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...]

Sonia Sanchez Made Me a Jewish Poet; Rhonda Magee Helped Make Me Whole

soniasanchezBlack. Muslim. American. Woman. Poet.

The languages she spoke. The ground on which she stood, singing her suffering, power, anger, love. Between the painful past and the dreamed of future: her presence. That’s what I remember. More than the timber of her voice. Definitely more than the poems she read that Saturday afternoon.

Fall, 1977. McGlinchey’s, a restaurant and bar in downtown Philly. Having finished, for the time being, the life that had been programmed for me—I had recently graduated from Glassboro State College (now called Rowan University), I was discovering and inventing my identity in Kiryat Shemonah, Tzfat, Jerusalem—Israel! Then, eighteen months into my new life there, I was home (or was I away from home, visiting America?) for a short visit.

I was a poet, and I was becoming a poet. I was a brokenhearted man, and I was learning how to use a broken heart to get women. I was, not by choice, an American. That’s how I was seen in Israel. I was a Jew by birth, and I was becoming a Jew by choice. [Read more...]

My Days of Awe, 5776

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAImpatience. Anger. Wastefulness. Restlessness. Desire. Haughtiness. Greed. Judgement. Pride.


I’ve been paying attention, especially the last few days. Now it’s getting serious. It’s the morning of the eve of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.


Yesterday, just after I walked into the house after ten-and-a-half hours at the university, before I dropped my heavy book bag on the floor, I spotted a bowl of chips and an open container of my favorite salsa. But before I was able to crack the first of forty chips in my mouth, my wife said, it arrived crushed.

She was on hold, forty-five minutes waiting for a customer service rep. The post office. How to file a claim. A box of wedding gifts. [Read more...]

For the Newlyweds

18428477633_f488b3dd41_zMay you have the courage to let go of everything you know about yourselves—everything you have learned about yourselves up to this moment—that you may discover and create, invent and define new selves, a new braided Self. Like Sabbath candles that, at the start of Shabbat, stand side by side, each its own brilliance, its own accomplishment, may you move toward each other until you become like the braided Havdalah candle, its individual wicks joined to create of several a single, strong flame that is lifted into the sky at the end of Sabbath.

If I were called upon to offer a toast to the newlyweds, this might be the toast I’d offer.

Who dresses in the costumes of their ancestors, who signs the ketubah with the broken healthcare system and the cruel economy and anti-immigrant culture as their witnesses, the groom who is delivered to the mandap in a horse-drawn carriage, the bride who is walked down the grass aisle by her father and mother, divorced and united in love as they deliver their daughter to the huppah, the bride and groom who stand under the huppah-mandap where they vow and circle, circle and are blessed, these newlyweds. These newlyweds whose courtship was complicated by religion and love, politics and love, history and love, America and India and love, personal convictions and love. [Read more...]

What Is the Future?

desksIt’s the end of summer in the academic South, and I’m working on syllabi for my fall courses: Spiritual Autobiographies and Beginning Poetry Writing Workshop. I’m creating the schedule, weeks 1 through 16. I’m filling in the dates, 8/17, 8/19, 8/24…11/23. I’m sequencing the assigned texts: Darling to Dharma Punx; Incarnadine to Night of the Republic.

I’m imagining the writing exercises, the first one an object poem, where the objects are one, five, and ten dollar bills which I’ll hand out in class, and they’ll write, and then we’ll read Howard Nemerov’s ”Monday: An Introductory Lecture,” and I’ll let them keep the money. In Spiritual Autobiographies, the essay based on interviews of parents, grandparents, former teachers, or other adults with whom they interact, about their spiritual lives. In draft form, these essays will be used as another course text. What can we learn about spiritual experience from the lives of those with whom we speak? [Read more...]