For Phyllis

She comes to the end of her life
And you are gathered around her
You may not know what to do
During that

How much can you read to her
Pray to her
There are 150 psalms

How much do not go gentle into that good night etc.
And you may want her to go gently
But it is not yours
As she is vigorous in life

She retains that vigor
As she moves towards death

She may not die so quickly

But singing we are to her the last prayers
Singing anyway

And she in her narcotic
Wake-less-ness of life crossing death

Knows she is accompanied

The highest companionship
Accompanied into the transition
As her soul makes its way home
From where it came

Whatever had not been said in life
Can be said then
Along that way when the paths are merging
I’m sorry
I forgive
Forgive me
Understand understand this
I’m not sure I understand

I will never forget you

And always the thank you thank you thank you
What we owe to almost everyone who precedes us
Into death

Send a sign
When you are settled on the other side won’t you
To know that you are waiting waiting
Performing some inscrutable

For the living
That we the living haven’t figured out
But is as basic as


We think
We will remember we will remember
But what you continue to do
For the living
Might be

We think we will not forget you
We are asking

Do not forget us


jsg, usa
November 26, 2010

O Plymouth: A Proem

Come to Plymouth: A Prayer

Or: How Plymouth Michigan Got Its Name

The first settlers had a meeting on February 26, 1827
the downtown was officially called Podunk.
Podunk signifying a mythical American town
from Indians who settled near the Podunk river, Con-nec-ti-cut
thus small American town
found first in the Buffalo Daily National Pilot newspaper
Letters from Podunk, beginning January 5, 1846 —

The north end of Plymouth town MIchigan was called Joppa
no doubt a Biblical reference to the port near present day Tel Aviv
somebody suggested Peking as a name for the town
[their first choice was LeRoy
but that name was taken already] —

we live in a great country.

Several of the early settlers came from Plymouth Mass
so they called it Plymouth,

I grew up near Plymouth Michigan and felt
privileged —
the proximity of the site of the Pilgrims’ landing.
I looked up the story of Plymouth
In my en-cy-clo-pe-dia.

My Daddy worked in the next town.

And I must have missed the lesson
not recognizing
Mass-a-chu-setts at all in the story imagined
the Pilgrims landing in Michigan
and the first Thanksgiving
when the Pilgrims and others
brought down Sukkot as their guide
from this —
my book, too:

When you have come into the land which your God is giving you as a heritage,
and have occupied it and settled in it
you shall take some first fruits of the ground which you harvest
from the land which God gives you put them in a basket,
go to the place which God chooses for the dwelling place of the name.
There you shall go to the priest in office at that time and say to him,
Today I acknowledge to God, that I have indeed
come into the land sworn to our fathers,
given to us.

[Deuteronomy 26: 1 – 3]

See the Pilgrims
in their gratitude:
they landed December 11, 1620
the first winter was devastating
46 of the original 102 who sailed on the Mayflower

Where are they buried —
among the wood framed houses
of Plymouth, Michigan,

No thanksgiving that first winter
if there had been a way back
a good number of them might have taken it —

Then – year two — they had bountiful harvest
the first successful harvest celebrated with a meal

The survivors celebrated with a feast
the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims ate together —
see them at the IHOP in Plymouth, Michigan,
the Pilgrims invited 91 Indians who had helped the Pilgrims survive
after the shock of the first winter.

I looked out the window
and waved as my Daddy went to
day after day
near Plymouth, Michigan,
the holy site of first fruits —

Grateful grateful
for the bounty of this place
where my Daddy worked the dream,

Here –
this is for you,
he used to say,

O Michigan
O Plymouth
O America —
thank you for that first fruited

And all


What Matters

What Matters

Nachman turned to the Prince and said
I have seen in my visions
the wheat will be tainted this Thanksgiving.
Whoever eats of it
will go insane.
What to do?

Let’s grow something else
said Prince —
we’ll only eat from the new crop.

Then we’ll be the only sane ones —
I don’t think I could live
like that, said Nachman.

How about this –
said Prince,
we’ll each make a mark on our foreheads.
Then after we eat
we’ll look at each other
and know we’re crazy.

