Riptides crash and clutch
onto an exhausted shore–
— a lover apprehends his muse
Riptides crash and clutch
onto an exhausted shore–
— a lover apprehends his muse
As I stared into the patterned moonlight on my carpet, I remembered
and the choice I made to walk away.
If miracles are in fact improbable chances
Like the sunrise I watch from the driver’s seat
I am reminded of the impending day
I’ve been aching to leave,
and I now realize:
This is such difficult sacrifice.
There are no guarantees anymore
And I pack these ill-fitting fears away
in the stubborn crevice of a Patagonia duffel bag.
Everything is a miracle.
I want to shred as many hearts as I can with this coming short story, so that we may start looking inward to examine our faults, repair the world, and stop demonizing the people we’ve perceived as enemies incapable of change for so long. I hope that for some, this may inspire a change from within.
Cold Water, coming soon.
(Photograph copyright Luc Delahaye, “Jenin Refugee Camp”, 2001)
I’ve loved you
until the moment you were
taken from my rib
My sides are still sore from the ripping and the mending;
I’ve remembered you
standing on the color-absent sleeping shore:
exhaling that intoxicating purple haze
escaping the ruins of wars, wars, wars
that the schlepper generation we are called
still wearily participates;
I’ve felt you
sitting shiva times seventy
from the pale arms of winter’s sunlight
to the kindled retreat of
hot milk and cocoa beans,
you in your flower dress, Tillamook green
woolly arms contently rest on frayed schwarz leather
why, why, why
did I look away to the busy Sunday streets
mulling another absence too early, panicking, [hostilely]
–helplessly captive in my lonely mind’s eye
kilos from your embracing dainty hands
forgetting to savor the moment
and my lukewarm café?
All I remember from that day was walking into the deep end; all other pigmented fragments surrounding that blue memory is a lost haze, burned long ago like some forgotten nitrate film cache.
I remember watching the roundel of the glowing bulb closely, attentively. The burning sensation in my nostrils; the hard buoyancy in my head fighting upward, my tiny body dragging it down. My feet kept moving, toward the light. Wavy tails of brown hair quivered against the current of my steps toward the pool’s furthest trench. Calm, curious initiative.
I lost consciousness.
I next remember being stood up with cotton swabs stabbing my ears, bleeding with chlorine water. Coughing tremors that made my eyes burn, belching up water from nauseous lungs. I remember being blind; was it my eyes refusing to open, or some temporary reaction? I made out the wet, shifting shadows of people standing around me on the rugged stone floor. My mother continued to wrench the swabs deeper into my ears as I rubbed my eyes dry with a towel coating my cold, wet body like a blanket. A strange menagerie of sensations that resembled salvation played themselves within and around me.
This girl saved you, they told me.
According to my family, she was the only one who saw me, who pulled me out of the pool in time after I silently slipped below the water.
The waves are hard, warm, good. I see Daniel swimming meters away, shouting as each new emerald curl rises for its final smash toward the populated shoreline.
Did you see that! he would shout too often, in a thick, amused Australian twang.
His wild crop of black hair, which reminds me of a burning bush, disappears beneath the currents, and torpedoes far away toward the Mediterranean horizon. Less experienced, but high on confidence, I determinedly dash beneath the frothy blue, tasting the vindicating sensation of sea salt in my mouth and nose, scissoring through the hard tides, and following the slipstream like wings through air.
The magnificent lido of Tel Aviv-Yafo is an emotional, invigorating way to spend a weekend resting and connecting to the land.
These currents are where Jonah was swallowed by the whale. It was these waters that have seen thousands of years of trade and fishing in the levant. Near this coastline a civil war among Jews was being ignited, the Irgun’s ship Altalena being the flint, and the newly formed Israel Defense Forces the steel.
My eyes follow the white monoliths of luxury hotels, the distant sapphire parhelion of the Azrieli district’s business skyscrapers, to the near olive-skinned bodies that are the blood of this city. My white flesh is my fading identity; fresh from the diaspora, waiting to be minted by the sun toward true physical Israeli personhood.
Do I feel self-conscious as my friends remark with curses and jeers how pale I am? Perhaps a little, but I laugh with them. It is truly a funny sight.
I swim to a stop, and cry out in joy as the hot rays of light bathe my friends and I like myrrh; heart full of passion, each summer breath full of the life I’ve prayed on, the spent nights curled and destroyed in the diaspora of my once ruined life, waiting, mumbling petitions between hoarse breaths of deluded hopes for this salvation that is now real, vivid, green like the lush foliage on shore, and dulcet, flowing, like the natural mikvah us Jews freely roam.
We end the evening smoking hookah on a street café, and converse with women soldiers we have our hearts locked on. I walk into the bunk room of my hostel, shirtless. I have passed the burn stage, a nice tan coat runs down my chest and midriff; Daniel and Yair are marked by crimson streaks down their faces and back.
Did you see that? I shout, unable to quench my laughter.
Yom Kippur was difficult to stand through. Not because of the hunger and thirst of fasting, not because of the repentant state we are in during those twenty-five hours, but because of the affliction we bring upon our souls as we mourn our sins and petition to G-d and people in our lives, who we have wronged, for forgiveness.
I had gone through multiple stages of mourning throughout the day, at one point, getting into my car, I remember shouting in a brief fury, have I not afflicted my soul enough for the past five years!
I drive on a bleak highway 35W to my Minneapolis apartment and creep lifelessly into the thick cool duvet of my bed, with iron-weight thoughts, praying a little to G-d, a little to myself, stifle my soliloquy with a self-doubting thought, this is vacuous, be a mensch, stop being so down on yourself, live like any other day, continue on with your life, commit to your dreams, kfotze! [jump!]
