A Journal of Contemporary Arts 







Just broken out from Egypt, we look round
the windless wilderness, now hard unbound.
The elders set the young to counting sand:
without a task, the gods will take their hands.
Our masters, in whose blood the fishes delve
are mourned, for in their wake we have no selves.

We pray that reaving Adonai
will take us as his slave,
for this is what it means to us
to be redeemed and saved.

And so the quarrel begins.


Hakadosh barukh hu, you are my rock:
a faceless hulk of stupid grandeur, hot
and cold insensibly, a mount of chalk
to kill all climbers, ancient fossil knot
of grief, volcanic teeth along the shore,
a diamond of abusive mines, your shine
comes from opacity, your hardened core
of gravity, a gem so cruel and fine --

       Or rock that crumbles into colors, rock
       of cool ancestral caves, the grains of bone
       and sand and clay, the ground on which you walk,
       the loam in which your rice and wheat are sown.
       Decide, my son, whether I'm worth a damn;
       I am that I am that I am.




The quality of mercy often
seeks to bend reality,
to blur and to obscure, to soften
nature’s amorality.

How cruel the world, but how unfeeling:
it is people who are reeling,
people who feel love and loss,
buy sweetness and take on the cost.

When storming oceans murder men,
when men kill creatures in their dens,
when Jesus dies from God’s own ire
and the trees from wildfire,

we complete the scene with sadness,
mourning weeks and months of gladness
when the world had greater kindness --
though we fear the world is mindless.

While we bow and scrape and pray,
nudging saints with sweet suggestion,
we sense that evil has its say --
or else there wouldn’t be a question.


The bark was warm as I caressed it,
found a hard point, so I pressed it
deep into my palm -- a tickle
graduating to a trickle.

What tender remedy is there,
what softness and what pleasant care,
that could begin to satisfy
a yen to suffer and to die?

God, make me like cedar wood,
insensible to bad or good,
enduring for my earthly term
no meditations -- only worms.





The holy likeness, stripped of Bronze Age crown and throne
is simple oneness, unity of blood and bone.
But what of the decay of men, the breaking down,
the disarticulated joints of those who drowned?
It starts before we die --
          but praying to be whole,
we will to life the phantom oneness of the soul.



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Begone, foul thing -- you're out to steal my sorrow,
to make me better, mitigate the damage,
to make me see my love was always borrowed
so that I will be easier to manage.

Get back: my sorrow is all mine to keep.
For having held on as long as I could,
and guarded one long moment from the deep,
my sorrow signifies that it was good,
and lack of it would only make love cheap.

    An homage to “Renascence”

Ice will crack and rivers sigh
at the whisper of a Word,
ki el gadol Adonai:
for a great god is the Lord.

Fresh earth will part beneath the plow,
new lambs will struggle up and cry;
the harpist knows the time is now,
ki el gadol Adonai.

My soul once wilted, snapped and froze,
pressed down beneath the graying sky,
but now it buds a yellow rose,
ki el gadol Adonai.

Spring has never lasted here;
the cold and dark are always nigh;
but soon another spring shall near,
ki el gadol Adonai.


Mercy is the end of hurting,
not the end of hurt;
a slash once made is now a wound,
will throb like it may burst.

Mercy's not the key to heaven,
won't see the angels mollified --
not when love is broken off,
when parting is sorrow, unqualified.


Am Yisrael, I loved you most of all.
Before my Jacob and before his sons,
before Yoheved and her little ones,
I loved Avram, whose heart could hear my call.
I loved you so, I left unloved those nations
whose idolatry offended me,
till after thirty speedy centuries
they chose my chosen for extermination.

Woe that now my wounded people fear,
that their blood roars when they are overawed,
embattled with those kingdoms far and near
who threaten and are threatened with the rod --
and woe that innocence melts into tears
and they cry out, “Where is my father’s God?”


