Sefirot!  Then the voice paused until January.  Between the inception of “The Hexagon” and its completion, I made the acquaintance of the Internet. 


The computer revolution had struck while I was in Israel.   Since the ‘sixties the computer had been worrying every sensible person, from Paul Celan to the college freshman with the “Human being -- Do Not Spindle, Fold or Mutilate” T-shirt.  But suddenly, in the late 1980’s everyone was thinking about getting a Personal Computer, and an “information superhighway” was heralded.  It was clear that all this boded no good for secretaries, poets, or the human race generally.  Yet (and Celan had sensed this too) the computer offered inducements even to poets.

There is an enigmatic saying of the Baal Shem Tov: “Evil is the throne of good.”  Sometimes I have to read that statement in the light of Frost’s “West-Running Brook,” which says that while the general flow is downward, there is always some ripple thrown back against the flow, and that ripple is the good, which one has to affirm.  Somewhere I read a late Hasidic story in which the tzaddik ascribes spiritual meaning to modern inventions.  For instance the telephone is meant to teach us “that what is said here is heard there.”  (Kafka also “spiritualizes” the telephone in The Castle.)   Similarly, before the Internet had a name I had used it as a metaphor for the poetic network I wanted to set up.  So when I heard of online poetry workshops on Prodigy, of course I had to get a modem.  

Early in January 1993 I was exchanging poetry and thoughts on poetry with other poets via this new medium, and the energy thus generated may have gone into the continuation of “The Hexagon,” which was written on the computer.  In “The Hexagon,” the functions of a poetic-artistic community are described through the architecture of the “house of song and story,” which contains a library, a coffee-house, an archive of all the poems written in the city, an archive of life-stories, an archive of portraits, classrooms, a room for children’s art, rooms for naming-ceremonies, healing, mediation -- and, of course, rooms for “Small World” meetings.  All this came out quite easily, like those paper creations which unfold when dropped into water.  Implicitly described was not only a poetic-artistic community but a world in which poetry is allowed to operate as a social feedback mechanism.

The Consciousness of Earth had concluded with a vision of a world that has reached a “steady state,” where the human species is in material equilibrium with its environment and thus free to develop its spiritual capacities.  That fourteenth chapter is a piece that I believe in, and in the final version it is almost unchanged.  But it is pitched in the key of “high-seriousness,” which the reader has to be capable of meeting. “The Hexagon” felt effortless, a kind of Utopian scherzo, and one reader said that reading it was like watching an animated film.

In March of 1998, as a “thought-experiment,” I handed around brochures for a phantom organization, the Hexagon Foundation, which would advocate for the construction of the Hexagon.  Five months later a wealthy businessman gave a great deal of money for the construction of a “cultural arts district” in the center of Madison.  But the “arts district" that was eventually constructed did not,, despite a petition which I got over a hundred writers to sign, include a space for writers.


I had not expected to write much after 1990, after the apparent “crash” of my vision, but it turned out that I was far from done.  Perhaps I became a somewhat different kind of poet -- a "public poet," strangely enough, given that in the America of the 90's I was more isolated than at any time since the '60's illusively promised to deliver us all from isolation.  It was one way of pretending to myself that the world -- the "common world" -- still existed.

There was certainly a change in my attitude toward my native language, of which I had complained to Celan.  This “a heap of mispronounced foreign words,” as George Bernard Shaw had called it, had disappointed something in me that demanded consequence and intensity, and I had taken every opportunity to escape from it into foreign languages or to import foreign qualities into it.  But now the question, as Frost put it, was “what to make of a diminished thing.”   And so I came to appreciate the task which the English language sets -- the task of making something out of bits and pieces.  So I went back to the classics, to Yeats and Frost and Millay, and discovered, as well, the great and little-known Ruth Pitter. 

Pitter had been in the Untermeyer anthology all along, but I had not focused on her till my last year in Jerusalem.  Then I had set her poem “The Unicorn” to music and had sent her the tape, in time for her to hear and enjoy it although, her caregiver wrote to me, she was no longer fully cognizant.   Now I got her out-of-print Collected Poems out of the library and Xeroxed it.  A couple of months later a copy of the book in good condition appeared in a secondhand bookstore, priced at $10, as if there still were a Providence.  I paid tribute to her in a poem called “A Repentance”:


If I when young had learned her ways,

I might have shunned the cheeseless maze

Of intellectual pretention

And saved myself much strain and tension

And made the most of what was mine --

But she would not have me repine.

As the ‘90’s progressed I found myself approaching a traditional poet’s command of form.  In 1992 I wrote my first extended poem in terza rima, in 1994 a poem of thirteen stanzas using the stanza of Yeats’ “Byzantium”.  And in 1995 I resolved (following the example of a colleague) to write a sonnet every day, except Shabbat, for a year.  The first result of this was a sequence called The World’s Last Rose: Sonnets to the Prince of Twilight, written (especially the first half) while looking into the sonnets of Shakespeare.  The subject, of course, was the “virtual” relationship between a poet and a reader.  It was a semifinal reckoning; after that I wrote a few prose essays about Celan, but not much more poetry.  The bond is still there, I think, but in some sense I had perhaps as the Freudians say "worked through" the attachment toward a more direct connection with the Jewish people.  After The World's Last Rose the next group of sonnets that came through was a series of four or five sonnets on the situation of Israel.

More and more, I came to feel that the modernist revolution had been a mistake.  The emphasis on technical innovation and idiosyncrasy had drawn off too much energy from the task of commenting on the world.  I felt an increasing nostalgia for the Victorian period, in which the poets had an honorable place not only as singers but as thinkers helping to sort out the complexities of modern life. 

