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APOLOGIA A poem for Parshat Yitro by Sue Swartz

The people stood at the foot of the mountain—

We were unbound then // awakened from watery sleep
when the earth cracked open & sound poured out like lava.

We were undecided then // bathed in sulfur and smoke
when thunder split the mountain // when lightening

scorched our heels. Poised on the edge of desire // enveloped
by rumbling flashes, the words entered our consciousness

like a tornado—
In the bleached-blind wilderness we stood // amid
fire clouds and roaring triumph // amid searing trumpets

& our endless endless wanting // and we were afraid.
Ruthless present tense // Mobius arc of time—

We were joined to each other then // to the blistering
mountain // the vertiginous moment // every noun and verb

exploded through the wilderness. Chosen agnostics,
we declaimed yes to deliverance // yes to unspecified

constraint. To the shattering of silence // to the shattering
of stone. For you not yet able to speak, we said yes

From we who desire by Sue Swartz

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Congregational Libraries reviews Gate of Tears 'Will have value for many people'

The Gate of Tears straddles the border between Judaism, Buddhism, and non-denominational spirituality. Michaelson is eclectic, drawing from divergent value systems and systems of thought. His central message is: Don’t run away from sadness. Rather, “The only way out is through; it is not possible to deny, avoid, or repress one’s way to freedom. The fears, the cracks, the empty spaces…through the gateless gate which is never shut” (p. 164). The book is filled with statements like this: “To try to explain suffering is to attempt escape. But when explanation is no longer sought, the deep joy of the contemplative arises. Here we are; this is what is happening” (p. 5) and “I can breathe in the mud, and the act of surrendering to it brings relaxation and release” (p. 124). All the rest is commentary on Michaelson’s life.

The books is composed of approximately 80 two-page meditations, essays, or musings in no discernable order, though Michaelson has grouped them into three sections: Opening, Listening, Merging. Each stands on its own. Some are very nice.

Michaelson’s reframing of sadness as a normal and unavoidable part of human experience that we do best to surrender to will have value for many people.

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Praise the contrary and its defenders A poem for Korach by Sue Swartz

Now Korach rose up before Moses together with 250 Israelites—

For the chief musician, on common instrument:
A song of rebellion.

Praise rising up. Praise unlawful assembly. Praise the road of excess
and the palace of wisdom. Praise glass houses & the hand
that cradles the stone.

Praise Galileo. Praise acceleration.
Praise the medium and the message.

Praise en masse and the pull of a straight line.
Praise outside agitators
and inside jobs. Praise Red Emma. Praise Joan of Arc.

Praise wayward daughters and praise, praise their wayward sons.

Praise the power of indulgence. Praise Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses.
Praise the nail and the printing press. Praise free verse.
Praise the First Amendment.
Praise illicit beauty, yellow sunflowers and red wheelbarrows.
Praise the poets of Guantanamo.

Praise the noisy midnight streets.
Praise the crazy birds at dawn and praise their woven nests.
Praise Isaac Newton. Praise the apple.

Praise Letters from Prison. Praise the bound notebook and what
is found within. Praise Legal Aid attorneys. Praise kitchen-table
conspiracies. Praise our hunger and the days we are the bread.

Praise farmers’ markets. Praise heirloom tomatoes,
Al Gore and quantum physics. Praise Schrödinger and praise his cat.
Praise talking snakes. Praise run-on sentences.

Praise the best minds of any generation. Praise other people’s poems,
especially the fickle and freckled. Praise Norma Jean. Praise standing
on the table. Praise John Brown and all that trouble in river city.

Praise Walt Whitman & Jimi Hendrix. Praise the body’s
wild intelligence. Praise the giraffe and the porcupine.
Praise getting satisfaction. Praise cross-dressing. Praise untouchables,
undesirables, partisans and riffraff. Praise slackers.

Praise those who talk back. Praise sympathy for the devil.
Praise mothers of the disappeared. Praise mothers of the found.
Praise Planned Parenthood and the siren song.

Praise singers and psalm-makers, Freud and Sinatra.
Praise Gertrude Stein and all thirteen ways of looking at that blackbird.

