Thursday, May 27, 2010

Naso: La traviata

In this week's parshah, we read about the sotah, the woman who is suspected of having illicit relations with a man outside of her marriage and the ritual undertaken to determine whether or not she is culpable. Two things struck me about this narrative in the torah portion. First of all, it evoked some of the work that I had done in anthropology in which African tribes (such as the Azandi) perform certain rites to discern whether or not an adultery has occurred. Determining a human beings fate is left to chance as determined by poisoning a chicken and whether or not it survives. Having spent a lot of time in Salem as a child, it also drew a comparison to the witch trials of the the New World in the late 17th century and onward.

Secondly, I was struck by the silence of the accused adulterous woman during this whole procedure. Feminists often critique the lack of female perspective in Jewish texts, including the TaNaCH (Hebrew Bible) and that is readily apparent here.

This week, I attempted to write a poem using the Korean poetic form of Sijo, which was introduced to me by my poetic Rebbe, Dena Weiss. However, it didn't seem to fit the emotion I was trying to capture or the mystery as to whether or not my narrator was actually culpable of the crime. I wanted to describe the experience of the sotah ritual from the perspective of the accused but, in Michael Hanneke fashion, leave the outcome of the poem open-ended. The Italian title follows the famed opera and is the cognate of the Hebrew word, sotah, which literally means "the one who went astray."

Shabbat Shalom!
La Traviata

Where did I walk? face all flush without witness.
The desert whispers in your ear.
Bring a hint of barley, on parade before the priest.
His cauldron boils from the Temple floor.
If not, not. If so, may goddess gates sag, womb wither.
If so, let smoke blow each curse away--
along with a name.


In the wilderness, I count my breath…

You on the even; exhale myself
and the air tastes of 3.14159265 et al.

This body--a mountain--
Har Sinai,
Breath, but the free wind,
Mind, but the sky.

I let each cloud pass--
A blip in my count.

Parshat Behar/BeChukottai

I was amazed by the prevalence of conditional phrases in this week's parshah. To me, they seemed to emphasize the fact that all of mitzvah observance, and further, all of life exists in the realm of potentiality. All objects are hylic matter, while all existence might be potentiality that needs to be wrought into a coherent, beneficent, or (G-d forbid), malfaisant form.

My poem this week plays with the nature of potentiality in Jewish theology. Emily Dickinson was my poetic inspiration for the tone, language, and form of the piece. Gut Shabbes!
Everything Waits in open If

Everything waits in open "If,"
dangles varicose as toes perch
atop darting, crackling cliffs.
Back and forth, these dust bodies lurch.

"You sow, reap, you eat, you manger.
You jubilee, every seven.
Sit still with Me-- sudden strangers
just passing through--I own heaven."

Every If very well may Be,
birthed in potentiality,
Even the fertile land He gives
Fallow as dust, in breath it lives.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Parshat Emor

In this week's parashah, we are confronted with the figure of the Mekalel, a person born of an Israelite woman and an Egyptian man who is stoned by the community after cursing G-d. My contribution this week is an attempt to understand why this person, on the fringes of the community, would come to curse another Jew with the holy Name and why that infraction merited death.
Shabbat Shalom!

Aren't I My Mother's Son

Aren't I my mother's son?
with G-d, half-wrestled,
wending narrow cyphers
between stares.

The heavens are black
rocks hurled drown the sun.
Their palms foil my
erratic eyes.
Claw my fountain face.
Stain my melting skin.

Shut up, you desert!
You parched witch!

I hear your rictus,
sharp and salty,
buzzing the Name.
Buzzing the name
that I uttered--
hardly heard.