“Jewish”, I answer now, without further ado.
And the variety of responses,
some construable as anti-Semitic,
surprises me, who thought such sentiments taboo.
At any rate, I can also ask myself,
since I am the one who construes this,
whether I’m not reading too much into this,
and if so, what?
This is the tricky part, since Jewishly
I’m apt to make excuses for others!
“Jewish”. It gives one an advantage, or sets one up.
I watch them squirm -
the reassuring smile, followed by the disquieting remark.
Feeling virtuous, I do not respond,
instead observing, so I imagine, their relief
at my non-response.
Enough of this! What I had in mind
was to reflect on my “Jewishness”,
how I detached myself from it -
as I put on consciousness, evidently I did not put on
though of course it left its mark.
I meant to talk of that mark,
to measure in effect a distance
that existed only in my mind,
and to contrast it with the unalterable reality.
Entirely possible. Even likely
that what I thought to describe
was typically Jewish –
that it was Jewish to feel as I did,
that it is this sort of thing gives us the edge
and that when, in mixed company,
fearlessly ~(or recklessly) I announce my Jewishness,
I am at last making use of that “advantage”.
It seems that, among friendly anti-Semites, I am
puzzled by their not seeing how far they still have to go.
The thought that it’s already quite far enough
is the cul-de-sac I find myself in.
Conversation with a Neighbour:
Michigan, Summer 1988
“Oh, by the way, before you wonder why I’m not laughing
at your remark that it was a pity Hitler didn’t finish the
I feel I ought to tell you I’m…
“Don’t want to make a big thing out of this,
but I think you should know…
“I should tell you, Fred,
before you say what it seems is on your mind…
“Let me just jump right in there, Fred.
It’s a good thing you’ve got nothing against Jews,
God took a long walk
and didn’t tell a soul,
so full of his own thoughts was He.
Nor did He realize how much time was passing.
Anyway, the alarm was raised,
search parties set out, trackers, bounty-hunters,
and of course there were “sightings”,
some of them deliberately misleading, so
that finally the extended family called a conference,
and the debate began as to whether the whole show ought to be
either He had left for good,
or something had happened to Him – but what? -
or maybe this was intentional, a kind of retribution,
and in due course He would return, wagging his finger.
After several generations, a rumour went around
that it had all been imagined,
that they had not been deserted,
that there was no God in the first place,
that anyway there was no first place…
Then God Himself glanced at his watch,
tapped it. Had it stopped?
He felt tired, but also refreshed, even elated.
He felt calm and detached….
“I must confess, the truth is commonplace“,
says God to the moving target.
“The death of each living creature
is part of the life cycle, of course.
“If I gave you the right to protest,
I did not give you the power to change anything…
In any case, frankly, I cannot recall
what I had in mind.”
“Do you think”, says the soul, with deliberation,
“that you had in mind a special relationship -
with You still as You, of course –
and with us as us…”
“Of course”, it adds disarmingly,
“one supposes that is where art begins,
immortality, compensation, and so forth.”
This sounded rather lame.
There was death
As things were, he felt superfluous.
There were no others around,
none on whom he might practise.
He surveyed the lifeless scene,
and concluded it must be the end of things,
only he had been too busy to notice…
And yet he didn’t quite believe that either,
still yearning to clasp to his breast a living creature.
His eyes surveyed the vacant skies, motionless earth.
There was only himself,
So he slept or dozed,
We know what he dreamed,
since it is we who inhabit that dream.
But whether after the end,
or before the beginning,
we do not know.
A Blasphemous Comparison
God showed his greatness by imposing limits,
yet, it seems, forgot to limit Man’s mind.
So, in a world of boundaries,
Man alone is unbounded.
Apparently he shares God’s limitless imagination,
even if on the run, so to speak,
life’s span being so brief.
Indeed, under pressure, Man even surpasses the Almighty…
Well, let’s not get carried away!
Let’s say Man and God are roughly equal,
at least so far as mind-power goes.
God may even be a little slower -
or statelier, if you prefer.
A likely story,
that God created the Angels
on the second day,
lest Man believe
that they assisted Him, God,
in the creation of the heavens and the earth.
Of course, they were there from the start!
He might not have liked it, but they were there.
And not only did they create the heavens and the earth,
but they created or at least appointed Him as well!
It was only later that He turned the tables on them,
and in the manner of all subsequent usurpers,
reworked the mythology to suit Himself.
And so, thinly disguised as angels,
in more or less anonymous hosts, these old gods (as it were)
Some, endowed with unlikely first names,
such as Uriel, Raphael, Sham’iel,
were given leading roles;
some even rebelled against God Almighty,
like Rahab, Angel of the Sea –
he was buried beneath the waters,
which henceforth reeked of salt,
to disperse the foul odour of his decaying.
Generally the Angels did God’s bidding,
praising Him in unison, as follows:
“He encircled the sea with sands.
Now, whenever the water is tempted to transgress,
it beholds the sands and recoils…”
The sands had a pacifying influence.
The waters shrugged – […]
Yes, Rahab, was dead!
The waters dispelled his foul odours,
Or so the story goes...
Actually, it’s preposterous!
But such megalomania is characteristic of autocrats.
One wonders what the old gods make of it all.
Are they perhaps plotting their creature God’s overthrow?
The problem is that they are so democratic, they can’t decide
on a leader.
Their terrible mistake was to create this interim boss in the
And while they are unable to chose one who will be strictly
primus inter pares,
and while they continue to debate all this clandestinely,
God’s rule continues and the Angels praise Him,
There’s no shrugging this off,
this dying, no dreaming it gone,
though dream you do,
deep, deep into perhaps,
so reluctant to can’t describe
your return – not willy-nilly,
but not voluntary, you who refuse –
while there’s life there’s hope –
and instead chose this pinching
dismemberment, this sacrifice
of parts, hostage-giving.
In what hope? That they’ll outlast it,
clear (?) out its patience, prove
too much? God knows,
we’ve proof enough. That’ll never be.
When you go, it’s fast –
time deserts to the other side,
your forces beat the hastiest of retreats –
“undignified” might describe it,
a rout, to rub it in still further. And yet,
if you can live with this,
haste, the inevitability
of defeat, there’s time enough
to take stock, even to joke,
that is be apart,
to display a fine disregard
for panic, time
for recklessness – the only time, in fact.
since nothing’s to be gained
by risking: riskless recklessness, then,
which actually is the only kind,
if you can, can live with it
and not wish, not hope. Hope’s
what destroys us – nothing else can.
The Cross: a Reverie
The distance between brazenness and humility
is not so great.
From my bed, I can just see the cross of the Greek church,
looking askance into our back garden.
Now, against a cloudless sky,
it inclines its head,
like a kitten appealing to its mummy.
I, too, am near the end of my tether.
I’ve inched away from the wall I’m up against,
to give myself a little breathing space,
or at least the illusion.
And now, as well, into my reverie has crept
someone from a TV show!
She stares, not knowing what to say.
And I can’t even bring myself to ask…
None of this from my inner world,
which for a while has been spread-eagled,
parched and famished, unable to lift its head,
but, rather, from The World About Us…
And there’s no way to call a halt…