Praise nude beaches. Praise the terrible twos. Praise hitting
your head against the wall. Praise giving peace a chance.
Praise Selma, Alabama. Praise the Abraham Lincoln Brigades.
Praise Sacco and Vanzetti. Praise Jobs
& Curie. Praise Einstein and his bad posture.

Praise Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Praise crossing party lines.
Praise playing footsy under the table. Praise street puppets and LSD
and stealing this poem. Praise backyard whiskey.

Praise Priscilla the Monkey Girl. Praise her admirers.
Praise Earhart and those who remember what they are told
to forget. Praise agnostics.

Praise what we are not supposed to praise. Praise the electrical storm
and the still small voice. Praise all the proverbs of hell.
Praise this feeling of trying to write about the truth.

Praise those who see it coming. Praise those who do it
anyway. Praise what swallows us whole.

Praise what happens next.

From we who desire: Poems and Torah Riffs

we who desire

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Save 20% with Memorial Day coupon

To celebrate Memorial Day, to help you prepare for Shavuot, and, quite frankly, to test our new shopping cart software, we’re offering a 20% discount and free shipping if you enter the coupon code md16.

This will expire not too long after the holiday, so stock up on our fine Jewish books now.

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local time – a poem by Sue Swartz

(local time)

That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you—

we who desireUndoing, unbecoming—
Giving it all back.

Consider the simple green bud of self
and within, all our restless fertility.

Consider our short-lived tenancy as its tiller
and tender. How things fall through.

How rest is not loss, still is not fallow.
How to stop without sacrifice.

From we who desire by Sue Swartz

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When does money become holy? A poem for Parashat B'har by Abe Mezrich

When does money become holy?

i

The House at the Center of the World (cover)

God says: When you come to the land, every seventh year

you must renounce ownership of the land

and share that year’s produce with your servant of every kind

and with your animals that labor with you

and with the animals of nature.

*

And God says: If you follow My Laws…

I will grant your rains in their season;

and the Land shall give forth its yield.

*

Then God tells the Laws

of how a person may donate money

value

to God’s Temple.

ii

We think of our wealth

as our own.

But if you share your wealth

with the community around you,

and if you know your wealth comes

only through God’s rain—

then your wealth can truly hold value,

then your money can be made holy to God.

Leviticus 25:2,6; 26:3-4; 27:3

From The House at the Center of the World

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A Sestina for Counting the Omer by Rachel Barenblat

Open My Lips (cover)

We mark the Omer day
by day, spring unfolding light
as snowflakes in the breeze. One
follows another; we measure each week
of this dusty journey through
wild unknowing. Come and count.

Time to make our qualities count.
The kaleidoscope shifts every day,
each dawn a lens that God shines through.
What in me will be revealed as light
streams into me each week?
Seven colors of the rainbow make one

beam of white. God is One
and God’s in everything we count.
Lovingkindness permeates the first week,
then boundaries, harmony, each day
a different lens for light
to warm our hearts as it glows through.

And when the Omer count is through?
We’ll stand at Sinai, every one
— every soul that’s ever been — light
as Chagall’s floating angels. Count
with me, and treasure each day.
A holy pause caps every week.

Endurance comes into play: week
four. We wonder, will we make it through?
Humility and splendor in a single day,
two opposites folded into one.
Roots strengthen us as we count.
Every day, more work to do and stronger light.

Torah is black fire on white, light
of our lives. In the seventh week
time warps and ripples as we count.
Kingship and presence come through,
transcendence and immanence bundled as one,
wholly revealed on the forty-ninth day…

Feel the light now pouring through.
Each week the seven sefirot become one.
It’s time to count the Omer, now, today.