As always, there was the troubling question of venue.  I remained distant from the academic world, and was moving in the opposite direction to the literary “mainstream.”  For a while, late in the 1990's,  I was involved with an online computer workshop, which connected me with a number of fine poets and produced much mutual inspiration before being spoiled by the incivility that has marred exchanges on the Internet.  I still think poets could use the Internet to good effect, if they could agree on a few rules of conduct.  It was the problem that I had noticed in the utopian movements of the 1960's, where high aims and creative possibilities failed for lack of a willingness to put a check on the bad actors, who have a chilling effect on the creativity of others and of the group as a whole.

In 1996 I decided to start my own literary magazine, as a haven for the kind of poetry I believed in and a forum for the idea of poetic community. For a title, The Neovictorian first occurred to me, and then I thought of Cochlea, because I wanted to emphasize the inward hearing that genuine poetry requires (as opposed to the "visual imagery" so many postmodern editors are set on).   Unable to decide between the two names, I put them both on the masthead -- The Neovictorian/Cochlea -- and advertised the magazine's interest in "a poetry of beauty and integrity, committed to subject matter as well as language."   One poet who responded was the late Richard Moore, perhaps the strongest traditionalist among recent poets, and we corresponded for several years.  He even briefly joined a short-lived group that was meant to start the Hexagon Foundation.  In the end he remained cynical about the possibilities that theoretical organization represents; but over the years he held up to me an exacting standard of craftsmanship.  To him I addressed one of my better pieces of terza rima.


                                     You will softly and suddenly  vanish away

                                    And never be met with again.

                                                                                           -- Lewis Carroll, The Hunting of the Snark

Let’s face it, Publius: if yesterday

the tribe of bards had without notice gone

missing from Homo sapiens’ array,


if in this continental tract not one

poetic soul were scribbling anywhere,

the loss would scarcely be remarked upon.


-- True, the New Yorker would no longer wear

a verbal nosegay every sevennnight,

the Atlantic breathe a sigh for us, but they’re


moribund anyway.  Space being tight,

most forums axed that frill some time ago:

College English, that ought to do us right,


two posh alumni magazines I know

that used to print a good word now and then

stopped that within the last two years or so.


-- True, when Inauguration comes again

no streamers of Free Verse would decorate

the new display of marketable men;


but in our union’s disillusioned state

we’re scarcely slated there for further use.

For the rest, we’d quietly evaporate.


Yes, all of our Creative Writing crews,

our contests, workshops, magazines, small presses

whose output bards exclusively peruse


to find what style an Editor caresses

that they may trim their words accordingly

and dot their vitae with suchlike successes --


no one would ask “Where are they?”  For, you see,

all these were for our benefit alone,

our little self-consuming industry,


and will be otiose when we are gone.

They merely served to tame that element

which might have been the slowest to condone


misuse of words; that might have made ferment

some genuine love of freedom in the crowd

that has been satisfied, in the event,


with discount houses, big athletics, loud

music, and the permission to do worse,

while poets stand by mumbling with heads bowed


words that will not disturb the universe,

being not rhetorical and not didactical

nor sentimental, but prolixly terse,


anxious to show that they intend no practical

consequence, for that would be below ‘em,

since they have found that aimlessness is tactical,


and the pursuit of purposes would slow ‘em

on pure Parnassus’ slope, toward the acclaim

of judges who can’t quote a single poem,


stanza, or line of theirs.  Such now is fame;

for when the “implied reader”’s but the censor,

then everything begins to sound the same,


although, deodorized, that famous sensor

Hemingway spoke of seems not to detect it.

Such is the trick they’ve run upon us.  When, sir,


d’you think they hatched and managed to perfect it?

--Ask when vanity was not a lure

that without fail could lead us to be shechted!


And then we have to live somehow, somewhere.

We are not happy off the reservation.

O Publius!  I doubt that there’s a cure,


what purpose serves this tedious recitation

of what all have contracted not to know?

‘Tis but the fume of black bile’s fermentation.


And yet I can’t help wishing we would show

some fight, some “all for one and one for all,”

some statements as “We hold these to be so,”


some new convention and resolve to call

things by their names and fashion consequence,

some interruption of the funeral


of wisdom and of simple common sense.

-- Well, Publius, let me not lose a friend

by importuning you across the fence


that makes good neighbors, each of whom must tend

to their own business.  In that, I’m the same

as anyone.  But if you should perpend


and think “why not?” -- I’ll have you know I’m game. 

“L’Art pour l’Art” was one of the last poems that I showed to my father, in the spring of 1999.  He read it and said, “I’m on your side.”  It is good to remember that, despite the tension that had often been between us on account of my inability to settle to any kind of work the world would recognize.  "You can't run your life by a series of negative decisions!" he had said to me the preceding fall.  And of course I had no defense, except that I couldn't help it, that is, couldn't help availing myself of the safety net he couldn't help holding under me, rather than turn myself into something else, which I might have done if it had been that or starvation..

He had been diagnosed with lung cancer in 1994, not long after his second and final retirement.  After his first retirement he had kept on working, writing his book At the Crossroads, collaborating with a team of scientists and engineers on the Helium Project. 

Both the book and the Helium Project were responses to the energy crisis.  In At the Crossroads, which was published in 1986 but did not get much attention, he warned about the consequences of American dependence on foreign oil and other minerals.  The Helium Project aimed at solving the energy crisis by tapping a huge new resource – helium, if you will believe this, from the moon.  There is, it seems, a lot of trapped trapped in the rocks of the moon.  My father’s colleagues believed that it would be possible to extract the helium on the moon, bring it back to earth, and subject it to a process of nuclear fusion which would release tremendous energy.  This process would be far cleaner than the fission process used in today’s power plants.  It was a stupendous fantasy; it inspired my brother Jim to write a novel, which waxed quite eloquent when it came to describing the machinery.  Unfortunately, the realization of the project depended on solving one fundamental problem: how to make fusion economical.  Fusion had already been achieved, but at a cost of more energy than the fusion released.  But it was always said that they were approaching the break-even point and hoped to pass it in a few years.  My father, who had been one of the scientists entrusted with the moon rocks in 1969, became, in his retirement, a “selenologist,” identifying areas on the moon where helium-bearing rock could be profitably mined; I believe the Mare Tranquillitatis was considered an especially promising area.  We still have a moon-globe which he acquired during this period.  But the fusion problem was not solved, and the project, no more practical in the end than my poor Hexagon Foundation, came to an end in the 1990’s, some time after my father left the team, saying that he had nothing more to contribute.  During those years he also worked on the hill farm which my parents had owned since the ‘60’s, maintaining the pasture fences, trying to keep down the thistles and prickly ash.  But early in 1994 we noticed he was weakening.

