About Richard Chess

Richard Chess is the author of three books of poetry, Tekiah, Chair in the Desert, and Third Temple. Poems of his have appeared in Telling and Remembering: A Century of American Jewish Poetry, Bearing the Mystery: Twenty Years of IMAGE, and Best Spiritual Writing 2005. He is the Roy Carroll Professor of Honors Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. He is also the director of UNC Asheville’s Center for Jewish Studies.

Poetry Friday: “When God Dreamed Eve through Adam”

Adam-and-eve-by-Antonio-Molinari-1701-1704The Genesis story of the creation of Adam and Eve: poets for centuries have been attracted to it. They wonder: what was in God’s mind? In Adam’s? In Eve’s? Poets wonder and re-envision the scene. Richard Chess, in “When God Dreamed Eve through Adam” (Image #85), chooses to stay in Adam’s mind—and chooses to craft most of the poem as a long subordinate clause. The eight stanzas that hold us in suspension in this extended “when”-clause imagine Adam’s complex of emotions at his first sight of Eve. Then finally Adam crashes down into the grammar’s main clause, into a fear and terror “which he couldn’t tell from wonder”: the recognition of his and Eve’s profound “difference.” Now suddenly Adam, alarmed, sees everything in the world tossing up its “difference.” This, the poem suggests, is the free will that God gives us: will we let our differences become disastrous, destructive? Or will we enable them to “grow” as God dreamed they could?

—Peggy Rosenthal


When God Dreamed Eve through Adam

When Adam saw her, muscle of a new day,
when he squatted to smell the musk
between her legs, when he leaned down

To grasp the wrist of the most familiar
creature he’d encountered yet, to pull
himself, the mirror image of himself, to her feet;

When he took a few steps back
to appraise her with the mind of sun,
the heart of moon, to praise her

With the applause of leaves bestirred,
to seduce her with the iridescence
of lizard skin, to navigate into the current of her

And be powered and transported like a fish
through a diaphanous river’s shadow and light,
to know her with every cell, every molecule, all

The atoms and elements that spun into his inception—
with all creation pulsing
in his temples, his wrist, with his unique

Talent, endowed in him by his creator, to see
beyond the moment’s garden
all the way into the geneticist’s lab,

When he stood back from her
suddenly he understood the world
would never culminate nor close with him

And he was frightened, the first, the original
terror which he couldn’t tell from wonder
as he stood there regarding what was made

Of the same stuff as he yet utterly strange—
how the world around him even then
was tossing up difference after difference,

Until maybe even they’d be tossed aside
should this new allowance for difference
not grow the way god dreamed it would

When god dreamed Eve through Adam into being.

 

Richard Chess is the author of three books of poetry, Tekiah, Chair in the Desert, and Third Temple. Poems of his have appeared in Telling and Remembering: A Century of American Jewish Poetry, Bearing the Mystery: Twenty Years of IMAGE, and Best Spiritual Writing 2005. He is the Roy Carroll Professor of Honors Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. He is also the director of UNC Asheville’s Center for Jewish Studies.

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Caution: National Poetry Month

Aesthetic LightHow do you know if it’s a poem?

Maybe it’s a month, a month-at-a-glance, many days lined with appointments to exchange energy in cells, rows, examination rooms, fields with clients, colleagues, patients, classmates. But, ah, a few blank, spacious days.

Maybe it’s an old-fashioned phone book, the white pages with everything you need to call (or recall) a distant cousin, a local star, a first kiss.

Maybe it’s pre-op, the nurse anesthetist, a tree of life, trying to comfort you. Oh lazy kabbalist, your left eye dull, no divine emanation to be found there, not even when your daughter, holding your hand while fluid drips into your vein, looks deeply, lovingly to draw forth the hidden light.

The last dark poem you loved, the poem you wanted to love you back and live with you under a bridge: how did you know it was a poem and not a prescription for despair?

It’s been so long since you visited Uncle A for breakfast, the elegant table, a grapefruit half glistening with sugar crystals before you. How is your Jewish detective novel coming along, you ask him? Are you disappointed with heaven, or is it hell or somewhere in between? I don’t know the day of your yahrzeit, you tell him, or I would say Kaddish for you, you lie. [Read more…]

Choose Life, North Carolina

workersThis day, I call upon the heaven and the earth as witnesses: I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life, so that you and your offspring will live. —Duet. 30:19

Once again, my state, North Carolina, has chosen to refuse life. This time in a hastily called emergency session of the General Assembly, racing to beat the clock, the day when an ordinance to protect LGBT people from discrimination and to allow transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify was scheduled to go into effect. Thus, the General Assembly passed House Bill 2, a bill that bans transgender people from using the bathroom of the gender they identify with and nullifies local ordinances around the state that would have protected gay and transgender people from being fired because of their sexual identity or preference.

Once again, my state, North Carolina, has chosen to refuse life, while locally elected officials in cities and counties chose to protect life in all its complex, strong and tender and beautiful diversity.

Unlike the political leaders of my state, I choose life. Here are two places where, in the last couple of days, I have found myself opening to include more life in my awareness. [Read more…]

Changing Positions: A Meditation for Campaign Season

Mount Ranier photo(With help from Donovan, D. T. Suzuki, Qingyuan Weixin, Wallace Stevens, democracy, REM, Bonnie Raitt, David Bowie, Stanley Kunitz, neuroscience, Torah, Ben Bag Bag, The Rabbis, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, you.)

First there is a mountain then there is no mountain then there is. Donovan, are you flip-flopping? Or is it you, mountain?

It was snowing / And it was going to snow. Which is it, Mr. Stevens, the actual weather or the forecast? You want it both ways?

§

It’s primary season in America. I don’t know who to fear more, Trump or his supporters.

All the chest-pounding, bullying, demonizing, dissembling, threats: they’re going to pay for it; I’d like to punch that protester in the face.

Do you disavow?

And the crowds cheer, how they cheer.

§

That’s me in the spotlight, losing my religion. Choosing my confession.

§

A long time in the spotlight.

Someone stands on a stage in a field, a hall, an arena and feeds a crowd what they hunger for.

Someone’s been too long at the fair. Eating data. [Read more…]

Everyone’s Waiting for the Victory Song

waiting-in-grand-central-station-by-james-maher-time-lapse-picture-prints-available-on-his-websiteEveryone knows what happened. Everyone lifts a steaming spoon of cinnamon oatmeal to their lips. Everyone crosses “t”s. Everyone knows there’s blood on the fence in Wyoming. Everyone hears God in Charleston. Everyone knows what happened.

Everyone tries to beat the nightly news home, but everyone knows the news, licensed to drive, drives everyone mad. Not everyone is a refugee passing through Athens: Everyone knows who drank the poison in Athens and everyone knows who drank the water in Flint.

Everyone hates the mayor, the governor, the Feds. Everyone’s armed on campus, sleepy while the professor drones on. Outside the courtroom, everyone is armed and hushed, waiting to hear if he will be indicted. Everyone’s ordering tacos in Baltimore, in Cleveland, in Chapel Hill. Everyone knows what will happen. [Read more…]


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