But we won’t know, said Nachman,

Then it won’t matter,
said Prince.

No, it matters, said Nachman
it matters
even if we don’t know it.

jsg, usa

Two Stories for Thanksgiving

Two American Stories of Thanksgiving

There was a contest on the radio. Write or speak your gratitude on this Thanksgiving. What are you grateful for? The radio announcer asked. Send in your story.

I heard the winners. It was a tie. Two women, one from California, one from Massachusetts.

First, the woman from California spoke. She was a sheep rancher in California. Her father before her worked the ranch. The ranch had been in her family for several generations.

She was, I imagine, a woman in her late forties. Her husband now also worked the ranch, along with her eighty year old father. They all lived right there on the ranch.

She spoke of the difficulties in running such an enterprise these days. The cost of harvesting and processing the wool was for the first time greater than what it could be sold for, in addition there had been five years of drought in her area. “There’s dust in everything,” she said, “and the grazing land is parched and cracked,” her flocks thin and diminished, her father old and tired, herself and her husband frustrated.

I waited for the punch line. What was she grateful for on this Thanksgiving? I wondered.

The night before telling her story, it rained. It rained an inch and a half. The dust liquified back into the earth, the earth smoothed and healed off some of its cracks, but this was not the source of her gratitude. Certainly all the difficulties of running a sheep ranch in these days were not solved by an inch and a half of rain. This was a bonus, a sign, perhaps a clue but not a solution, not even a temporary one, it may have been a joke: Rain, as if that would make a difference.

Her gratitude had to do with her tired 80 year old father who had seen so many seasons come and go on the ranch, something to do with herself and her husband working the family ranch scouting the sky week after week, month after month, year after year for rain. It had to do with the shared judgment about their business which is fragile, outdated, bound up with the shared destiny of one family, one plot of land, one generation after another, being in that thing together; the tenderness as she described her father waddling into the farmhouse after a long day of work, and the brave possibility that the ranch would yet turn a profit somehow. Another season. The possibility, the hope of a future, measured not only in rain but in the dignity of these human beings who hope, who imagine it working again, for the sacred possibility of the future — hope, hope, hope. Hope sustains, everything possible when you have hope.

The second woman tied for first prize in the radio contest. She was from Massachusetts, a Jewish woman I imagined from her name, from her brand of humor. She was funny and about the same age as the other woman, late forties.

This was her story: It has been almost a year since he died, she began, and still she hasn’t set up a tombstone for him. It was a marriage no one thought would work — he had been married three times previous, she several times herself. Neither looking to get married ever again, they met. Against all advice, against their own better judgment and plans for living, they married anyway. Out of the chaos of two lives and ex-wives and kids and step-kids and recriminations they found deep love, love that outlasted the complexities of their lives, and tamed them both.

She spoke her story touchingly, funny, sad. A year after they married, he was diagnosed with cancer, given not much hope for even another year. He lived six, living with cancer, with dignity and joy and living more deeply than ever before because everything was so precious. Every moment.

Now he was gone. She was broke. Public aid in Massachusetts had all but dried up. She had not been able to find full time work, she was substitute teaching in Boston. What was she grateful for? I was waiting to hear.

This: first, many friends. They called her regularly and invited her to meals, she usually declined but loved the invitations. Someone brought over a load of firewood to heat her wood burning stove as winter came on. She was grateful because she had felt her heart unlock to life so fully that it would never close again, the great gift of love that changed her permanently.

The last thing she said: I’m alone, broke, but not unhappy, not in the least afraid. As a matter of fact, I’m rather content, she said, because I believe something, my little way of thinking about things, that may sound wacky but I really believe this —

I think of him as if he has gone away somewhere ahead of me, as if to find the perfect apartment, you know — something near a bookstore — where there is a cafe that serves fresh raspberries all year round. He has gone there ahead of me to find the perfect place for us, she said. I am as certain of this as I am of anything: we will meet again, and because I believe this, I am full of gratitude this Thanksgiving, content and not at all afraid of the future. Everything is possible when you believe in something.

These are the two American stories of gratitude that I heard on the radio just before Thanksgiving.

