David Lehman |
Some people find out they are Jews.
They can't believe it.
Thy had always hated Jews.
As children they had roamed in gangs on winter nights in the old
neighborhood, looking for Jews.
They were not Jewish, they were Irish.
They brandished broken bottles, tough guys with blood on their
lips, looking for Jews.
They intercepted Jewish boys walking alone and beat them up.
Sometimes they were content to chase a Jew and he could elude
them by running away.
They were happy just to see him run
The coward! All Jews were yellow.
They spelled Jew with a small j jew.
And now they find out they are Jews themselves.
It happened at the time of the Spanish Inquisition.
To escape persecution, they pretended to convert to Christianity.
They came to this country and settled in the Southwest.
At some point oral tradition failed the family, and their
secret faith died.
No one would ever have known if not for the bones that turned up
on the dig.
How could it have happened to them?
They are in a state of panic--at first.
Then they realize that it is the answer to their prayers.
They hasten to the synagogue or build new ones.
They are Jews at last!
They are free to marry other Jews, and divorce them, and intermarry
with Gentiles, God forbid.
They are model citizens, clever and thrifty.
They debate the issues.
They fire off earnest letters to the editor.
They are resented for being clever and thrifty.
They buy houses in the suburbs and agree not to talk so loud.
They look like everyone else, drive the same cars as everyone else,
yet in their hearts they know they're different.
In every minyan there are always two or three, hated by
the others, who give life to one ugly stereotype or another:
The grasping Jew with the hooked nose or the Ivy League Bolshevik
who thinks he is the agent of world history.
But most of them are neither ostentatiously pious nor
How I envy them! They believe.
How I envy them their annual family reunion on Passover,
anniversary of the Exodus, when all the uncles and aunts and
cousins get together.
They wonder about the heritage of Judaism they are passing along
to their children.
Have they done as much as they could to keep the old embers
Others lead more dramatic lives.
A few go to Israel.
One of them calls Israel "the ultimate concentration camp.
He tells Jewish jokes.
On the plane he gets tipsy, tries to seduce the stewardess.
People in the Midwest keep telling him reminds them of Woody
He wonders what that means.
I'm funny? A sort of nervous
intellectual type from New York? A Jew?
Around this time somebody accuses him of not being Jewish enough.
It is said by resentful colleagues that his parents changed their
name from something that sounded more Jewish.
Everything he publishes is scrutinized with reference to "the
It is no longer clear what is meant by that phrase.
He has already forgotten all the Yiddish he used to know, and
the people of that era are dying out one after another.
The number of witnesses keeps diminishing.
Soon there will be no one left to remind the others and their
That is why he came to this dry place where the bones have come
To live in a state of perpetual war puts a tremendous burden on the
As a visitor he felt he had to share that burden.
With his gift for codes and ciphers, he joined the counter-
terrorism unit of army intelligence.
Contrary to what the spook novels say, he found it possible to
avoid betraying either his country or his lover.
This was the life: strange bedrooms, the perfume of other men's
As a spy he has a unique mission: to get his name on the front
page of the nation's newspaper of record.
Only by doing that
would he get the message through to his immediate superior.
If he goes to jail, he will do so proudly; if they're going to
hang him anyway, he'll do something worth hanging for.
In time he may get used to being the center of attention, but
this was incredible:
To talk his way into being the chief suspect in the most
flamboyant murder case in years!
And he was innocent!
He could prove it!
And what a book he would write when they free him from this prison:
A novel, obliquely autobiographical, set in Vienna in the twilight
of the Hapsburg Empire, in the year that his mother was born.
Allen Ginsberg |
When I die
I don't care what happens to my body
throw ashes in the air, scatter 'em in East River
bury an urn in Elizabeth New Jersey, B'nai Israel Cemetery
But l want a big funeral
Patrick's Cathedral, St.
