Many thanks to Postcard Poems and Prose Magazine for publishing the following poem:
I wait my turn, the western wall
white shawls muffling
gray beards mumbling
I pen my prayer on a store receipt
press it tight tween ancient stones
tight among a hundred crumpled cries
Some rabbi grabs my elbow
drags me to a cave
straps my arm in leather
He chants a sacred melody
Adonai Elohanu, Adoni Echad
one, we are one—everyone, everywhere
The crowd with its long tradition
me in this thin tefillin
this rabbi with his open hand
That early-morning Arab sipping tea
demanding twenty shekels
the pleasure of his plea
We are all echad—one prayer
one crescent, one star, one sphere
The couple who own the top unit above me are away in Tahoe this weekend, so their tenant decided to have his girlfriend stay overnight. I was dead asleep at 1:15 a.m. when they got home, but her stomping heels on the hardwood floors woke me up. They were in the midst of a mega fight. Usually, I can’t hear much of what’s said up there, but I could clearly hear her shout at him, “Are you in love with her?” He said something back I couldn’t understand, but I heard her response: “Because I’m a woman, and you’re my boyfriend, and I love you!”
I don’t know if they were throwing stuff or what, but there was stuff bouncing off the floor right above my bedroom ceiling. Sounded like I was living under a bowling alley. I’m surprised my son didn’t wake up from all the noise. At one point, I heard the guy tell his girlfriend to “get out of my house!” The girlfriend refused, said she wasn’t going anywhere, and that’s when I started wondering if I should call the cops. Hell hath no fury and all. Despite whatever he’d done, I was really worried about the guy’s safety.
After a while, I went outside and stood in the backyard and could see them upstairs in the kitchen. Their light was on, so they couldn’t see me. I was hoping they would, though, so that he’d have a reason to distract his girlfriend from her tirade. I wished I had his phone number. If I did, I’d have called him so he’d have some justification to urge her to chill: the whole guy-downstairs-has-a-kid thing. Finally, after several minutes of her standing over the sink as if she were going to throw up her pain, he put his hand on her back and started to comfort her. Then she turned to him, and they hugged, and he kissed her. That’s when I went back to bed. Of course, then their own bed started squeaking like a honeymoon suite, so I could barely fall asleep.
The whole thing got me thinking: Who had he met and where? And when did he finally tell his girlfriend about it? She was so full of emotion, it seemed she had just heard the news. Were they out all night on some date, her enjoying herself and him holding on to this secret that he just couldn’t bear? Did he bring it up just as they were walking from their car to the house? It’s horrible having to tell someone you’ve met “someone else.” As much as it hurts to hear that from a lover, it’s an equally unbearable guilty burden to unload. Ugh! Made me think of a few breakups of my own and how sad and painful and dramatic they can be.
The dramatics upstairs got me thinking how vulnerable everyone is, how strongly we all desire a deep connection with someone, and how desperate we can be when that connection is threatened. In any event, I hope they’ve worked it out between themselves. If nothing else, I hope they at least go shopping this morning for a few new padded rugs.
Many thanks to Hinchas de Poesia, an online journal of contemporary pan-american writing, for including the following poem in their April 2015 issue.
In Praise of Cracked Minds
—for Marlene Goldman
Praise the days when our minds crack open
open like clam shells struck by fallen stones
stones splitting open, sudden thunder storms
storms of new ideas spread across the beach
Beach the giant whales, introduce them to the sun
sunshine: that new elixir for their fears
fears of drowning, suffocating sand
sand, they’ll see, makes a bed of pure pleasure
Sure, we think of giant whales at sea
see them spout as they migrate north
north and out of range, beyond our senses
senses long accustomed to what we all believe
Leave, for a moment, all those old ideas
as if old clothes that no longer fit
fit them into boxes, store them on a shelf
shelve them there with what’s no longer true
True—new ideas may at first feel snug
snuggle with them, treat them like new lovers
lovers who allow you room to shed your old display
play, instead, with novelty; bounce it like a ball
Ball it up and toss it in the air: Have fun
funny how the new reminds us each of death
death, remember, lets us breathe eternal time
time for thanks, time to sing our praise
Countee Cullen, one of America’s finest poets, bridged our early 20th–century racial divide by assimilating in a European art form (the sonnet) both Judeo-Christian and ancient Greek mythology with his own racial and cultural perspective. The result was “Yet Do I Marvel.” Its example demonstrates how, in a world obsessed with self-righteous culture wars, the speaker of a poem, in fourteen lines, can assure us that we are all, regardless of our own specific backgrounds, heirs to a great and grand, disparate world culture.
Yet Do I Marvel
I doubt not God is good, well-meaning, kind
And did He stoop to quibble could tell why
The little buried mole continues blind,
Why flesh that mirrors Him must some day die,
Make plain the reason tortured Tantalus
Is baited by the fickle fruit, declare
If merely brute caprice dooms Sisyphus
To struggle up a never-ending stair.
Inscrutable His ways are, and immune
To catechism by a mind too strewn
With petty cares to slightly understand
What awful brain compels His awful hand.
Yet do I marvel at this curious thing:
To make a poet black, and bid him sing!
Saw Vonda Shepard in concert tonight in San Francisco. We first met thirty-five years ago at summer camp in Southern California, where this picture was taken in 1979. The following fall, I got tickets to a Don McLean/Karla Bonoff concert at the Roxy, and Vonda came with me. After the show, we got backstage and met both Don and Karla. Now, Vonda’s the one performing around the world. Seeing her tonight, after such a mad crush on her way back then, reminds me how quick life passes. There you are, an infatuated teen; and before you know it, you’re a middle-aged dad with a mortgage. To see what Vonda’s up to these days, click here.
With the recent spate of protests against police shootings, one honorable and outspoken anti-police activist accepted an invitation from his local sheriff department to undergo the same educational training officers must take. Once the activist found himself in the shoes of an officer, he came to a new realization: For the sake of our own personal safety, we should always comply with law enforcement’s instructions. Epiphanies are wonderful. Watch his transformation here:
Let’s all stand up for common sense: All lives matter.