In the fall of 1994 he wanted to pay a final visit to his thesis area in Nevada.  My mother and Don and I accompanied him as, leaning on a cane, he made his way up mountains he had run up and down as a young man in 1937.  Don still speaks with astonishment of how he remembered every landmark, as though he had been there the day before.  On my wall hangs a picture of him taken on that trip, a tall figure in khaki field clothes with those bare brown slopes for a background.  There followed several years of decline, during which I hope I was somewhat useful to him and to my mother.  During his last months one of his concerns was the preservation of his collection of drill cores from the South African Bushveld, where he had done consulting work in the 50’s.  Early in April, 1999, two young women came with a truck from the Smithsonian Institute to collect his specimens from the Bushveld.  He was very ill by that time, but rallied to welcome them.  They said that due to funding cuts they were all that was left of their department, and it might be some time before the specimens were catalogued.  But at least they would be in the Smithsonian.  Two weeks later he was gone.  It was April 21, the day of the Columbine massacre, the day after the anniversary of Celan’s death, and that year it fell on Israel’s Independence Day. 

And so my father did not see the twenty-first century.


During his last week, in the hospital, we watched an episode of Great Expectations in which Pip, by way of establishing a sort of filial bond with his benefactor Magwich, reads him something from Homer.  I had just started studying Clyde Pharr’s Homeric Greek, on Richard Moore's recommendation.  I read my father the first few lines of the Iliad, and he mentioned that he had studied a little Greek, which I had not known before, though before going into geology my father had been interested in classics, he had even studied Egyptian hieroglyphics.  Throughout the summer after my father's death I ploughed through Pharr's book.  Eventually got through Homer and some other texts, including Oidipos Tyrannos.  It was a strange experience.  Without the screen of translations (which had after all been made by people who had read the Bible) the Greek world appeared to me in a kind of predawn light.  There was sophistication (there is even one vision of robots!) but not yet full conscience.  The main effect of this study was to make me reflect that conscience, after all, is born in the confrontation with the other, and above all with that great Other whom the children of Israel were the first to confront.  But after all I did not get to Plato and Aristotle.  Another project of that summer started when Don said to me over the phone one night:  "I guess there's a bit of Hamlet in each of us."  So I wrote an essay called "Hamlet in a Nutshell," whose central theme is the father as the unattainable standard.


I had kept up my Hebrew, kept up contact with Israel.  In 1991 my friends there put me up for a return visit, in which I ran around like a crazy person trying to see everyone in twelve days.  The same thing repeated itself at intervals of a few years.  Each time I would feel as if I was again becoming a person I had left behind there; I would feel the pull to remain, but could not see a way, or find the strength, to do so. 

Sometimes I could still write in Hebrew.  In the “year of the sonnet” there were eight sonnets in Hebrew (they eventually appeared in Israel, in Apirion).   And in 1998 a friend sent me an issue of a magazine called Nekudah, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the state.  In this issue fifty religious writers commented on poems by mostly secular writers, as a way of talking about the state of the country.  After reading the magazine from cover to cover I wrote a twenty-page essay in Hebrew summarizing the points that stood out for me, and then came a song in Hebrew, “Shir Shalom,” based on the themes of Celan’s last poem and my “Invitation,” and sung to a tune adapted from the “Partisan Song.”

“Shir Shalom,” which I showed to a number of people in the Madison Jewish community, may have prompted a friend at the Conservative synagogue to prompt the rabbi to encourage me to write a cycle of sonnets on the weekly Torah portion.  So for a year each week I studied the midrash until the first line of a sonnet occurred to me.  I did not try to give the sonnets any kind of modernist, ironical or revisionist slant; rather in writing them it came home to me how much the Torah and its commentaries have to say to the modern situation. The sonnets were read by members of the congregation to introduce the Torah reading, and eventually wound up on the community website.  I decided to call the cycle “Rim of Gold,” because sonnet is sometimes called a “golden poem” in Hebrew because the letters of zahav (gold) add to 14, and in Exodus Moses is told to make a “rim of gold” around the Ark.  Then it occurred to me that here, too, the “Meridian” had wanted to be remembered.  Rim of Gold was the first of several projects in which I set out to refill the classical Western forms with Jewish content.  It was an exhilarating process, for I soon realized that there was an enormous wealth of content which had not yet been expressed in this manner, as far as I knew (a few years later I would meet up with Yakov Azriel, who has been working a similar vein)  It was like breaking into King Solomon's mines! 

Rim of Gold was just about finished when open warfare broke out in Israel.  The 21st century was beginning.  In October 2000, I wrote a poem that began:

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,

A foreshadowing, evidently, though not one that required much prophecy, given what my father had always said.  Still the specific image of the tower is there, and not for the first time.  In 1994 there had been “Sestina of the October Rain,” with “tower” as one of the end-words; it concluded: “Lady, remember me among your poor/ And make my name a sign against the tower.”  And from 1997 there is a poem about Breughel’s picture of the Tower of Babel as a symbol of capitalism, which notes that “the darker cloud at the left may be an immense// turned down thumb.”   And Richard Moore has a “tower” poem from the ‘60's that was quotable after the disaster.  The tower is an ageold symbol of the pride that goeth before a fall -- and thus also a natural target for an enemy wishing to take one down a peg.

