Small Alef Poetry

Mention first leaving
the place is diminished by the leaving
a big person
leaves a big space behind her
him
her.

Him.

Here it’s him
leaving the seventh well
going toward
in the direction of —

Knowing where he is leaving from
not sure where he is going to –
he has a direction but not a
destination.

You’re ________ years old
you know what it’s like
to leave
not know exactly where
you are going,

only –
you must leave.

A direction
not a destination
a way toward.

So be a big person
the kind of person who leaves a space behind you
try to be the kind of person
who has a direction.

Go toward it.

jsg, usa

Small Alef poetry

These are my favorite Thanksgiving stories

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, 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 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’s going to be just fine.

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 previously, 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

Eat a Turkey: A Carniverous Tribute

Eat a Turkey for God
Because it’s Food — Psalm 118

There is some confusion about the origin of the bird we call turkey. I believe the animal is native to the Americas, yet in many languages it is linked to India, perhaps from some confusion between India and the new Indies, that is, this hemisphere where the bird is indeed indigenous. But why turkey?

The bird we call turkey was given the name referring to the guinea fowl, because the bird was traded in the eastern Mediterranean by guys who were called turkey merchants trafficking in or near present day Turkey [I am descended from turkey merchants, by the way, as well as word merchants].

The British saw the bird in the mid 16th century. It reminded them of the guinea fowl known in the eastern Mediterranean, and they called the bird turkey bird. So what we call a turkey is a name applied to two different birds: the American bird and the guinea fowl.

Another opinion: The word turkey has also been credited to Luis de Torres, who was the interpreter for Columbus. He was a converted [out] Jew, and his knowledge of the Hebrew Bible was good. On Columbus’s expedition, he discovered a large wild bird with a head and body very similar to the peacock. He called it a tukki (see I Kings 10:22 and II Chronicle 9:21), which over the centuries became corrupted into our word turkey. Tukki is used in Hebrew today to signify a parrot.

Note that even in Turkey, the bird is called hindi, linked to India, as it is in French (dinde – d’Inde from India), and many other European languages including Yiddish (indik) and Polish and Russian.

In Hebrew, turkey is hodu as a noun because that is Hebrew for India, but hodu is also an imperative form of “give thanks,” as in the Psalms: give thanks to God, for God is good or Have a turkey for God, because – it’s food.

jsg, usa

How I Invented Thanksgiving

O Plymouth: A Proem

Or: How I Invented Thanksgiving

The first settlers had a meeting on February 26, 1827
the downtown was officially called Podunk.
Podunk that mythical American town
fine Indians who settled near the Podunk river
Con-nec-ti-cut
thus small American town
generic
Podunk
found 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,
Michigan.

My Daddy worked in the next town.

I was told the Pilgrims landed first in
Mass-a-chu-setts
the Pilgrims landed in Michigan for me
the first Thanksgiving
when the Pilgrims and others
brought down Sukkot as their guide
from this –
my book:

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
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 and mothers
given to us.

I read my book and it was then
I invented Thanksgiving.

In school
Miss Mill said:

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

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
1621,
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
work
day after day
near Plymouth, Michigan,
the holy site of first fruits –
Thanksgiving.
Grateful grateful
for the bounty of this place
where my Dad worked the dream,

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

O Michigan
O Plymouth
O America –
thank you for that first fruited
Thanksgiving

And all the
Thanksgivings
since,

Yours truly
jsg, usa.

Thanks=giving

Thanks-giving
from The Case for Mendicants

Before Thanksgiving one year
Junior said, let’s invite a beggar to eat with us.
We don’t know any beggars, said Mother,
a mendicant is no longer an honorable profession.
Father said, We don’t know any poor people at all,
do we dear? How about a stranger?
They called Leon,
friend of monastics, beggars, and mountebanks.

I’ll send someone, said Leon.
The night of Thanksgiving
all around the table they went
each expressing thanks
and a wish, if only one were given.

Health, someone said right off,
money – honest from a kid,
a nice son-in-law, a good school for the children,
a brand new carpenter’s bench with new tools.
Then the poor man’s turn:

I wish I were a powerful king
of a large important country.
One night, they would invade my country
conquer my palace with no resistance from my guards.

I would be awakened from a deep sleep
with no time to dress.
I would escape in my nightshirt.
Fleeing over hills, through a valley,

I would arrive right here, to this house,
and I would be sitting here with this family,
right now. This is my wish.

That’s nice, Father said,
but what good would that do you? Really.

I’d have a night shirt, the poor man said.

jsg

The Life of Sarah

From Chayei Sarah – the life of Sarah

What unfinished in the living
Abraham is working out in the dying —
I will give you everything you ask for [Gen. 23:9]
it’s not about the land.

What happened to our family?
Sarah wonders
not a duplication of strategies —
independent responses to difficult problems.

So much patch-up to do
no hope of resolution without a unified strategy.
Abraham comes alone to deal for the grave
bury his wife and cry for her,

a river of tears will be spilled over this land
but here
it’s not about land —

This family
something unfinished
unresolved
unreconciled.

Though Isaac and Ishmael
come together once more
to bury their father Abraham — [25:9]

And Rebecca is born before Sarah dies [22:23]
she will be the healing: the next generation
God provides the refuah
the healing
before the illness [makah]
the healing will come from the future.

