I got back yesterday from a week in New York with my immediate and extended family for Thanksgiving, and I've almost recovered. All conversation is always being conducted at a yell in my family--think George Costanza's parents:
The main casualty of this was my voice (and a little bit of my sanity). I'm mainly thankful that I'm not still stuck on the Cross Bronx Expressway or the GW Bridge writing this blog post.
It's a 10 full hours of driving from Exit 33 on the Long Island Expressway, where I grew up and my parents still live, to Exit 118 on I-81 South in Virginia, where I moved in 2007 so that I could take a job teaching poetry in the MFA program at Virginia Tech. The car, this trip, was loaded down with flagels (I import them over state lines--the flagel is the flat one on the bottom in the picture), approximately two tons of thanksgiving leftovers, and Hankukkah presents for my three year-old son from every relative we have.
Hanukkah starts super-early this year (thanks lunar Jewish calendar!)--on Wednesday--which means I'm less-than-prepared for eight nights of gifting, and a grueling three-hour knuckle-grating latke-making marathon. I figured I'd take this opportunity to spend some time this week ruminating on poetry and religion (in addition to any tangents on the major beige Jewish food groups).
Things I'm hoping to tackle this week that will somehow tie into this theme include:
- Zeek's Jewish Poetry Manifesto that went up a few weeks ago: "No more kiddush wine poems, no more challah, no more herring! Enough with the Jewish grandmothers blessing shabbes candles, and no more poetic trips to Auschwitz, please..." And Zackary Sholem Berger's response over at The Forward,
- the hard work of dying that my last living grandparent--my Oma--is currently doing in hospice care on Long Island,
- my interfaith family,
- big box shopping for the holidays in Appalachia
- my son's new Noah's Ark menorah,
- and the three Iraq war vets I saw in hunting gear at the Sunoco off of Exit 7, on I-78 in New Jersey.
A few weeks ago, my niece and nephew were baptized into the Episcopal church. Years ago, I went to their Quaker welcoming ceremonies, back when they belonged to Friends' Meeting. I remember sitting in excruciating silence for over an hour, which I suspect was a transcendent quiet for others who are less type-A than I am. This time there were robes and funny hats, lush stained glass, a majestic choir and accompanying organ, and the liturgy--a call and response that seemed so disjunctive with what I knew of my spunky five year-old niece, and gentle seven year-old nephew:
Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?
I renounce them.
Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?
I renounce them.
Question of the night: What's the difference between poetry and prayer? Does it have something to do with power, aspiration, intention? When can poetry become liturgy, incantation, spell? Discuss.
Exercise of the night: How might you write a blessing in a new language?
Poem of the night: (which avoids sentimentality with a kick-ass, understated, non-transcendent, yet utterly comforting ending)
(at St. Mary's)
may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that