In November 2000 I visited Israel again, leaving the States the day after the election.  On that visit the ‘Olam Katan held a reunion meeting.  Friends there warned me that the West would eventually also be attacked.   Returning, I wrote up the ‘Olam Katan idea yet another time, in an essay that was originally written in Hebrew and strove to connect this innovation with traditional sources.  And still the protracted electoral contest went on.  I marked the outcome with a furious sonnet that ended: “...And now, stand back: the rich/ plunder the commonwealth.  The rest of us can/ look forward to being left without a stitch.”  The italics were added after the crash..

Thus although the crash – the fall of the Twin Towers -- was brought about by external agents, my poetic intuitions yammered insistently that it was also due to internal causes.  Since writing the seventh chapter of The Consciousness of Earth I had regarded uncontrolled capitalism and fanaticism as two heads of the same monster, however they might appear to quarrel.   On the evening of September 11, 2001 I reread Yeats’ “Sailing to Byzantium,” and over the next two days a nineteen-stanza poem in that form took shape, beginning: “It was not unexpected, after all.”  This poem, “Tiresias Visits the Bombsite,” mourns the victims but not the towers, and urges that the best defense would be to rebuild justice, community and trust among ourselves.  Absent such an effort, the poem predicted this country’s response as follows:

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.

Not unexpected then, either came the Iraq adventure, with the initial “easy” victory and its eventual hollowness. For months afterward I poured forth political poetry, nor was I alone in this; the Internet was full of it.  But the then Poet Laureate of the United States, whose trademark was a refusal to be serious, declined to write about it at the time (sending me back, in a blank verse monologue called "At This Late Date," to Robert Frost's refusal to relate to World War II).  And with time the poetic energy dissipated, after being sidetracked into a protest against the Iraq war which I could not join because for some reason this protest was mixed up with anti-Israel propaganda.  I took the crisis as an occasion to push the 'Olam Katan' plan once again, putting it ithis time into Dr. Seuss-type verse.  As usual, I think that it seemed to people too small a thing to start with; but I imagine wistfully what might have grown up by now if the suggestion had been taken then.

Amid the general sense of being confronted, someone else remembered Paul Celan.  At a meeting of a writers’ group to which I belonged, Mind’s Eye Radio, someone handed me an article by Mary Karr about a commemorative event at which she read Celan’s “There was earth in them.”  That poem ends:


O you dig, and I dig, and I dig my way toward you,

And on our fingers awakens the ring.

My next “Mind’s Eye Radio” piece, “The Chain and the Ring,” commented on those lines as follows:

           This poem is evidently a memory of the poet’s imprisonment in a forced labor camp during World War II.  But as the poet rings the changes on the verb "to dig," it becomes metaphorical. The prisoners who invented no language, supply the poet with a language. The ultimate "you" of the poem is the one who can now hear it, the reader, the poet's fellow-prisoner in a system that keeps on producing suffering and devastation.  The poem is written to us, it is a call to solidarity. And at the end a ring appears: a symbol of commitment and covenant.

We hear a lot about rings these days. Tolkien's "One ring to rule them all, one ring to bind them" – means subjection to the Dark Lord. But there are also commitments that liberate. If we aren't bound together by commitments, by covenant, we are at the mercy of an inhuman system, in a great prison that can, as we have seen, collapse on us. In that first liberation story, the departure from Egypt is inseparable from the giving of the Law, which the rabbis often compare to a marriage.

I have been thinking about this ever since Celan’s death, which occurred at the end of the ‘60's – a time when people talked a lot about revolution, but perhaps less to the kind of commitments that are needed to sustain a free society.  Law, order, structure ‑‑ these were not good words. I still hope that we could rethink this  – begin to think about the Law again, not as a prison but as something we need in order to stay out of prison.

I don't know if any present hearer understood what I was trying to say there; but a few days later there was something like an answering sign from the past.  

I had been putting off reading: the correspondence of Paul Celan and Gisèle Celan-Lestrange.  For some reason, a few days after writing the above I borrowed the book and read it with all the anticipated sadness and embarrassment and sense of trespassing.  But I felt that I had to know what was in the public domain.  And at the end there was something that did after all concern me, perhaps: in the “chronology” of events the following note: “August 4.  He puts his wedding ring in a sealed envelope bearing the logo 'The Three Candlesticks,' with the words: 'Ring.\ 4. August 1969.”  The date of our meeting -- a date mentioned in several writings I had managed to get into print long before that volume of correspondence came out.

There is also (as I would learn from an annotated edition of the poems that came out in 2003) a poem from August 4, 1969:  “You throw gold after/ me, who am drowning:/ perhaps a fish/ can be bribed.  The reader may recall that the gold ring I bought in Seattle in 1972 , and which I have always connected with him, has the shape of a fish.  So, unless something else had happened for him that day, my sense of significance at our encounter had not been onesided, and even that absurd purchase of the ring had been, so to speak, authorized. 

Perhaps someday I shall be believed...


It is indeed a strange thing to be so deeply affected by someone whom one has known, on the one hand through a soul-connection bypassing the outward channels of information, and on the other hand through a public persona, a public image in some ways quite different from the private person.  There has always been a voice telling me that the private person was none of my business, that my business was with the poet and the poems and what they had said to me.  And yet, the illicit and uneasy effort to understand the private person has shed some light for me on the play we are in.