From Open My Lips: Prayers and Poems by Rachel Barenblat

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LIVE YOUR WAY INTO THE ANSWER An Exodus poem by Sue Swartz

we who desire
Because against this, that
Because the angels of our better nature
And the angle of days to come
Because as we said goodbye            As we say goodbye

Because this is the book of bursting through
And the book of coming undone
Because bricks without straw
Because bruise without respite

And the compulsion to be heard
Because the crack in everything
And because the darkening

Because the darkness
And the daughter of Pharaoh in every generation
Because the distance between
And the dog,
               chained in some fool’s backyard: barking and barking—
Because the dream of crossing

Because the ego that dreamt         (its elliptical nature)
And the events of the night—

Because the faceless god of frogs & thunder
And the faithful god of time
Because the fear             And the fire            And the fissure
Because glimpses of—

And Heisenberg’s uncertainty

Because I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread
Because I-will-be sent me to you
Because if this, then that              And imagine all the people

And in the interstices, hidden

Because joining one thing to another
Because knee deep in muddy water
Because the light of a candle
in the heart of the sun

Because locusts & lice            And the long strange trip
Because love supreme                  And the luminous underneath

Because mantles marked             Because metaphoric
Meteoric             And the middle that will not hold
     
Because naked ambition And nothing as it was
And the one who takes off her shoes

And the one and the one and the one—
 
Because of this permeable world

And the photo that spreads beyond the frame
Because the point of no return        And the portable palace
Because the protests in Tahrir Square
     (All that purposeful unbecoming)

Because the quotidian
Because the radical
 
Because the sea filled with baskets
And seeing an angel in the marble, he carved
Because starry, starry night              And a steel bar can be bent
 
Because suitcases filled with suffering
Because the touchable—
 
Because the unleavened—         And the vertical drop.
     
Because what is in your hand
And what I am is what I am       And when you drew the map
And where we’re going, there’s no—

Because who will live in our house
And who will memorize our story
And why we’re whispering          Why we’re whispering
          as we say goodbye

Because xenophobia
Because you and you and you
Because zealotry and zeitgeist

And the Zen koan: one drop reveals the ocean
Because zero & zilch & zip
Because the zany zookeeper
          unlocked the cage—

from we who desire: Poems and Torah riffs by Sue Swartz

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On the Eighth Day a poem by Sue Swartz

Aaron’s sons Nadav & Avihu… offered before God
strange fire that had not been commanded—

On the eighth day, Alessandro Volta
put metal coins on his tongue
and prophesied sulfurous electricity.

On the eighth day, Leucippus
considered the true nature of the void,
Teller the true capacity of the sun.

Curie was entranced by radium,
and Maxwell by luminous radiations.

On the eighth day, there were isotopes,
cloud chambers, alpha rays.

Life was vaporized in a simple test of hydrogen.

On that day outside planned creation,
God peered into the universe and was afraid for us—

Noisy children snapping berries
off a poisonous bush, racing down the street
with pointy twigs—

Didn’t I tell you to knock that off?

And burned to the nub two sons of priestly
inheritance. Before the whole assembly
were they offered up, a soothing savor.

Object lesson: this may you burn
in your copper pan, of this sinew and thigh
may you eat.

But this intoxicating notion, this 4-legged
swarming-thing—
It is polluted meat. Strange fire.

Your blowtorch future.

 

From we who desire: Poems and Torah riffs

we who desire

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Author sees sorrow as path to spirituality New Jersey Jewish News speaks with Jay Michaelson

New Jersey Jewish News speaks to Jay Michaelson in advance of his talk at a local JCC:

Joy and sadness, like light and darkness, are part of a continuum, Jay Michaelson argues, and our culture’s obsessive focus on one or the other — in the feel-good teachings of pop psychology or the morbid predictions of doom-sayers — is misleading.

He makes that case in his new book, The Gate of Tears: Sadness and the Spiritual Path (Ben Yehuda Press) and in his widely varied roles as teacher, commentator, and activist. Whether dealing with the loss of a loved one, the looming menace of global warming, or the battle for equality and justice, Michaelson insists people live fuller and more effective lives when they open themselves to both the positive and the negative.

“‘Faith sees best in the dark,’ remarked Kierkegaard in one of his sermons,” Michaelson writes in The Gate of Tears. “Ordinary sadness, everyday melancholy, the quiet, small pains of life, as well as the more profound losses that are part of human life, are the places in which the real spiritual work takes place.”

Michaelson will discuss this approach on Thursday evening, Feb. 25, at the Birnbaum JCC in Bridgewater.

Read it all here

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