Getting Close to You, God: A Meditation During the Month of Elul

by-david-bergin-emmett-and-elliott-on-flickr“You are my light and my help / Whom should I fear?” Thus begins Norman Fischer’s Zen-inspired translation of Psalm 27.

Right now, at this very moment, Shabbat morning, the 14th of Elul, 5776; Sept. 17, 2016, these verses don’t resonate with me. Fear: yes, I am afraid, afraid, at the moment, that I won’t finish this essay by the deadline, two days from now, for my next contribution to “Good Letters.”

Whom do I fear? The “Good Letters” editor, a kind woman and talented writer who generously works with a group of writers for the blog? The editor-in-chief of Image, the extraordinary journal that is at the heart of an equally extraordinary community of writers, artists, musicians whose work engages, one way or another, ultimate questions of “art, faith, and mystery”?

What about the Divine, YHVH, whose commandment to observe the Shabbat I am breaking by writing this piece this morning, is that who I fear? Or is it some internal judge who took up residence within me, probably so early in my life that I can’t remember when. [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “The News”

11793323376_2b9390cd6e_zWhat do I do with the daily news of disasters? Do I mumble a quick prayer for the victims, then turn to my day’s to-do list? Do I ever pause and ponder: this disaster might have struck those I love, or even me? These are the questions that Shara McCallum turns over in “The News.” Her imagination doesn’t flinch from detailing the horrors. Yet she is also self-protective, and she knows this. I admire how she keeps her eyes both shut and open to the dreadful events that life can deal us. And I admire especially the painful closing two stanzas: the piercing image of that mother somewhere whose “hem of life” will be “snagged, /from here forward”: from the instant she learns of her child forever lost.

—Peggy Rosenthal [Read more…]

Adam Zagajewski’s Trench Warfare

15221101821_df7492d443_z“Writing poems is a duel / that no one wins…” As I’m reading the poem that opens with these words, I think: this could be describing my life.

The poem is called “Writing Poems.” It’s by the superb contemporary Polish poet Adam Zagajewski, in his new collection, Unseen Hand. And in fact, nearly all the poems in this collection could be describing my life—because the “duel” that Zagajewski refers to is between opposites that battle each other, or sometimes balance each other, or sometimes swing back and forth between each other.

This is Zagajewski’s vision not only of writing poems but of living life. And it’s my own experience of living.

My husband has ongoing and seemingly interminable heart disease dis-ease, yet he delights in a phone call from our son and laughs heartily (hmmm, interesting pun) during a friend’s visit. His days are like Zagajewski’s poem-writing: [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “For Whom the Resurrection Is the Full Moon Rising” by Mark Wagenaar

15312920273_04562aa7c5_o-e1456334680521This is a poem to stretch the mind. It begins by stretching our imagination to a cosmic event: a “moondog,” which is a rare bright spot in the moon’s halo. It’s formed by a “mirage of light & cloud & ice”—an image which then brings the speaker down to earth, into his own life. But this life, as he sees it, is stretched among mind-bending options: for instance, he’s “not willing to lose / that which I cannot keep/ for that which I cannot lose.” Then comes what for me is the poem’s core image: “Crumb by crumb the self is whittled down.” It’s the self of the Christian classic The Cloud of Unknowing, the self that must dissolve into “a leash of longing” for God’s very being. The “leash” then leads the poet into a metaphor of himself as “stray dog,” from which more mind-bending apparent opposites follow. All are playing with the self’s “dissolutions,” until the poem’s final line: the diminishment into a mere parenthesis filled with absences.

—Peggy Rosenthal
[Read more…]

Eden at the Indy 500


I managed to live in Indiana for forty years before visiting the Indianapolis 500. A friend offered my husband and me tickets on our anniversary weekend, which also happened to be the 100th anniversary of the race itself, an event that was expected to draw half a million people.

“Oh, why do you want to do that?” My family has used this rhetorical question for many years to discourage wanton desires.

We have shared a long-standing prejudice against the race, because it is a place people go to sit in the sun too long while consuming too much alcohol, and my family largely consists of fair-skinned people who do not drink. We have also casually directed this disdain at amusement parks, cruises and the state of Florida for the same reasons.

My dark secret is that I sort of like drinking in the sun. Like nearly all the forbidden things I’ve tried, it feels quite good, until it’s horrible. [Read more…]