One book that shifted my perspective was Elke Günzel’s Das Wandernde Zitat: Paul Celan im jüdischen Kontext (The Wandering Quotation: Paul Celan in the Jewish context). The “Jewish context” of Günzel’s book is not quite the Orthodox Jewish context, in which I'm afraid Celan figures simply as a lost soul.  But Günzel does portray a milieu – the central European milieu between the World Wars – in which on the one hand Jewish faith and observance were weakened by the Enlightenment, and on the other hand Jewishness continued to be unpopular.  As a result, the distance from the tradition grew with each succeeding generation.  In Leo Antschel’s generation, the youth tended to be Zionist; Paul Antschel’s generation favored Socialism and other universalist doctrines (Celan's friend David Seidmann confided to me that he had been an enthusiast for Esperanto).  Subsequent events forced the survivors back into their Jewish identity, but they seldom reassumed it completely.  Günzel’s portray made me feel that I understood somewhat better the ambivalence in Celan’s work – why the inner bond to Judaism that he felt through all the separating influences never quite overcame the ingrained view of traditional Judaism as something superseded.  One might even conjecture that acceptance of such a view was part of Celan's contract with his non-Jewish audience, a contract he was unable to break even when he felt it unraveling.

And I?  Where did my own reservations really come from.


In the years after 9/11 I went on writing poems and essays, pulling together, revising, summarizing.  In 1999 I had been fortunate in making contact with a paper magazine, Bellowing Ark, which already in February 2000 had published Volta:  Toward a Century of Real Inventions, a plea for revision of the canons of modernism.  This was followed by The Poet in the Scientific Family.   Late in 2001 Bellowing Ark began publishing The Consciousness of Earth in installments, and this was followed, beginning 2005, by the  present work.  the opennes of Bellowing Ark amplified a wish that had been growing to recast my earlier memoir, c, or The Autoanalysis of a Golem, to reflect what I hope is a maturer state of mind.  (Although for some readers, perhaps, the earlier work might still have an intensity that conveys the quality of the experience, I thought that more observation and analysis would be useful, and I hope the intensity is preserved in the included poems.)  And Bellowing Ark has also hosted “The Hexagon,” “The World’s Last Rose,” “Prophecy,” A Poet's Logbook (the record of my political poems after 9/11), and various shorter poems and essays.  Thanks to Bellowing Ark and its editor, Robert Ward, much of my work is now in the paper record, and for this I am profoundly grateful.  I feel that in these various attempts I have been summing up the fate of the Western world.  The fate of a world is a different thing, of course, from its history; it centers on the human being, on the human consciousness that is at the center of events or at any rate in the midst of them, struggling to hold its head above water.  The subject has a personal hold on me; and yet it is the fate of another world that more and more insistently tugs at my conscience.


                It would have been better perhaps – as time goes on I tend more and more to think so – if I had been able, in 1979, to leave Celan’s ambivalences behind and go into the Orthodox world without looking back.  There are things one understands only after committing oneself to them – that is also partly what marriage is about.  There is much that I do not know now and shall probably never know, because of my hanging-back.  And much, too, that I might just possibly have done.

            For me the Gaza evacuation in August 2005 was a moment of truth.  Throughout the preceding spring all reasonable, enlightened, moderate people, even Commentary magazine, even Israeli who were said to be security experts, kept telling us what a good idea the evacuation was.  It was mainly the Orthodox settlers, with their strange outmoded ideas like the concept of a Chosen People and a Promised Land, who could not see the rosy prospects.  A few weeks before the evacuation an email appeared in my inbox from an organization called Manhigut Yehudit, which represents the settler community.  The leader of that organization, Moshe Feiglin, wrote from one of the beleaguered settlements in a manner that seemed to me both very moving and eminently reasonable.  That email led me to the Manhigut Yehudit website, on which I saw an ad for Feiglin’s book, Where There Are No Men, and ordered it.  It’s out of print now, unfortunately, but sometimes one can find a second-hand copy. 

            Where There Are No Men (the second half of the Talmud quotation is “strive to be a man”) relates the struggle led by Feiglin and his associates against the Oslo agreements.  It is very well written, and its account of the action is accompanied by what seems to me a very clearheaded analysis of the reasons why secular Zionism, after the founding of the state, gave way to “post-Zionism” and a willingness to make unaffordable concessions.  The problem, in Feiglin’s view, was that the secular Zionists were people who under the pressure of European anti-Semitism had become distanced from their ancestral tradition.  Many of them did not come back to Israel in order to fulfill the vision of their ancestors; they wanted rather to get away from it, to become a “normal” nation, and their views of normality were shaped by a materialistic world-view.  But the materialistic world-view does not provide for the survival of a tiny nation surrounded by implacable enemies.  The existence of such a nation can only be based on faith in something that transcends the materialistic world view.  The Psalmists already knew this; at some point during these events it dawned on me that Psalms is a very realistic book.  Those who lack its faith to sustain them don't remain realists; instead they end up placing their faith in some secular delusion -- believe for instance that the uneasy amalgam of capitalism and democracy which thrived in America for a while is a stable compound, or that “peace” is possible with those who want to destroy Israel more than they want to live, themselves.  For Israel, faith in the Biblical promise is not a luxury but a necessity. 

            And not for Israel alone but for the rest of the world, as well.  Some years ago Rabbi Faier wrote an article in which he argued that world peace could only begin with the universal recognition of Israel’s right to its land.  It is hard to see what those who cannot keep faith with Israel, can hope for themselves.  The Gaza expulsion scared me not only because of what it meant for Israel but because of what it meant for people in the West.  Those who joined in urging Israel toward that step were not seeing clearly.  And those who do not see clearly are not good survival risks. 

            As a result of these reflections, I transferred my affiliation from the Conservative synagogue for the local Chabad, and began trying to increase my level of observance.  Since leaving Israel I had indulged once more in the hope that the less traditional forms of Judaism would offer a frame for "creativity," , but I saw that this could not come at the price of survival.  Moreover, I felt less and less comfortable with the attachment that had both drawn me toward the Jewish people and hindered my absorption. In April, 2006 I finally removed from my finger the gold ring in the shape of the fish that I had worn since 1972.  It now reposes with the two lockets and the bracelet and the brooch in the hexagonal box, a memento of the past.  And shortly thereafter I began composing a work that was partly meant to mark the detachment.