Hope is spent like wicker weaved,
with daring little feats achieved,
until the day one dares no more
and little feats become great lore.

But lack of hope can last no longer
if a person, growing stronger,
takes the wicker of his past
and rends the lore to make it last.




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The wrongness, like an unexpected cramp,
like broken glass, like carcass-scented damp --

cold and dark in summer sun,
greasy barrel of a gun,
snapping of a sewing thread,
subtle aching of the head,

we promise all of this and so much more
on either side of our patented door.


      What is so luminous about a day?
Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath

At Sabbath's end you'll sing a song.
Tonight, however, the words are wrong:
A bleak week, a week of war
when gladness fades and rockets roar.

Strike the match and dimly see
those who never again shall be.
Light the candle, blow it bright,
still you squint to see what's right,

for in the smoking of the bombs
somebody is whispering psalms,
yet David seldom sang of peace
but victory and sweet release.

Now snuff the light and darkly see
Eliyahu ha'Navi,
prophet with a hanging head
who has smelt too much red.

Dusk has fallen; with the dawn
peace may well indeed be gone:
a Saturday night revelation
God intended for no nation.

So choose a partner to embrace
while you glimpse a different place.
Be among the flowering groves:
go ahead and sniff the cloves.


Transpiring from Her fingertips,
Her jewels are dots of dew;
She carelessly slips off Her leaves
to later grow anew.

The treasures of the earth are Hers
and steadily accrue;
a whole still-beating heart is due
from those who she would woo.

A rock-and-iron planet did He
roughly hack and hew,
but it was She whose greenery
with air the world imbued.

And why did He ban drawings? -- well,
it happened that He drew
a bad one (and She told Him)
of Shekhinah dressed in blue.


The sands and stars of heaven are one thing,
or so the younger psalmists wish to sing.
The fracture of this world is an illusion --
worse, a sinful and corrupt conclusion.

Tsimtsum, God's casting out of God from here
was merely done so that we could be near,
a multifarious gem of bright creation
lasting just to host the One's own nation.

Teshuvah is our task: return, return!
Return from whence we came, into the urn
of peace, nirvana, moksha, adoration
of the One who has no designation.

Like specks of dust that can't wait to be mud,
we cease to grind our wheat, to spend our blood,
and fill the tents of Jacob with our books
while someone else herds, kills, sheds tears and cooks.

Yet why, on His first day of fatherhood
did One decide to call His Many good?
In fragmentation, multiplicity
could there not also be felicity?

For all that glitters is not gold,
but all that does is manifold:
a sequin here, a sequin there,
a billion atoms everywhere.

And if a single psalmist sings,
but still her lyre has six strings,
and strings are spun from sixty more,
don't thirty dozen strands of God
quiver in the core?



Said God: Cursed be the ground;
said God, and you shall eat of it;
said our mothers, take the apple
and with honey sweeten it.

But honey’s of the blessed sky  ̶
and so’s the word of God;
man shall not live on bread alone
but with his tongue be awed.


No looping trail is walked in rings,
but looping forward makes a spring
that slowly decompresses time
till space admits the marks sublime,

the marks sublime like thistle glows
and rattle calls declared by crows,
and thoughts that dare to fly astray
from rings we thought we'd think that day.


He who wrote: ABANDON HOPE
did not foresee his iron sign
would melt within the year.

The walls of hell cannot endure
eternities of shock.
We must imagine Sisyphus
grinding down the rock.


The air at Good Samaritan is cold,
the lights too bright, too white, the flooring old.
The building hums: it sings the song of vents
and puffs the sails of our bland discontent.

We sit in school kids' chairs; some rock askew
while others can't be moved, feet gummed or glued,
and at a licensed therapist's behest
we rank this morning's mood from worst to best.

Jamika is an eight, here by mistake
post near-death scrape that looked just like a break;
she never wished to die, that is until
her eighteenth go-round on this ranking drill.

