Don’t Be Afraid

Do not be afraid
what is there to be afraid of?
Yourself transformed yourself untransformed.

When we meet again
My compassion will lift
and I will kiss you with all my heart —

We meet
A ribbon of dots over our heads.

jsg, usa

Small alef; poetry Vayishlach 3
Maqam Saba

What Used To Define

What used to define
limits –
shed skin acquire a name
limp away –

Mr. Sometimes This Mrs. Sometimes That —

With you in the ring
angel or demon

I go to the mat with G*d.

jsg, usa
Small alef: poetry Vayishlach 2
Maqam Saba

I Run To Him

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

Small alef poetry; Vayishlach
Maqam Saba

Dr. R Taught Me

Sometimes you define
By what it is not.

What it is –

What it is not –
I can get to that.

Dr. R taught me this:
Referring to Maimonides
[The secret Maimonides].

I ran into Mrs. R
Many years after her husband’s death;

I’ve written about your
Husband –
All he taught me.

She looked surprised —
Will you send it to me?

Every day I live in the definitions
Of what things are not –

On the way to
What Is;

I wrote this
12:15 PM
Thursday, November 29
In St. Louis Missouri
with my —

meaning making machine.
Green pen.


Leave From Comes Toward; small alef

Leave From – Come Toward

Leave from – Come toward
I have the desire, I said
But not much accomplishment.

And if I came a little further along that way
I might — like my father
Smack up against the place where I light;

I might end up in that kind of life
Get knocked up by the place
Or someone else’s life;

What it might feel like;
I could live my whole life
As if —

I is someone else.

jsg, usa
Small alef; poetry Vayetze
Maqam Ajam

Cease-fire; Sleeping

Day Before Thanksgiving
12 Noon, United States of America, the Omphalos

I just heard from the AP that there is a cease-fire, beginning in one hour, 1 PM Central time as I am writing this, 9 PM Israel.

I can sleep now. I have been sleepless these seven days (?) of active fighting and only this: I write through.

I wrote a series of poems and the last in the series were, of course, the best. Straight from the under-world and unedited though they arrived in couplet or tercet forms, more musical than the others and to my surprise, more symmetrical. As if they had been crafted. They were the least crafted.

I am exhausted. I didn’t choose sleeplessness; sleeplessness chose me. As soon as this conflict began, I stopped sleeping. Something similar happened in the 2008 conflict. With that episode, it was a midnight deadline and the watch on television that destroyed my equanimity and cancelled my sleep. I wrote through that too.

I don’t go sleepless over our own wars, here in my own country, but the obscenity is I don’t know anyone at war in my country. So wrong that. We are in the middle of a bundle of wars and I don’t know a single person deployed.

But it’s a citizen’s army in Israel; almost everyone is eligible to serve in some way or another. Also, it’s a small country and I know plenty of people in range of Hamas rocketry out of Gaza.

It’s not theoretical for me this war half way around the world; but I don’t serve and I don’t feel inclined to critique or opine. I just suffer. And so I do not sleep.

It’s an obscenity to sleep when you’re watching real-time war on television, to listen to journalists with laundered shirts bringing us the war almost as if they were combatants. They are watching and showing it to us; now we are watching.

I would prefer watching a round table of intellectuals, philosophers, artists, and prophets speaking over tea in a safe house thinking talking imagining all of us into the next stage of peace-making, people who really think and create independently, than watch the handsome commentationists who bring us war in flat screen precision. I can’t bear it.

So I am sleepless. Thank G*d this time it was only seven days. Was it seven days? I’ve offered up twelve or thirteen poems in this series, they began to escalate towards the end. I started out with one a day at midnight and in my computer are a bunch more I elected not to include in the series.

I call the series Sleepless, maybe Sleepless for Peace, but the latter has too much intention in it. It’s just sleepless.

The last thing I did before I went to sleep: I changed the last couplet in the last poem I wrote in the series, to this:

We could die to ourselves
And be reborn in each other.

You may see the whole series on my blog:

jsg, usa

Beads; Sleepless #12

We Were Thumbing Through the Beads

With each bead
Calling out one of the ninety-nine names;

Marking the cognates
In our languages –

Ha-Rachaman Al-Rachim
Allah Elohim —

We were praying
The names of God;

We could tell our story
Any way we liked;

And we could lose ourselves
In each other;

We could die to ourselves
And be reborn in each other.

jsg, usa

Sleepless; #12

We Lose Everything; Sleepless #11

We Lose Everything

We lose everything
Every day of war;
When it’s over we compare Losses.

Welcome treaty makers;
Have tea together
Drink from unremarkable white cups.

We can make out the cognates
In our languages
Without translation.

Consult the silence
The name beyond names —

I am Nothing;
In Nothingness —
May be Our only Salvation;

Pitiful codifiers of names, said the Prophet,
If you were thirst if you were hunger
Your waiting would save the world.

jsg, usa

Sleepless; #11

Thankgs-giving Stories

Two Thanks-giving Stories

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.

The winners spoke, two of them. It was a tie. Two women, one from California, one from Massachusetts.

First, the woman from California spoke. She was a sheep rancher, she raised sheep on a ranch in California. Her father before her worked the ranch. The ranch had been in her family for 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 is for the first time greater than what it can be sold for, in addition to which there has 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. What was she grateful for on this Thanksgiving? I wondered.

The night before telling her story, she said, 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 was more like a joke: Rain, as if that would make a difference.

What she was grateful for 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 human beings who hope, who imagine it working, again; the sacred possibility of the future — hope, hope, hope. Hope sustains, everything is possible when you have hope.

The second woman tied for first prize in the radio contest. She was from Massachusetts, a Jewish woman I think, from her name, from her style of humor. She was very funny. 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 3 times previous, she several times herself. Neither of them 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 calmed them, tamed them both.

She spoke her story — touching, funny, sad. A year after they married, he was diagnosed with a devastating cancer, given not much hope for even another year. He lived six years, 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, she said, 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 completely 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, she said. He has gone there ahead of me to find the perfect place for us. 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 that year.

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 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, of course 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 hear bearing down on you:

be grateful,
it’s going to be all right.
Everything –
it’s going to be just fine.

Have a wonderful holiday.

james stone goodman, united states of america

Big Hands; Sleepless #10

Big Hands

Big Hands gather us up
We are good held by them

And then we are waiting
Good waiting

And righteous
Because we are patient
And because we are patient —

Something happened around us
That would not have happened
If we weren’t so

And yearning good —
We are full with hunger.

jsg, usa

Sleepless Series #10