            It is called “Gargirei Ha’Omer (Grains of the Omer) and comprises 49 short poems in Hebrew, one for each day of “counting the omer,” the seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot, between exodus and the giving of the Law.  The omer period  is traditionally a period of introspection and preparation -- and also a time of semi-mourning, commemorating twenty-four thousand students of Rabbi Akiba who are said to have died in a plague as a punishment for not having respected one another enough.  A Kabbalistic practice that has found its way into the prayerbook associates these seven weeks with the seven lower Sefirot, the Divine “emanations” which manifest themselves as human qualities:  Hesed, Gevurah , Tiferet, Netzach, Hod, Yesod, and Malchut, which names can be roughly translated as Love, Judgment, Beauty, Victory (or Eternity), Acknowledgment, Commitment, and Community (or Humility).  Each of the Sefirot governs one week, and within that week each of the Sefirot governs one day.  Thus the first day of the Omer is “Love within Love,” the second is “Judgment within Love,” and so on.  By meditating each day on one of those combinations, and trying to see how they play out in one’s own life, one is supposed to contemplate self and world in all their facets, and thus purify the “animal soul” until it becomes a vehicle for the Divine soul.  The cycle is connected for me with Celan because he  lived to be 49 years old, and by writing it I hoped to make a start at “rectifying” whatever aspects of his nature and mine had made us vulnerable to unconstructive forces.  And for me there was something reminiscent of him in the contemplation of this design, like gazing into a many-faceted, darkly luminescent crystal.  But the main inspiration for the cycle was not Celan’s poetry but a lecture on the counting of the omer by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh. 

            Some time after I had finished Gargirei Ha’Omer, my brother Don and his wife Tammye, who are not Jewish but Christian, sent me a gold Star of David that has a tiny Star of David incised in each of its points.  Since the Star of David can be understood as a symbol of the week (with the Sabbath as center), it is almost a perfect symbol of the omer period, or of the Kabbalistic view (often mentioned by Rabbi Ginsburgh) that each of the sefirot contains all of them.

            Of course, the “counting of the omer” with its Kabbalistic intentions is just a ritualization of a process that is supposed to be ongoing, the “middot” (the word literally means “measurements”).  These are the traits that one must cultivate in order to be a builder of community.  It is a different discipline from artistic craftsmanship, but no less exacting.  Could the two be practiced together?  Surely such an enterprise could have “the fascination of what is difficult,” as Yeats put it.

            The following summer I changed the name of The Neovictorian/Cochlea to The Deronda Review and found an Israeli poet, Mindy Aber Barad, who was willing to act as co-editor.  Until then my work on the magazine had run parallel to my concern for Israel, even though every issue but the first had contained some work by Israeli poets.  Now, feeling that the two concerns must merge, I thought of Daniel Deronda, the last work by that quintessential Victorian George Eliot, in which the hero discovers that he is Jewish, affirms his Judaism, and sets out for the Holy Land.  In the course of his self-discovery he exercises a good influence on the other main character, Gwendolyn, a young woman whose fashionable shallowness has led her out of her depth, a still-recognizable portrait of misled youth.


            2008 was a terrible year.  There was the electoral campaign, like watching the second act of Swan Lake, the prince dancing with the evil enchanter's daughter thinking she is his own true love.  And nothing one said did any good.

            And on March 6, 2008, an enemy burst into the library of the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva, where the most devoted students were studying while their classmates got ready for a party, and shot down eight students.  I knew the family of one of them, Yonadav Haim Hirshfeld; I had read two of his poems.  Amid the outpouring of grief, many stories were told about the eight who had lost their lives, and there is now about about them in Hebrew and English, Princes Among Men. 

            To read this book is get a glimpse into the world of people who live for their ideals and for their land.  In their short lives these young men showed great love and devotion not only for the Torah but for the land of Israel.  One feels that this love of the land irradiated their whole personalities.  This love included, of course, the willingness to defend the land militarily; but above all it was a sense of spiritual affinity and of responsibility which led, on the part of these young men, to various personal initiatives. 

In Hebrew adam (man) and adamah (earth) share the same root.  For that matter so, in Latin, do human and humus.  Perhaps human nature, to fulfill itself, needs to be in the right kind of relationship to the earth from which we were taken.  To many who want to envision a global community with a sustainable relation to the earth, the idea of a unique “promised land” for one people seems counterintuitive.  But perhaps it is just from this one people’s love for its land, that we are meant to learn how to love the Earth.  Sometimes the small contains the great.  (This is an idea which I first encountered in Mandel'shtam, found again in Celan's work, and again in the the tale of the "seven Beggars" by Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav.)  And sometimes too much attention is paid to general principles, and people forget that what is significant is the unique event.  I hear the biologists think that life had only one beginning.

In the fall of 2008 I finally read Rav Kook’s Orot.  In it I found the sentence: "Israel and its essence are not confined to a restricted private circle. They are concentrated in a unique circle, and from that center they exert an influence on the whole circumference."


In March, 2009 I went to Crown Heights in Brooklyn, the center of the Chabad movement, to attend the wedding of a young woman who had been teaching me Tanya.  It was a beautiful experience; as the young and old of the community danced around the bride it seemed to me that I saw the glowing, pulsating Tree of Life.  I would never be part of it in the same way as my teacher/  But while in Crown Heights I attended a lecture that referred to Serach, the daughter (or, according to some traditions, adopted daughter) of Asher.  The Midrash says that Serach, who had a beautiful singing voice, was chosen to convey to Jacob the news that Joseph was still alive, because they were afraid the shock of joy would be too much for him otherwise.  As a reward for this she was blest with great longevity and is even identified with the woman whose wise counsel saved a city in King David's time. The lecturer stated that the Lubavitcher Rebbe was born on the day associated with the tribe of Asher, and that Serach exemplifies the quality of persistence associated with this tribe.  It occurred to me that my English name is related to the name Asher ("happy"). 