Javier's a two, with violent stomach pain
that can't be, but can't but be in his brain;
the doctors have changed out all of his meds
with no result except increasing dread.

Mohammed thinks Javier should pack it in.
Just give it up, say fuck it, pull the pin --
and this is not allowed, but how will he
be penalized for bringing up Plan Z?

The therapist stands up; she needs a gavel,
needs a thicker shawl, needs leave to travel.
We're moving on, she says, to Eleanor
(who's ninety, and has just begun to snore.)

Matthias stretches up a hand and asks
if he can smoke -- so he can doff his mask.

Enough. The numbers failed today; it's time
to switch it up. We'll now confess sublime
desires, our most base and highest wants:
it's my turn, so I name a college haunt.

She smiles. Why don't you elaborate?


There was a time when venturing out
so far from home filled me with doubt,
but now the doubt is everywhere:
it fills the earth, it fills the air
so that my very core is void,
the warmth of my heart's hearth destroyed.

Though I am sick, I earn no pity --
after all, it isn't pretty --
yet I feel I could get by
if it weren't for the evil eye
of one who desperately believes
that I am sick because I seethe
and through sheer inane force of will
have made myself, and thus him ill.

But what can I say struck me down?
I was a rocket -- then I drowned.
The sky did not deflect my soul:
it snapped inside, it had a hole.
And all the time I ripped the air,
I ripped myself up, care by care,
until my very life's ambition
was confused with my ignition

and going nowhere in my thoughts, I shrug
and say I miss the eastern lightning bugs.

A siren blares. The hospital's on fire,
or so it thinks -- perhaps a faulty wire.
We troop downstairs and out the rusting door,
give thanks to God that life's less of a bore.

The birds are singing; trees exude sweet breath;
Matthias passes out his sticks of death;
the clouds are backlit altocumulus,
still pink-through-gold tricolored luminous.

Perhaps we are not ready for this sight.
Perhaps we're unfit for the morning light.
Perhaps we must retire soon indoors,
where Eleanor will fall back into snores.

But blessed quiet, solidarity
and lack of Good Sam's well-meant charity
add up to something good, or something nice,
or something less metallic, less like ice.


                 *Written for, and presented at, the 2023 Critical Path Symposium,
                   hosted by Brian Palmer and Jan Schreiber for THINK journal. 



With darkest head and brightest tail,
the jay of day and night
flies forth from oldest wooded vale
to set a few things right.

The first thing that he says to you
is that you may be wrong
if you assume it isn't true
that screeching is a song.

The next thing that the avian tells
the people of your town
is that collecting seashells
is the sole route to renown.

If people fear your cutting words,
do not give yourself credit,
for surely a much bigger Bird
remembers that you said it.

And as for the plurality
of you who vote for liars,
you'll come back to reality
when honesty retires.

Now, word has got to me about
the tendency among you
to throw the ill will into doubt
of creatures that have stung you.

When I am bothered by a wasp
that simply will not beat it,
I take a skip, a hop, a hop
and on the off-beat eat it.

But conversely there are a few
who won't a soul forgive;
like cud their grievances they chew
and don't live nor let live.

These folk should know that some birds molt:
and dashing out their feathers,
grow much wiser in a jolt
to face the changing weather.

Revert to kindness, not the mean
(or meanness, I should say);
after all, the sky is clean
when breaks a sunny day.

And finally, for those of you
who suffer, I've no right
to say the world cannot be blue
when there's no land in sight.

But when you find a secret wood
that shelters tender hope,
and in the ferns you think you could
gain back the strength to cope:

I beg you take a stone, a snail
or other tasty souvenir
so that when next you feel you'll fail
the wood won't disappear.

And now, methinks I cannot perch
much longer on your hat,
for underneath that leaning birch
I think I see a cat.

(He spreads his wings and catches air,
a lovely beating kite;
and travels he from here to there,
the jay of day and night.)




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