I listened and then I wrote my own tale of gratitude. It had to do, like the ones I had heard, with health, and loving somebody, with what I believe that gets me through the long nights, with a vague sense of possibility that everything is going to be all right, of hope I suppose that accompanies all our lives like a sense of something fine arriving from the distance, something good — hope, that’s it.

In the distance, it’s God you are discerning, or nature, or whatever it is you believe in that animates your life.
This is what you are hearing bearing down on you:

be grateful, it’s going to work out, somehow.
It’s going to be just fine.

james stone goodman, united states of america

Commit: And he dwelled

I dreamed a dream
we were walking through a field
then we were alone in a small valley
a true emek
it was beautiful just like in the story
all the flowers brightly colored.

It was all as it is supposed to be
the deep significance of events clarified in the dream
just as Rashi the poet predicted
the events released their deep significance
just as Rashi described them
only in vivid color
the kind of colors a child would use

or God

the story opened to me like a flower
a field of stories

I’ll tell it to you again if you like —
the whole story.


O holy Shabbes Inspiration Vayeshev
Maqam* Nahawand (sometimes called Rahawi or Nawah)

Every Shabbat is associated with a musical figure called a *maqam,
Arabic cognate to Hebrew maqom, Place.

Commit: part 2

O holy Shabbes Inspiration Vayishlach
Maqam Saba,

Al Tira Avdi Yakov we sing on Saturday night
do not be afraid my servant Jacob
what has Jacob to be afraid of?
Himself transformed.
Himself untransformed.

Later when Esau and Jacob meet again
(I overheard Rashi the poet quoting Rav Shimon)
Esau’s compassion was lifted in a moment
and he kisses Jacob with all his heart [Genesis 33:4]

Mr. Sometimes Jacob Sometimes Israel:
I meet my brother on the road
Can we reconcile?
How will he receive me?
He is strong, I will send him gifts.
I will protect myself with strategy.
Do I hug him
do I slug him?
Do I kiss him
do I hit him?
We meet
the moment erupts in love.

Mr. Esau:
I run to him
I kiss him
hug him,
over my head
a ribbon of light.
I weep.
Any moment now
might erupt —
the memory that heals.
Holding his foot
as we chuted toward the light,
when we hug
I remember.
And again
over my head exploding
a ribbon of dots
a ribbon of light.

jsg, usa

The Commit

O holy Shabbes Inspiration Vayishlach
Maqam Saba,

in which Peniel, the face of God, becomes the site of a wrestle,
Jacob the heel becomes Yisrael
the God wrestler
Yakov to Yisrael transformed —
the limp a sign.

No longer will it be said that your name is Jacob but Israel
for you have striven sarita im Elohim
wrestled with God
and with human beings
and have overcome. [Gen.32:29]

The root sin resh heh used only one other time in this form
in the entire Hebrew Bible.
Yisrael hundred of times —

but the verb form, this form, is used twice,
here and in Hosea.
What gives?
The one who strives wrestles with God?
Why don’t we find it everywhere as a verb?
Jacob the only wrestler with God in the Bible?
I don’t think so.

We are all wrestlers with God
we are all of us
all the time
going to the mat with Hashem.
All of us striving struggling wrestling
so let’s not pay too much attention to that
Jacob doesn’t
sometimes Jacob
sometimes Israel
he is both.

Here’s the deal:
Can a person overcome character
the capacity to transform
to change so radically that what formerly defines
now limits, can someone shed old skin acquire a new name
limp away from the confrontation bearing
the mark of transformation in his walk?
He does, Mr. Sometimes Jacob Sometimes Israel —
we do –that’s always the point.

The price for transformation —
your angel or your demon beckons you into the ring
lets you know you won’t be getting out
a fight.

jsg, usa

The Aristocratic Shabbes Bride

The Aristrocratic Shabbes Bride

She arrives on Friday evening
as if for a wedding
– do we imagine her?
dressed in white
the jewels the train of the bride
the costuming
where’d she get that dress?

We do.
We do imagine her,
We sing her a wedding song
the wedding party
we anticipate her as the sun
makes its way home in the west.