In that same spring Moshe Feiglin put on an intense campaign to get into Parliament as a Likud representative.  After this attempt failed there was a debate within the movement whether to withdraw from the Likud or keep on trying to pursue their aims within its framework.  At this juncture I wrote to Feiglin as follows:




“Moshe!  Moshe!”  He heard the voice and turned

on the dim track that darkened up ahead.

Who was it that had called him?  No bush burned


Off to the side, that he could see.  Instead

he saw a woman, tall, older than he

by maybe a generation.  “Who,” he said,


“are you?”   She answered him quite seriously,

“’Serach’ is one name that I answer to.

Serach bat Asher – you remember me.


But it was I who called first.  Is that you,

Moshe?  I need to hear a good strong ‘Hineni.’

He said, “What is this game?  Suppose I grew


up with the name Moshe?  There are so many.”

“But you are Israel’s leader.  And unless

you answer to that name, we haven’t any.


I started my own gig under some stress.

No need to go there now.  But don’t get me

wrong – I’m not asking you to do a nes,


only to manifest that quality

Moshe Rabbeinu was most noted for.”

He said, “I guess you mean humility.”


“Yes, that is what I mean.  It is the door

Through which all wisdom comes.  If you’ll be strong

in this, and listen half an hour more,


I think I can point out where you went wrong

and how you might get back on track again,

speaking as someone who has listened long.


You yourself said it:  ‘Where there are no men,

try to be one.’  Only, not one alone

is needed; rather ten, and powers of ten,


acting in concert, yet each on their own,

each in their way, with their own skills and tools,

till all are knit into a network grown


by truth and trust and heeding of the rules

brought down from Sinai by the long relay

of those no hasty calculation schools


to grasp for hope by casting it away,

working through powers that are not our friends,

as though only corruption here could sway –


you have been shown, I think, where that road ends.

But past mistakes may yet be rectified

with the aid of One on whom all time depends.”


And then, as if forestalling some reply

she feared, she said, “I have heard many call

the approach that I believe you ought to try


unrealistic and impractical.

Yet you have written of a ‘war of dreams’

as though dreams made a difference, after all.


The force that from a true idea streams

a false expedience can but dissipate.

Rue not the failure of unworthy means


but let it turn you back to meditate

such acts as fitly follow from your cause –

you may yet show the world a Jewish State.


Your cause is Israel’s people and G-d’s laws,

and the holy land, to us by G-d assigned

in Sinai’s covenant, which solely draws


the plan for Israel and humankind.

Your actions now could be a demonstration

of how such state could work – of a refined,


responsive, and transparent organization.

You are a literary man.  Why not

build a bit more on the imagination?


You’ll need a cabinet.  You could fill each spot

right now, and let each appointee explain

how, in his field, he’d implement the thought


of your good plan.  In that way you might gain

many who’d like to see what they would get,

whom they would get, besides one honest man.


And in your ranks let none be nameless.  Let

no gift be wasted, no true word dismissed.

Beware the bars the veteran tends to set


against newcomers’ counsel.  Call that guest

to mind, who came to you before Sinai,

and let the plan of the array he pressed


on you, still seem like something worth a try.

I guess that what I’m mainly trying to say

is that I’d like to see you not rely


on dreamless reckonings, into which we stray

only to find ourselves at some dead end.

But the Torah will always show some way,


each day, if we can manage to attend,

some road on which to keep moving ahead,

whatever seas may rise, or skies impend.”


She ceased, and after a moment turned her head

toward a track that branched off.  Was there a gleam

amid dark clouds massed over where it led?


It might have been the morning star’s first beam. 

I'm still hoping to get an answer.  Of course, if I had stayed in the Torah world, I might have been able to speak this piece from higher ground.  Might have.

And in June The Jewish Press carried an article titled "The Cry of a Pained Neshama," signed "Yisroel S."  It described the struggles of Orthodox youth who, having been lured "off the path" by secular culture, are trying to return and reintegrate.  In my mind the tragedy of youth drawn away from the Tree of Life by a culture of trash connected with that of those eight murdered stars from the Mercaz HaRav and led to the writing of a cycle of nineteen sonnets, To Guard the Soul of Youth, which appeared recently in B'Or HaTorah.  I hope that it will come to the attention to educators, and will be of some help.  I hope.


It is February 2, 2012.  Over a generation has passed since my return from Israel, and over two generations since I set out on this quest, guessing from the first that it would be lifelong and that I might never know the result.  I have tried to learn the lessons of patience, carefulness,.and inner climate control which the long trial has imposed, and perhaps this has been good for my soul.  In these years I think I have managed to refine somewhat the insights that came to me in the early 1970's, separate them from some extraneous matters that were mixed up with them at first.  But the essence of what I saw then has not changed, nor have I often been surprised by the changes that have occurred in the outside world.. 

For instance this week, again, Feiglin suffered a resounding defeat in the Likud, and again does not seem to be learning much from it, stuck in the role of protestor.  And here in my own state a protest group will probably succeed in forcing a recall election of the governor, who has perhaps served plutocratic interests too blatantly; but the outcome of the recall is in doubt, first, because plutocrats everywhere are pouring money into the governor's campaign fund, and second, because the protestors do not have a credible candidate and, like Feiglin and his followers, seem not to have much of a plan for what they would do if they did win.  I keep thinking that I might perhaps write them a letter, saying to them what I said to Feiglin, mutatis mutandis.  It would run something like this:

Dear United Wisconsin and affiliates [fill in names of chief organizers],

First, let me congratulate you on collecting one million signatures on your petition to recall our current governor.  I share your concern for social justice, and applaud your dedicated effort.  I have had, however, certain reservations which I would like to share with you now -- along with a few suggestions -- in the hope they may yet be helpful.