Mark's Church, the largest synagogue in
First, there's family, brother, nephews, spry aged Edith stepmother
96, Aunt Honey from old Newark,
Doctor Joel, cousin Mindy, brother Gene one eyed one ear'd, sister-
in-law blonde Connie, five nephews, stepbrothers & sisters
companion Peter Orlovsky, caretakers Rosenthal & Hale, Bill Morgan--
Next, teacher Trungpa Vajracharya's ghost mind, Gelek Rinpoche,
there Sakyong Mipham, Dalai Lama alert, chance visiting
America, Satchitananda Swami
Shivananda, Dehorahava Baba, Karmapa XVI, Dudjom Rinpoche,
Katagiri & Suzuki Roshi's phantoms
Baker, Whalen, Daido Loorie, Qwong, Frail White-haired Kapleau
Roshis, Lama Tarchen --
Then, most important, lovers over half-century
Dozens, a hundred, more, older fellows bald & rich
young boys met naked recently in bed, crowds surprised to see each
other, innumerable, intimate, exchanging memories
"He taught me to meditate, now I'm an old veteran of the thousand
day retreat --"
"I played music on subway platforms, I'm straight but loved him he
"I felt more love from him at 19 than ever from anyone"
"We'd lie under covers gossip, read my poetry, hug & kiss belly to belly
arms round each other"
"I'd always get into his bed with underwear on & by morning my
skivvies would be on the floor"
"Japanese, always wanted take it up my bum with a master"
"We'd talk all night about Kerouac & Cassady sit Buddhalike then
sleep in his captain's bed.
"He seemed to need so much affection, a shame not to make him happy"
"I was lonely never in bed nude with anyone before, he was so gentle my
shuddered when he traced his finger along my abdomen nipple to hips-- "
"All I did was lay back eyes closed, he'd bring me to come with mouth
& fingers along my waist"
"He gave great head"
So there be gossip from loves of 1948, ghost of Neal Cassady commin-
gling with flesh and youthful blood of 1997
and surprise -- "You too? But I thought you were straight!"
"I am but Ginsberg an exception, for some reason he pleased me.
"I forgot whether I was straight gay ***** or funny, was myself, tender
and affectionate to be kissed on the top of my head,
my forehead throat heart & solar plexus, mid-belly.
on my prick,
tickled with his tongue my behind"
"I loved the way he'd recite 'But at my back allways hear/ time's winged
chariot hurrying near,' heads together, eye to eye, on a
Among lovers one handsome youth straggling the rear
"I studied his poetry class, 17 year-old kid, ran some errands to his
seduced me didn't want to, made me come, went home, never saw him
again never wanted to.
"He couldn't get it up but loved me," "A clean old man.
" "He made
sure I came first"
This the crowd most surprised proud at ceremonial place of honor--
Then poets & musicians -- college boys' grunge bands -- age-old rock
star Beatles, faithful guitar accompanists, gay classical con-
ductors, unknown high Jazz music composers, funky trum-
peters, bowed bass & french horn black geniuses, folksinger
fiddlers with dobro tamborine harmonica mandolin auto-
harp pennywhistles & kazoos
Next, artist Italian romantic realists schooled in mystic 60's India,
Late fauve Tuscan painter-poets, Classic draftsman Massa-
chusets surreal jackanapes with continental wives, poverty
sketchbook gesso oil watercolor masters from American
Then highschool teachers, lonely Irish librarians, delicate biblio-
philes, sex liberation troops nay armies, ladies of either sex
"I met him dozens of times he never remembered my name I loved
him anyway, true artist"
"Nervous breakdown after menopause, his poetry humor saved me
from suicide hospitals"
"Charmant, genius with modest manners, washed sink, dishes my
studio guest a week in Budapest"
Thousands of readers, "Howl changed my life in Libertyville Illinois"
"I saw him read Montclair State Teachers College decided be a poet-- "
"He turned me on, I started with garage rock sang my songs in Kansas
"Kaddish made me weep for myself & father alive in Nevada City"
"Father Death comforted me when my sister died Boston l982"
"I read what he said in a newsmagazine, blew my mind, realized
others like me out there"
Deaf & Dumb bards with hand signing quick brilliant gestures
Then Journalists, editors's secretaries, agents, portraitists & photo-
graphy aficionados, rock critics, cultured laborors, cultural
historians come to witness the historic funeral
Super-fans, poetasters, aging Beatnicks & Deadheads, autograph-
hunters, distinguished paparazzi, intelligent gawkers
Everyone knew they were part of 'History" except the deceased
who never knew exactly what was happening even when I was alive
February 22, 1997
Andrew Barton Paterson |
We have all of us read how the Israelites fled
From Egypt with Pharaoh in eager pursuit of 'em,
And Pharaoh's fierce troop were all put "in the soup"
When the waters rolled softly o'er every galoot of 'em.
