Thursday, November 24, 2011

Yom Kippur 5767 (2006)

I rediscovered this while writing my thesis in the spring of 2011, and all of a sudden I saw the full circle that my academic studies had become. Originally written for a poetry class during high school.

Yom Kippur

I faltered. Did we skip a paragraph? My eyes frantically searched the page as my finger skimmed line after line of Hebrew, and I wanted to take out a remote control and pause the service, but everyone continued chanting. It was useless—I gave up, closed the book and looked around. Farther down the wooden bench, an old woman with a hooked nose and hunched shoulders had her eyes closed. She mumbled the words, rocking onto her toes and back in time to the song. The everlasting light flickered above. Behind it, the ark was open. The Torahs stared back at me and I glanced away quickly, opening my book again. I read the poem on the English side—is it a translation? I have no idea—

—and the first line is so selfish that I am shocked out of thinking and I just read. The line comes up again in the next stanza: For my sake was the world created. And again, a stanza later: For my sake was the world created. I am humming along to the Hebrew chant. Once someone told me to say watermelon cantaloupe watermelon cantaloupe over and over again if I forgot the words to a song, but instead when I open my mouth the Soviet National Anthem comes pouring out. No one notices—the Russian follows the same chords as the prayer, so I am just providing a harmony. Singing about the triumph of communism, I look at the old woman. For my sake was the world created, and her mumbling takes the form of a bird, a soft white bird holding a sprig of ivy. It soars around the room, past the stained glass windows, and I realize that the air is full of individual voices, voice-birds, phoenixes and hummingbirds and pigeons and eagles. I smile—for my sake was the world created—and with a wave of my hand the birds are gone, and I just see voices bouncing off the ceiling and the walls. The voices disintegrate into separate notes. They softly bump into each other, spinning and faintly changing direction in the air. For my sake was the world created….

I blinked, and there were only dust motes floating in the colored light, and people around me chanting words in a foreign language.

                        -January 11, 2006


yearoftheleap said...

a beautiful poem. not only amazingly well-written, but it captures much of what i've occasionally felt at services (especially during high holidays); those moments where all of a sudden something that you're reading/supposed to be thinking about comes through and hits you like a ton of's a wonderful feeling. keep writing, please :)

MEM said...

Thank you so, so much. I'm glad this resonated with you. Glad that you have those moments. And as for the writing - will do :)