We dress nicely for her
[it’s a wedding]
In white wool
in the summer
warm in the winter
the way wool holds the body heat
wool made from sheep ordinarily
could be made from rabbits I guess
or Cashmere
made from goats,

I suppose you could make wool from any furry creature
but not that greasy cat that lives in my basement
wool from sheep from sheep
sheep’s wool has scales that overlap
like shingles on a roof,

Not wool taken from sheep produced for meat
typically more coarse
merino wool, nice, very fine
moths love it.

Irreverant to describe the mystical bride
this way
it’s just —
I am seeing her as I write this
and the wool is
fine, fine

The wool is clean white long fine
and free of defects
that alone would be worthy of a proper welcome
especially from someone like James Joyce
or Dylan Thomas or Sylvia Plath who wrote poetry and
wore wool, scratchy, smelling like tobacco.
None of them would think that the whole Shabbes bride
imagery was a lot of hooey
I guarantee it
they would go deep to it
for its beauty in language and form
and for its wool that they wore every day,
greeting her or not.

Wool has greater crimp,
crimp –
the number of bends per unit length along the wool fiber
a fine wool like merino may have up to a hundred crimps an inch
wool fabrics have great bulk and retain air
which causes WOOL to retain heat.
It works both ways
how to understand that?

Bedouins of the great deserts and Tuaregs wear wool
to keep the heat out.
I saw this myself in the Sinai
my Bedouin driver wore wool sweaters buttoned up in 120 degree heat.
He didn’t sweat into the wool either.
Well, gotta go –
The sun is skating down her dress the last of its rays
she is looking for us
it’s time to welcome her this way:
Come my beloved
let us greet her
forget about what she’s wearing
sing the wedding poem:

Lecha Dodi likrat kalah
p’nai Shabbat n’kabbelah.

Here she comes
the Bride
check out the wool
it’s fine white
well crimped
can’t make out the details
only this:

come looking for

jsg, usa

Commit: And He Left, pt. 2


Jacob leaving Beer Sheva —
Be a big person
Try to be the kind of person that leaves a mark behind you when you leave
try to be the kind of person that has a direction.

Go toward it.

Va-yetzei Yaakov me B’er Shava va-yei-leckh Haran-ah
And Jacob left from Beer Sheva and went toward Haran.
[in trope] — Gen. 28:10

Then he had a dream
first a direction
then a dream —

And he had a dream, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and top of it reached to heaven, and behold the angels of G*d ascending and descending on it. And behold, G*d stood beside him, and said:

I am Ad*nai, the G*d of Abraham your father
and the G*d of Isaac.
[Gen. 28:12-13]

Abraham your father?
Isn’t Isaac’s Jacob’s father?

Did you know your grandfather?
There is a grandfatherliness
like a spiritual parenting
you might separate from your father
like Jacob separated from his father
become like your grandfather
your grandfather who separated from
his father
your father who separated from your grandfather —
you may be your grandfather’s child
after all.

And he went to sleep
and he was awakened
by what he didn’t know —

And Jacob awakened out of his sleep and said,
Surely there is G*d
in this place and
lo yadati.
[Gen. 28:16]

Surely G*d is in this place and I —
I didn’t know
my I
didn’t know
there was no I
so much G*d
no I
more G*d less I

surely there is G*d in this place and I
–I don’t know a darn thing.


Now I can learn the world
even G*d
maybe Nature
on its own terms

the world can break in on me
without interference —

the beginning of wisdom.

O holy Shabbes Inspiration Va-Yetzei
Maqam Ajam

Maqam Ajam begins with a Ajam trichord on the first note and another Ajam trichord on the 5th note (the dominant), so for example: On B flat

B flat C D E flat F G A B flat

Every Shabbat is associated with a musical figure called a *maqam,
Arabic cognate to Hebrew maqom, Place.


I just didn’t believe
It was going to destroy

I wasn’t that kind of
Person —

I became that kind
Of person

When I finished a program
I got right back to
Same habits

I couldn’t

Drove my wife

Hard on the

Thinking I could control

Now I Really
Want To Be

I want to



You too
Can be
For a long

Happening early

God knows what
I took

What I learned —
It’s ok
To surrender

I’ve had another

— around the tables