Seudat Havra’ah

The Meal of Comfort,
for mourners sitting shiva

This is not a poem, not this time,
this is the record of a living invocation,
a pulling down, the recalling of
you who have come before,
the parents and parents, the great-grandparents,
and back and back to the villages,
Hungary, Belarus, the Ukraine,
all the footsteps gathered together,
all of you with your long hair and your beards,
you Jews, you women with delicate eyelashes,
mascara applied by candlelight,
and no one left to see it,
only the pounded silver of the looking glass,
and no tears, not this time,
all of you, carrying the weight,
the pages of your books
torn and shared, copied and performed,
the suitcases of underthings,
just the memory of her after you emigrated and she didn’t,
her work-etched parents gripping her wrists,
her back arched as the ship leaves,
giving you the forever gift of her loss,
and you, in a shanty of a cafe, day’s dust settled,
foreign paper in your hand, dreaming of other worlds

now I am that other world dreaming of you,
calling you forth, all of you,
gathering you like unspooled yarn,
and all the rumors you’ve built your lives on,
or hid from, and what I pull from your pockets,
wool lint, handwritten receipts,
the pebbles collected to mark the day she—
all the particulars of your lives
for you have all been demeaned by
the unfulfilled hope of time,
your hair has become unbraided,
become matted with leaves and mud,
your shoulders sunk, your jaws grown long

and I say in the dark
where none can call me mad—

come with your broken earth and bones,
descend, soak into my pores
you heretofore unknown, so close in time,
you, bent in the fields,
hands heavy with rapeseed and potatoes,
and the sling in which your infant swung,
or you, under the deck, clutching your brother’s head,
as men pry your fingers from his flesh
and lower him into a sea so still
it perfectly reflects the heavens above,
or you two, silent in the searing flames,
the chalk-white bones of your fingers interlocked,
staring where each other’s eyes must be,
and the bodies burn like paper
and you rise on the floating embers,
but never high enough, never to the stars,
and the mourners gather at your side, forever at your side,
all of you without a passage through,
I am ready, gather my living breath,
I will give you my breath,

for someone, someone in this line must dig themselves out,
stand with bare feet, stand with the alders,
break the cake and crust,
for we carry what we’ve been given,
one to the other,
our gathered bodies of ash and dirt,
our generations, and I say,
because no one is listening to call me mad,
for all of you, deaf and unheard,
my pogrom, my heart,
fingers scrapping grout off the wall,
all our shrouds lifting in the wind:
let there be soft rain,
we can call for that,
we can pull our hands up,
gravity is a lie,
we can lift them to a possible heaven,
we know enough now,
are brave enough now,
are together in this roofless temple

and the letters of the Torah float in the air,
and what has been given, is only given.