The Jews were so glad when old Pharaoh was "had"
That they sounded their timbrels and capered like mad.
You see he was hated from Jordan to Cairo --
Whence comes the expression "to buck against faro".
For forty long years, 'midst perils and fears
In deserts with never a famine to follow by,
The Israelite horde went roaming abroad
Like so many sundowners "out on the wallaby".
When Moses, who led 'em, and taught 'em, and fed 'em,
Was dying, he murmured, "A rorty old hoss you are:
I give you command of the whole of the band" --
And handed the Government over to Joshua.
But Moses told 'em before he died,
"Wherever you are, whatever betide,
Every year as the time draws near
By lot or by rote choose you a goat,
And let the high priest confess on the beast
The sins of the people the worst and the least,
Lay your sins on the goat! Sure the plan ought to suit yer.
Because all your sins are 'his troubles' in future.
Then lead him away to the wilderness black
To die with the weight of your sins on his back:
Of thirst let him perish alone and unshriven,
For thus shall your sins be absolved and forgiven!"
'Tis needless to say, though it reeked of barbarity
This scapegoat arrangement gained great popularity.
By this means a Jew, whate'er he might do,
Though he burgled, or murdered, or cheated at loo,
Or meat on Good Friday (a sin most terrific) ate,
Could get his discharge, like a bankrupt's certificate;
Just here let us note -- Did they choose their best goat?
It's food for conjecture, to judge from the picture
By Hunt in the Gallery close to our door, a
Man well might suppose that the scapegoat they chose
Was a long way from being their choicest Angora.
In fact I should think he was one of their weediest:
'Tis a rule that obtains, no matter who reigns,
When making a sacrifice, offer the seediest;
Which accounts for a theory known to my hearers
Who live in the wild by the wattle beguiled,
That a "stag" makes quite good enough mutton for shearers.
Be that as it may, as each year passed away,
a scapegoat was led to the desert and freighted
With sin (the poor brute must have been overweighted)
And left there -- to die as his fancy dictated.
The day it has come, with trumpet and drum.
With pomp and solemnity fit for the tomb
They lead the old billy-goat off to his doom:
On every hand a reverend band,
Prophets and preachers and elders stand
And the oldest rabbi, with a tear in his eye,
Delivers a sermon to all standing by.
(We haven't his name -- whether Cohen or Harris, he
No doubt was the "poisonest" kind of Pharisee.
The sermon was marked by a deal of humility
And pointed the fact, with no end of ability.
That being a Gentile's no mark of gentility,
And, according to Samuel, would certainly d--n you well.
Then, shedding his coat, he approaches the goat
And, while a red fillet he carefully pins on him,
Confesses the whole of the Israelites' sins on him.
With this eloquent burst he exhorts the accurst --
"Go forth in the desert and perish in woe,
The sins of the people are whiter than snow!"
Then signs to his pal "for to let the brute go".
(That "pal" as I've heard, is an elegant word,
Derived from the Persian "Palaykhur" or "Pallaghur"),
As the scapegoat strains and tugs at the reins
The Rabbi yells rapidly, "Let her go, Gallagher!"
The animal, freed from all restraint
Lowered his head, made a kind of feint,
And charged straight at that elderly saint.
So fierce his attack and so very severe, it
Quite floored the Rabbi, who, ere he could fly,
Was rammed on the -- no, not the back -- but just near it.
The scapegoat he snorted, and wildly cavorted,
A light-hearted antelope "out on the ramp",
Then stopped, looked around, got the "lay of the ground",
And made a beeline back again to the camp.
The elderly priest, as he noticed the beast
So gallantly making his way to the east,
Says he, "From the tents may I never more roam again
If that there old billy-goat ain't going home again.
He's hurrying, too! This never will do.
Can't somebody stop him? I'm all of a stew.
After all our confessions, so openly granted,
He's taking our sins back to where they're not wanted.
We've come all this distance salvation to win agog,
If he takes home our sins, it'll burst up the Synagogue!"
He turned to an Acolyte who was making his bacca light,
A fleet-footed youth who could run like a crack o' light.
"Run, Abraham, run! Hunt him over the plain,
And drive back the brute to the desert again.