Days will come to Abraham
when he will be granted a vision of the All [Gen.24:1]
and long into the future
the generations of Abraham Sarah and Rebecca
will draw a line in the sand and say —

this stops here.

jsg, usa

Sources:

Ha Kadosh Barukh Hu makdim refuah l’makah
G-d provides the healing before the hurt

— Chazal

Can’t Leave the Story [on Vayera]

God appears and then everything that transpires, the whole serpentine story, is God-ambiguous, somewhat difficult though the sequence resolves with the same root-words it began. The stories, the silences, the talk, the absence of talk, the visiting, the blessing, the laugh of Sarah, the argument with God, the flight of Lot, the trickiness of Abraham, the remembering of Sarah, the circumcising of Isaac, the alienation of Hagar and Ishmael, the terrible trek to the mountain of God, all of it a revelation, a vision, an appearance of Godliness. Somehow.

In the blessings, God. In the mess, God too. This is so much life as we know it. Up and down, light and dark, holy and not-yet-holy, silent and loud, somehow all infused in some hidden way with vision.

I am writing this to remind myself when I will need it: through the losses, in the mess, the God-lines, in all of it, the holy and the not-yet-holy, through the whole story, there is vision. God appears and – the entire sidrah – all of it, revelational, every part, it’s all over God, a vision.

Walk away from the Torah for a second. Take a ride on the moon you just rolled across the sky and look at the whole story from without, as it were, take a God’s-eye view, as the Chassidim say, the long look.

The serpentine story line of Vayera, the blessings, the curses, the deceit, the alienation, the resistance, the argument, the righteous, the wicked, the sneaking off, the return, the resolutions, the black fire, the white fire, the spoken, the not spoken, the blessings, the mess – it’s all God. The whole story, all over, Godliness.

God appeared, appeared in a whole bunch of difficult stories. It’s all a vision of Godliness. Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Hagar, Sarah, Avimelekh, the people of S’dom, the good, the bad, they can’t leave the story. The story is God – all God, all over.

jsg, usa

A vision of prophecy or in a dream — Rambam, The Guide of the Perplexed, II:42.
An opening of eyes – Ramban in his Commentary on the Torah.

Night of Broken Glass

Kristallnacht Night of Broken Glass
November 9, 1938

Surely this is the beginning of the end
Outside they are howling in the street
Broken glass everywhere

Books burned
My business destroyed
Humiliated and assaulted

Remember this night
Official beginning of war against the Jews
Goebbels’ pogrom

The threat of international Jewry
Synagogues destroyed 101
Businesses destroyed 7,500

Jewish souls arrested 26,000
Sent to camps
Dead 91

What kind of threat are we?
To the Future –
Remember this:

They took our property our livelihood
It began with greed
Emptied out into evil

It has a face
Passive and blank
A hollow nation

Light candles
Remember us
Do not respect the darkness

Sources

Three days after Kristallnacht, on November 12, Goering called a meeting of the top Nazi leadership to assess the damage and discuss strategy. Goering, Goebbels, Reinhard Heydrich, Walter Funk and other high Nazi officials.

The intent of this meeting: shift responsibility for Kristallnach to the Jews, and to create strategy using the events of Kirstallnacht to promote a series of antisemitic laws designed to remove Jews from the German economy.

An interpretive transcript of this meeting is provided by Robert Conot, Justice at Nuremberg, New York: Harper and Row, 1983:164-172:

“Gentlemen! Today’s meeting is of a decisive nature,’ Goering announced. “I have received a letter written on the Fuehrer’s orders requesting that the Jewish question be now, once and for all, coordinated and solved one way or another. Since the problem is mainly an economic one, it is from the economic angle it shall have to be tackled.”

“[The Holocaust] was not only genocide, but it was also the greatest theft in history.”
– Natan Sharansky, Chairman of Jewish Agency, NY Times, May 3, 2011.

Blessing [from Vayeira]

I will bless you and increase you as the earth
as the sands of the seashore as the sea,
look at the algae now
and the horseflies buzzing over your face,
I will make you as great as the horseflies, as the algae,
look up now to the sky, you will be as great as the stars
as the darkness too, you will be as great as the darkness.

As the sand and the sea and the stars,
the mud and the dark and the green,
the sticky stuff on the surf, the horseflies,
the horses and the flies,
the early rains and the later rains
the mud and the mud the green the sand the dark.

You will be a blessing,
as great as the dark
as the sea
the sand
the green
the flies.

jsg, usa

Stand There

Stand there and hurt
Learn something new now and again
Write everything down

Drive a ways out of town
Wear a hat and a nice pair of boots
Carry a good tea with you

Lose supposed-to-be’s along the road
Open the window and let them exit into the air
And with respect leave them there

Only God is God
Let your other gods
Go to work for someone else

Sit in the sun and be that person
With the steely face you recognize
From having been there

Then begin over
Start this time with gratitude
You are alive

Then catalogue your complaints
Find someone who will listen
Listen to them all

Don’t smoke a cigarette
Don’t sleep on the floor
Don’t drink a whiskey

Be present
Completely here
Then give more

This is what they taught me
In the gates
Outside the camp

This is what I heard
When I stood with the ancestors
Asking for help

This is what I was given
And this is what
I give

jsg, usa