As you know, you will be facing a massive media campaign, of a kind that has unfortunately been generally effective, funded by plutocrats all across these United States.  Despite your large numbers they will attempt to portray you as marginal.  And they will be helped by the fact that you have neither identified leaders who could take power in the place of those recalled, nor put together a positive plan for running the state.  I fear that by failing to do these things you are allowing yourselves to be frozen in the role of protestors, of the opposition.  And in this role you are all too likely to remain.

The shortcomings of your movement so far -- may they yet be remedied -- are typical of the shortcomings of protest movements since the 1960's, which have relied on catalyzing resentment without facing the task of envisioning the alternative and beginning to build it.  They have failed to respect and reckon with one root of "conservatism" -- that mentality which is wary of movements that offer nothing clear and positive, and will choose to stay with any "establishment," however untrustworthy.  (And where that mentality is overridden and protest movements do come to power, the results are not always what one hoped.)

The possibility of beginning to build is, I believe, in your hands.  You have the names and addresses of over a million people who do not like the way things are going.  What you need is a realization among all these people that they must be able to rely on and support one another. 

The task of devising a system that would fairly distribute the fruits of work -- and ensure that the most vital work of society gets done -- is enormously complex.  It cannot be addressed by shouting slogans; nor can it be accomplished by joining hands and singing songs, useful as that is in keeping people's spirits up.  It requires the coordinated use of information about law, demographics and sociology, industrial and natural resources.  It requires the personal involvement of each individual, some attempt to find out what the abilities and needs of each individual are.  (Without knowing what the abilities and needs of each are, the well known socialist slogan is hollow.)  And it requires a shared consciousness that each is responsible for using every opportunity to further another in his or her part of the task.  If  people must be pitted against money, then it is imperative not to waste people.  To make this intention specific, it will be necessary to form a coordinated network of small work-groups.  (Think of something like the Twelve-Step Foundation, where the aim would be not only the strengthening of individuals but the building of a just society.)

This is a long-term task.  Whoever is serious about it, is in it for the duration, and must not be discouraged by setbacks.  Indeed, to sustain this effort it will be important to have some vision of what is valuable in human life and is worth struggling for, win, lose or draw.  For this you need faith, and also, I believe, poetry.  One poem ["The Fourteenth of July"] is enclosed. 

Dear friends, I am sending you this as a prayer and as what I owe to a vision that has sustained me through years when the climate has not always been hospitable to the telling of home truths.  (There isn't really any other kind.)  May you not wait for failure to teach you (the lessons of failure are rarely learned, because of exhaustion and discouragement).   Please listen now.   I have thought long about these matters and can elaborate on every point I have made here.  I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.

Yours sincerely...


I suppose I shall send it. 


Mostly, in these days, I have a sense of winding up.  My time is more limited now that it was, even though I recently quit my half time secretarial job in order to care for my mother, who unfortunately suffered a stroke last year .  And I myself  am, let us say, on the north side of middle age.  Though still capable of writing a sonnet when the need arises, I feel that my poetic powers are on the wane.  Or perhaps it is that I have managed -- I hope I may say, thank G-d -- to express what was given me specifically to express.  Of late something has whispered to me, "After all, your deepest desires are in the prayerbook."  Oddly enough, a stanza by Dylan comes to mind:  "Lay down your weary tune...."   I hope someday to return to Israel, to take up my Torah studies again for whatever I can still accomplish, but can make no plans about that now.  My present efforts are concentrated on getting the various works which the quest has suggested to me into a form that I can rest content with, and posting them all on this website, in the evanescent ubiquity of cyberspace.   In the world of ideas, so to speak.

Back in 2001, when the Madison Jewish Community Council decided to post “Rim of Gold” on its website, its then webmaster, Ron Johnson, designed a radiant presentation.  After a few months I commissioned him to design this website for me, as well.  It is set up to give an idea of my work as a whole, of a larger form overarching the forms, which is not the form of my work alone, but which I hope will one day serve as a matrix for a reoriented literary culture.

The bluegreen homepage is mostly taken up by a large Star of David. 

At the center is The Hexagon – the poem, and a “forum” that includes the work of other poets whom I have published in The Neovictorian/Cochlea and its successor, The Deronda Review. 

The uppermost point is labeled “Macropoetics,” and leads to various essays expounding the poetics that I learned from “The Meridian.”

The upper right point is labeled “The Consciousness of Earth,” and takes one to the first chapter of the poem; I hope to post the other chapters there soon.

The lower right point is called “P.L.I.” (for Poets Law Institute); there one will find posted my poems on law school and my law journal article.

The lowermost point is labeled “The Deronda Review” and leads to some the magazine's "mission statement" and letter to contributors.          

The lower left point is labeled “The Web of What Is Written,” and leads to a summary of that work; again, I hope soon to post the various chapters.

The upper left point is labeled “Kippat Binah,” and leads to essays on the ‘Olam Katan and on the current situation, and to poetry by Israeli poets.  There is also a fragmentary commentary on Ethics of the Fathers.

Outside the Star of David, at the upper right, is a small star labeled “Homage to Paul Celan,” where I have posted a collection of essays on Celan, “Against Time,” and hope eventually to post the “Meridian” commentary. 

            At the lower right, sadly, there is now another star labeled “In Memory of the Eight,” for the victims of the attack on the Mercaz HaRav Kook in 2008, two of whom were poets.

           And at the lower left the links that lead to this memoir, and to my Collected Poems.


With this I will conclude.  It can be, after all, only an.interim conclusion.  But there is a saying that at the beginning of the Sabbath one should feel as though all one's work is done.  In that spirit I will write, not The End but