The Sphinx is a-watching, the Pyramids will frown on you,
From those granite tops forty cent'ries look down on you --
Run, Abraham, run! I'll bet half-a-crown on you.
So Abraham ran, like a man did he go for him,
But the goat made it clear each time he drew near
That he had what the racing men call "too much toe" for him.
The crowd with great eagerness studied the race --
"Great Scott! isn't Abraham forcing the pace --
And don't the goat spiel? It is hard to keep sight on him,
The sins of the Israelites ride mighty light on him.
The scapegoat is leading a furlong or more,
And Abraham's tiring -- I'll lay six to four!
He rolls in his stride; he's done, there's no question!"
But here the old Rabbi brought up a suggestion.
('Twas strange that in racing he showed so much cunning),
"It's a hard race," said he, "and I think it would be
A good thing for someone to take up the running.
As soon said as done, they started to run --
The priests and the deacons, strong runners and weak 'uns
All reckoned ere long to come up with the brute,
And so the whole boiling set off in pursuit.
And then it came out, as the rabble and rout
Streamed over the desert with many a shout --
The Rabbi so elderly, grave, and patrician,
Had been in his youth a bold metallician,
And offered, in gasps, as they merrily spieled,
"Any price Abraham! Evens the field!"
Alas! the whole clan, they raced and they ran,
And Abraham proved him an "even time" man,
But the goat -- now a speck they could scarce keep their eyes on --
Stretched out in his stride in a style most surprisin'
And vanished ere long o'er the distant horizon.
Away in the camp the bill-sticker's tramp
Is heard as he wanders with paste, brush, and notices,
And paling and wall he plasters them all,
"I wonder how's things gettin' on with the goat," he says,
The pulls out his bills, "Use Solomon's Pills"
"Great Stoning of Christians! To all devout Jews! you all
Must each bring a stone -- Great sport will be shown;
Enormous Attractions! And prices as usual!
Roll up to the Hall!! Wives, children and all,
For naught the most delicate feelings to hurt is meant!!"
Here his eyes opened wide, for close by his side
Was the scapegoat: And eating his latest advertisement!
One shriek from him burst -- "You creature accurst!"
And he ran from the spot like one fearing the worst.
His language was chaste, as he fled in his haste,
But the goat stayed behind him -- and "scoffed up" the paste.
With downcast head, and sorrowful tread,
The people came back from the desert in dread.
"The goat -- was he back there? Had anyone heard of him?"
In very short order they got plenty word of him.
In fact as they wandered by street, lane and hall,
"The trail of the serpent was over them all.
A poor little child knocked out stiff in the gutter
Proclaimed that the scapegoat was bred for a "butter".
The bill-sticker's pail told a sorrowful tale,
The scapegoat had licked it as dry as a nail;
He raced through their houses, and frightened their spouses,
But his latest achievement most anger arouses,
For while they were searching, and scratching their craniums,
One little Ben Ourbed, who looked in the flow'r-bed,
Discovered him eating the Rabbi's geraniums.
The moral is patent to all the beholders --
Don't shift your own sins on to other folks' shoulders;
Be kind to dumb creatures and never abuse them,
Nor curse them nor kick them, nor spitefully use them:
Take their lives if needs must -- when it comes to the worst,
But don't let them perish of hunger or thirst.
Remember, no matter how far you may roam
That dogs, goats, and chickens, it's simply the dickens,
Their talent stupendous for "getting back home".
Your sins, without doubt, will aye find you out,
And so will a scapegoat, he's bound to achieve it,
But, die in the wilderness! Don't you believe it!
Emma Lazarus |
Here, where the noises of the busy town,
The ocean's plunge and roar can enter not,
We stand and gaze around with tearful awe,
And muse upon the consecrated spot.
No signs of life are here: the very prayers
Inscribed around are in a language dead;
The light of the "perpetual lamp" is spent
That an undying radiance was to shed.
What prayers were in this temple offered up,
Wrung from sad hearts that knew no joy on earth,
By these lone exiles of a thousand years,
From the fair sunrise land that gave them birth!
How as we gaze, in this new world of light,
Upon this relic of the days of old,
The present vanishes, and tropic bloom
And Eastern towns and temples we behold.
