Poetry Friday: “Sabbath”

skinSabbath as beloved bride and queen: familiar tropes in Jewish liturgy and thought. Now, thanks to Dan Bellm’s “Sabbath,” a subtle poem of loss and longing, a promise and a vow, we have another metaphor: Sabbath as mother. The Sabbath, a fixed period of time, stands outside of time. Jews are commanded to keep and remember it, and these two commandments, according to Lekhah Dodi, Come, My Beloved, the mystical hymn sung on Friday evening to welcome Shabbat, were spoken in a single utterance. The Sabbath: an overcoming of apparent physical limitations, a confounding of ordinary distinctions. Not unlike what we experience in Bellm’s poem. Here we encounter a holy day and a mother, but they mostly seem to both at once. Here we encounter a mother and a presumably male child, though the adult-child becomes a kind of mother, bearing inside him, safeguarding the image, the memory of a mother, a Sabbath now gone. Woman gives birth to boy who as a man becomes a kind of woman. Creator becomes creation becomes creator becomes …  Mother, child, Sabbath: without and within. Love, loss, and holiness. A powerful poem to help us receive and hold, hold and release, give birth to and be born this Sabbath and, God willing, many Sabbaths to come.

—Richard Chess


Sabbath

——   Then will I carry
you within me for as long
———as I can: not a

——   consolation but
a promise, and not because
———I must: not as you

———carried me but to
be your keeper, a place where
———you remain the one

———bearing life: not as
a god or idol that I
———have made too small, but

———only blessing you
do I keep the blessing safe:
———infant image of

———the created one
I long to be, Sabbath-self
———concealed in the guise

———of ordinary
time, my life the covering
———that protects the vow.

 

Dan Bellm is a poet and translator living in Berkeley, California. He has published three books of poetry, most recently Practice: A Book of Midrash (Sixteen Rivers Press), winner of a 2009 California Book Award and named one of the Top Ten Poetry Books of 2008 by the Virginia Quarterly Review. His first book, One Hand on the Wheel, launched the California Poetry Series from Roundhouse Press; his second, Buried Treasure, won the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay DiCastagnola Award and the Cleveland State University Poetry Center Prize. He teaches poetry, as well as Writing and Midrash, in Image’s online Glen Workshops, www.glenonline.org [www.glenonline.org]. He is also a widely published translator of poetry and fiction from Spanish and French, and teaches literary translation at Antioch University Los Angeles and at New York University. His poems and translations have appeared in American Poetry Review, Poetry, Ploughshares, Threepenny Review, Best American Spiritual Writing, The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry, Word of Mouth: An Anthology of Gay American Poetry, and many other journals and anthologies. On the web: www.danbellm.com.

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What Shall I Know at the End of My Days?

Vacant Urban StreetWhen I come to the end of my days, what shall I say I know of life in this world?

And what shall God say, when the world comes to the end of days, that God has come to know of life in this one of all created worlds?

Carolina chickadee, Kafka, vocoder.   

I know fear that comes before the world opens its eyes, raises its hand not to welcome but to threaten.

I know fear that blazes in on a horse to torch the village of my bed: the pogrom of things-to-do that attacks and might attack again at any moment while I attempt, desperately, to sleep through night.

Fear, whose distant, dearest cousin is terror that flies on newsprint wings to my morning doorstep.

I know my investment in an actuarial table, my fear of the personal rate of return if I retire as a 65? 66? 67?-year-old white, Jewish male with such-and-such physical, emotional, and social health problems, weighing and not getting any taller.

I think I know love. [Read more...]

My Luxury, My Privilege


1930.7.2_Cole ThomasThough the Dalai Lama has yet to use a computer, the 1990s “Think Different” ad is a reminder that he was a mascot of globalization in its early phase, between the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the terrorist attacks of 9/11. In that innocent era, the universal triumph of liberal capitalism and democracy seemed assured, as new nation-states appeared across Europe and Asia, the European Union came into being, apartheid in South Africa ended, and peace was declared in Northern Ireland. It could only be a matter of time before Tibet, too, was free.
— “The Last Dalai Lama,” New York Times, 12/6/15

Sunday morning. I have the luxury of yoga pants and t-shirt and black tea and the Sunday Times. There’s only one route from my house on a hill to the supermarket, but I never need to think about being ambushed while on a quick bread, milk, and chocolate run.

A winter night, the trees bare and the cold air carries heavy sounds from tracks a few miles south of here to my bedroom window cracked open. I have the luxury of listening. I do not need to steal an hour of sleep while my abuser, my tormentor, is passed out in another room. I have the luxury of listening to the nineteenth century: romance transporting its cargo. [Read more...]

After a Thanksgiving Feast

image-10I carry my failure with me. My embarrassment. My shame. It grows.

It sets me apart from men in my life, the hard man with the violin, the thin man with the flask. See them in the photo. They have enough, more than enough. If one day they leave a little, the next they put less on their plate.

My life? Apparently, the sustaining belief is this: never enough. Never enough sweetness. Never enough love. Never enough, so I surround myself with more. More than I’ll ever consume. Not enough hours in life to read as many pages as are packed onto floor-to-ceiling shelves. And if there were, what then? [Read more...]

My Wish for My Students

Students pray on lawn at SPU after shooting at the school.Only this I wish for my students: this semester, I hope you will learn to care for each other.

I hope you will learn how to create conditions in which everyone present in the room feels welcome to speak. I hope you will learn how to discern which of two competing voices within you is worth acting on: the voice that cautions you against speaking lest you confirm, for yourself and others, what you suspect, that you are a fool, and the voice that encourages you to trust yourself, that your thoughts, your questions are worthy of being heard by others. [Read more...]


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