And You Shall Love

Yesterday I attended Kabbalat Shabbat at The New Shul for the first time in years. As some of you know, I have a complicated relationship with my Judaism. I’m an atheist, so although I love many of the rituals of the religion, I’m often uncomfortable in services that mention God too much. I certainly don’t feel that I can say the Sh’ma, the primary tenet of the faith, without perjuring myself.

Still, Kabbalat Shabbat, the Friday evening service, at The New Shul is always a special event, with gorgeous music (especially gorgeous now that they’ve started incorporating Sephardic and Middle-Eastern Jewish traditions) and lovely community. And, incredibly, last night rehabilitated for me one of the core prayers that I am uncomfortable with, the V’ahavta.

The change was in the custom guidebook for Friday Night and it was in the translation of the prayer. It was a very minor change, just one word, and actually the word wasn’t even changed, just bracketed. But that made all the difference. Here’s how the first lines read:

And you shall love (God) with all your heart,
and all your soul, and all your might.

That’s all. But once the word “God” is in parentheses, the entire prayer becomes not about the divine being I don’t believe in, but about love. Instructions for how to love. You shall love with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your might, and you shall take these words and speak them in your house and on the road and teach them to your children and bind them on your arm and between your eyes and write them on your gates. What shall you love in this way? Why, everything that you love. No holding back, if you love something, love it fully, and teach others to love just the same way.

Somehow, that really resonated with me last night. Maybe because I’ve been second-guessing myself around the topic of love and winding myself up in tangles trying to strategize the feeling away. But if this prayer is true, I don’t have to manage it, I just let myself feel the thing with every (as another translation has it) “inclination of my knowing heart” and let that be enough.

Friday Poem: I’M

Friday #Poem: I’M #inspiredbySylviaPlath

Iiiit’s Friday again! Which means it’s time for a new poem!

I’M

Open, like a skinned knee,
scraped on the sidewalk. Grated
like a wheel of cheese. Pulsing to
some conductor’s time.
In open heart surgery behind
the blue curtain, reflected
in the young white surgeon’s eyes
(She’s ready to prove herself;
operating is the easiest thing in the world.
It’s the next part that’s the hardest).

Raw, like a…

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Friday Poem: I’M

Iiiit’s Friday again! Which means it’s time for a new poem!

I’M

Open, like a skinned knee,
scraped on the sidewalk. Grated
like a wheel of cheese. Pulsing to
some conductor’s time.
In open heart surgery behind
the blue curtain, reflected
in the young white surgeon’s eyes
(She’s ready to prove herself;
operating is the easiest thing in the world.
It’s the next part that’s the hardest).

Raw, like a new diet. Hard
like uncooked pasta. Waiting
for a new order, soldierlike.
Limp. Overcooked. Sliding
against your skin in three-four time.
An aberration. The first thing in your life
that went wrong before it went right.
(The ones before me were
the other way around. They
were all perfect until they weren’t.)

Silken. Ten years too late,
or six too early. Tender, like
well-done steak. Happiest in the dark,
or in a book. Six years too early,
or ten too late. Uncertain, like a newborn
foal. Two fingerwidths away. A revelation,
waiting to be told. Tautologically myself.
Too young; too old. Afraid. Like a theorem,
completely proven. Clean, like a well-scrubbed face.
Imperfect object of an ideal form. Myself,
with my own skin on.

(You never asked me who I was or what we were,
expected anything, or voiced a doubt.
Maybe you were afraid to be proved right,
to have to learn what you could do without.)

About This Poem
This poem was inspired by “You’re” by Sylvia Plath, one of my favourite poems. I, obviously, took it in a completely new direction. And like with my other old poems, I don’t actually remember the context of my writing it, but I’m still proud of it, which certainly counts for something.

Friday Poem: A Little Rain

Here’s another old poem. It’s fairly depressing, and I don’t actually remember the context of it. But I like the rhyme and meter of it a lot.

A Little Rain

She peeks through a chink in the stone wall—
The garden looks desiccated and dry.
Her handmaidens continually weep and sigh.
‘Perhaps tonight a little rain will fall,’

She says and glances at the sky.
It remains the same cloudless, oppressive…

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Friday Poem: A Little Rain

Here’s another old poem. It’s fairly depressing, and I don’t actually remember the context of it. This is before I started adding little explanations to all of my poems. But I like the rhyme and meter of it a lot.

A Little Rain

She peeks through a chink in the stone wall—
The garden looks desiccated and dry.
Her handmaidens continually weep and sigh.
‘Perhaps tonight a little rain will fall,’

She says and glances at the sky.
It remains the same cloudless, oppressive blue.
The sun is warm; it bleaches every hue
and sucks the moisture out of passersby.

Thus, my life, robbed as it is of you:
Day after cheerful, endless, depressing day
My tongue is dry as cotton and cannot say—
–—
I know not what. What words could end this drought?

Friday Poem: Rambling Poem

This is an older poem, one I’m still proud of.

Rambling Poem

Let us ramble down the valleys
Through the brambles and the bushes,
Find the river where it rushes
To the distant ocean shore.

Let me take you down the alleys
Through the naked twisty turnings,
To the evenings and the mornings
We have never seen before.

Let us clamber up the mountains,
Up the camber of the boulders;
I will hoist you on my shoulders
So that you can reach the peak.

Let me bring you to the fountains;
We’ll wing past the mountain geysers;
Mother Nature is no miser
So to deal out her mystique.

So, my dearest, let me show you
To the nearest wooded bower
Where the Ulmaceae tower
And the dandelions bloom.

There, if I may, I will know you
And we’ll stay and stray together.
We’ll make light of any weather
Though the clouds before us loom.

Any road where we will roam,
Whether concrete, lawn, or loam,
Whether suburbs, woods, or city,
You and I will feel at home.

Friday Poem: the elephant

Friday #Poem: the elephant

This is another poem I performed at the Toscanini Slam Poetry event last week. This one is much older — I wrote it back in high school for a poetry class, about the playground outside the apartment building where we lived back in Kharkov, Ukraine.

the elephant

There was an elephant, once
in my hometown
small, and silent, but big enough
for me to ride on.

I’d get up on his back,
clunk clunk of…

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