Again we see the patriarch with his flocks,
The purple seas, the hot blue sky o'erhead,
The slaves of Egypt, -- omens, mysteries, --
Dark fleeing hosts by flaming angels led.
A wondrous light upon a sky-kissed mount,
A man who reads Jehovah's written law,
'Midst blinding glory and effulgence rare,
Unto a people prone with reverent awe.
The pride of luxury's barbaric pomp,
In the rich court of royal Solomon --
Alas! we wake: one scene alone remains, --
The exiles by the streams of Babylon.
Our softened voices send us back again
But mournful echoes through the empty hall:
Our footsteps have a strange unnatural sound,
And with unwonted gentleness they fall.
The weary ones, the sad, the suffering,
All found their comfort in the holy place,
And children's gladness and men's gratitude
'Took voice and mingled in the chant of praise.
The funeral and the marriage, now, alas!
We know not which is sadder to recall;
For youth and happiness have followed age,
And green grass lieth gently over all.
Nathless the sacred shrine is holy yet,
With its lone floors where reverent feet once trod.
Take off your shoes as by the burning bush,
Before the mystery of death and God.
Dylan Thomas |
Never until the mankind making
Bird beast and flower
Fathering and all humbling darkness
Tells with silence the last light breaking
And the still hour
Is come of the sea tumbling in harness
And I must enter again the round
Zion of the water bead
And the synagogue of the ear of corn
Shall I let pray the shadow of a sound
Or sow my salt seed
In the least valley of sackcloth to mourn
The majesty and burning of the child's death.
I shall not murder
The mankind of her going with a grave truth
Nor blaspheme down the stations of the breath
With any further
Elegy of innocence and youth.
Deep with the first dead lies London's daughter,
Robed in the long friends,
The grains beyond age, the dark veins of her mother,
Secret by the unmourning water
Of the riding Thames.
After the first death, there is no other.
Robert Pinsky |
The opening scene.
The yellow, coal-fed fog
Uncurling over the tainted city river,
A young girl rowing and her anxious father
Scavenging for corpses.
The great athletic killer
Sulking in his tent.
As though all stories began
With someone dying.
When her mother died,
My mother refused to attend the funeral--
In fact, she sulked in her tent all through the year
Of the old lady's dying.
I don't know why:
She said, because she loved her mother so much
She couldn't bear to see the way the doctors,
Or her father, or--someone--was letting her mother die.
"Follow your saint, follow with accents sweet;
Haste you, sad notes, fall at her flying feet.
She fogs things up, she scavenges the taint.
Possibly that's the reason I write these poems.
But they did speak: on the phone.
Wept and argued,
So fiercely one or the other often cut off
A sentence by hanging up in rage--like lovers,
But all that year she never saw her face.
They lived on the same block, four doors apart.
"Absence my presence is; strangeness my grace;
With them that walk against me is my sun.
"Synagogue" is a word I never heard,
We called it shul, the Yiddish word for school.
Elms, terra-cotta, the ocean a few blocks east.
"Lay institution": she taught me we didn't think
God lived in it.
The rabbi is just a teacher.
But what about the hereditary priests,
Descendants of the Cohanes of the Temple,
Like Walter Holtz--I called him Uncle Walter,
When I was small.
A big man with a face
Just like a boxer dog or a cartoon sergeant.
She told me whenever he helped a pretty woman
Try on a shoe in his store, he'd touch her calf
And ask her, "How does that feel?" I was too little
To get the point but pretended to understand.
"Desire, be steady; hope is your delight,
An orb wherein no creature can ever be sorry.
She didn't go to my bar mitzvah, either.
I can't say why: she was there, and then she wasn't.
I looked around before I mounted the steps
To chant that babble and the speech the rabbi wrote
And there she wasn't, and there was Uncle Walter
The Cohane frowning with his doggy face:
"She's missing her own son's musaf.
" Maybe she just
Doesn't like rituals.
Afterwards, she had a reason
I don't remember.
I wasn't upset: the truth
Is, I had decided to be the clever orphan
Some time before.
By now, it's all a myth.
What is a myth but something that seems to happen
Always for the first time over and over again?
And ten years later, she missed my brother's, too.
I'm sorry: I think it was something about a hat.
"Hot sun, cool fire, tempered with sweet air,
Black shade, fair nurse, shadow my white hair;
Shine, sun; burn, fire; breathe, air, and ease me.
She sees the minister of the Nation of Islam
On television, though she's half-blind in one eye.
His bow tie is lime, his jacket crocodile green.
Vigorously he denounces the Jews who traded in slaves,
The Jews who run the newspapers and the banks.
"I see what this guy is mad about now," she says,
"It must have been some Jew that sold him the suit.
"And the same wind sang and the same wave whitened,
And or ever the garden's last petals were shed,
In the lips that had whispered, the eyes that had lightened.
But when they unveiled her mother's memorial stone,
Gathered at the graveside one year after the death,
According to custom, while we were standing around
About to begin the prayers, her car appeared.
It was a black car; the ground was deep in snow.
My mother got out and walked toward us, across
The field of gravestones capped with snow, her coat
Black as the car, and they waited to start the prayers
Until she arrived.
I think she enjoyed the drama.
I can't remember if she prayed or not,
But that may be the way I'll remember her best:
Dark figure, awaited, attended, aware, apart.
"The present time upon time passëd striketh;
With Phoebus's wandering course the earth is graced.
The air still moves, and by its moving, cleareth;
The fire up ascends, and planets feedeth;
The water passeth on, and all lets weareth;
The earth stands still, yet change of changes breedeth.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow |
How strange it seems! These Hebrews in their graves,
Close by the street of this fair seaport town,
Silent beside the never-silent waves,
At rest in all this moving up and down!
The trees are white with dust, that o'er their sleep
Wave their broad curtains in the southwind's breath,
While underneath these leafy tents they keep
The long, mysterious Exodus of Death.
And these sepulchral stones, so old and brown,
That pave with level flags their burial-place,
Seem like the tablets of the Law, thrown down
And broken by Moses at the mountain's base.
The very names recorded here are strange,
Of foreign accent, and of different climes;
Alvares and Rivera interchange
With Abraham and Jacob of old times.
"Blessed be God! for he created Death!"
The mourner said, "and Death is rest and peace!"
Then added, in the certainty of faith,
"And giveth Life that nevermore shall cease.
Closed are the portals of their Synagogue,
No Psalms of David now the silence break,
No Rabbi reads the ancient Decalogue
In the grand dialect the Prophets spake.
Gone are the living, but the dead remain,
And not neglected; for a hand unseen,
Scattering its bounty, like a summer rain,
Still keeps their graves and their remembrance green.
How came they here? What burst of Christian hate,
What persecution, merciless and blind,
Drove o'er the sea -that desert desolate -
These Ishmaels and Hagars of mankind?
They lived in narrow streets and lanes obscure,
Ghetto and Judenstrass, in mirk and mire;
Taught in the school of patience to endure
The life of anguish and the death of fire.
All their lives long, with the unleavened bread
And bitter herbs of exile and its fears,
The wasting famine of the heart they fed,
And slaked its thirst with marah of their tears.
Anathema maranatha! was the cry
That rang from town to town, from street to street:
At every gate the accursed Mordecai
Was mocked and jeered, and spurned by Christian feet.
Pride and humiliation hand in hand
Walked with them through the world where'er they went;
Trampled and beaten were they as the sand,
And yet unshaken as the continent.
For in the background figures vague and vast
Of patriarchs and of prophets rose sublime,
And all the great traditions of the Past
They saw reflected in the coming time.
And thus forever with reverted look
The mystic volume of the world they read,
Spelling it backward, like a Hebrew book,
Till life became a Legend of the Dead.
But ah! what once has been shall be no more!
The groaning earth in travail and in pain
Brings forth its races, but does not restore,
And the dead nations never rise again.
Omar Khayyam |
In the mosque, in the medresseh [school annexed to
the mosque], in the church, and in the synagogue, they
have a horror of Hell and seek for Paradise, but the seed
of such disquiet never germinates in the hearts of those
who penetrate the secrets of the All-Powerful.
Omar Khayyam |
In synagogue and cloister, mosque and school,
Hell's terrors and heaven's lures men's bosoms rule,
But they who master Allah's mysteries,
Sow not this empty chaff their hearts to fool.
Omar Khayyam |
Hearts with the light of love illumined well,
Whether in mosque or synagogue they dwell,
Have their names written in the book of love,
Unvexed by hopes of heaven or fears of hell.