I arrived in the contrite halls of a darkened Temple of Aaron to join my community for a Ma’ariv and prayer. I was disconnected from the depths of the holy day as various congregants ascended to the podium to recite prayers while the community read responsively, yet I didn’t feel it; standing in the furthest seats away from the altar, I couldn’t connect, stubborn and destroyed, I tried to gain my strength back to fight the haunting dreariness of my unbearable past.
I was tired of afflicting myself. I asked G-d for something new, as I continue to. A revelation I had in my mind was that G-d gives us the tools to make our lives what our hearts desire for them to be, and, knowing that I will have my mikvah in a month, and having chosen my Hebrew name which I have yet to reveal, and, applying for the Ulpan kibbutz classes somehow confirmed that G-d was giving me something not just new, but completely transformative. And it was because of my initiative.
My Rabbi calls out the final shofar call, and incorporeally, with hairs rising on my neck and eyes welling up with tears, I find myself standing at the base of Mount Sinai, every generation of Jewish man and woman standing with me; King David, Rabbi Shlomo Goren, Golda Meir, Maimonides, my Rabbi Fine, Channah Shenesh, all repentant, all afflicted, all crying out in their souls for something new, something good, final, and freeing; a chance to escape the past, to walk on salvation’s shores, to repair the world, be a mensch, and kfotze!
I cannot examine this hole in my heart no more than I can examine the absence of a person, a place nor a calling. This is more of a deep emotional absence and I know it can only be filled by the G-d I chose to embrace after several years of wandering, committing, and fall out. This G-d of mine, the G-d of Ruth and David and Abraham, is missing. And His covenant I am failing to understand. And His people I am not with, His plans, far misunderstood and abused, I am not accepting out of failure to see.
I am choosing my own path, hoping one day to look at my reflection some-decades on, sit on the foot of my bed to speak my nightly reminder (“G-d is One”), and see a man made in His image rather than a man discouraged. That this hole may be filled with self-forgiveness, forgiving others, and not worrying about things past nor coming, but focusing on committing to an oath bigger than myself in this present. This practice cannot begin now, or then, but continues, even by revenant mistakes we all make and of all of the times we fail ourselves and others.
Unless I quit focusing on myself, and the more I come to terms with what love and life are truly about, I will be just as empty tomorrow as I am now. This is not a depression I have to climb out of, but a bank on the sea, waters parted, a restless cavalry behind; we all must cross.
I experienced my first case of Israeli stubbornness. Contacting the Ulpan kibbutz proved more challenging than I thought; it required a greater effort than I initially expected, but one I am willing to give.
I had sent out a few emails inquiring for information regarding the program; no response. I found a few members of the kibbutz on facebook, sending kind messages asking for more details; no response. I then found phone numbers belonging to the kibbutz.
After listening to a series of long Israeli drones contrast to American rings, I ended the call, aggravated. I tried back another day, when miraculously, a man answered.
Shit, don’t hang up…
“Allo, atah m’daber anglit?”
I spoke with an animated man, half-expecting to hear some native English speaker, but to my pleasant surprise, found a man whose English was difficult to understand. As though surprised at the lengths I went through to reach him, Iftach enthusiastically laid out the basic syllabus of the course and asked me for a few contact details to forward an application.
I could feel my cheeks flushed with excitement as I wished the man Shalom, anticipating yet another advance toward my dream.
As Sukkot begins, marked by a crimson lunar eclipse, I am beginning to feel a deep connectivity to my future, as well as my people, and this holiday, this harvest season and resounding Atonement; a divine forgiveness that states all will be well with my soul; cleared obstacles past and mountains on the horizon, brambles, thistles; more challenges that I live for, and less the emotional traumas that once convinced me that my life was meaningless, retrograde; taking two marches forward and years of steps in regression; not anymore.
I walk with confidence, the fire of the 6th of Sivan still burning, eternally, enticingly, deep down.
It has always been
the restless hope
finding the marauder
at odd hours
during the dark’s
a desperate need
grasps us two
under the Negev night
receding caution, our
entwined eyes elope;
beyond the gates
and the tower
from where I stand;
holding a strange girl
as my heart beats like
the discomforting report of a Sten
making senselessness of sense,
advancing with passionate hands–
that is how I betrayed you.
but loud is the labor of shared
sacrifice; the psalm
to survival in this strange
and embattled Land;
the hope, the red hymn,
a phonograph to our youth
in whose infant fields we stand;
the howls of night
and the colorful screams
of Semitic words
as they usher the tearing
of the fertile tapestry,
‘y’allah, kadima, aish’!
‘feel the might of our tribe;
pursue Ishmael ’til he dies’
again, don’t relent,
back into the land of Ur
from whose ancient heart
we’ve been heard–
by the declaration that shocked
the world near and far
and those brutal May evenings
with the sounds of armored cars,
whose names like Latrun, al-Quds,
and Mount of Olives
troubled this heart;
on the steep hill
from where my commander fell,
the stampede of boys busting ass
back to the Merkaz
this handless arm
has lost its cunning!
but you and my relatives
I haven’t forgot’;
under the white grace
of the hospital bed
with rows of cots
and dying Yids,
I felt my conscious
regain its strength,
man in the green,
send me back again.
and the sunburnt officer
cold stillness in his eyes
takes my bandaged arm,
stares as I try not to cry
‘you’re staying here, boy’
in an old Hungarian tongue;
it was days later
the song on the radio sung
that which you wanted
me to listen to,
and I remember back
how I did not desire your desire
or thought maybe you were too afraid; but it was I.
I remember how your coffee eyes
used to keep me awake.
I was never able to sleep,
while thinking a boy’s thoughts
and fearing a pauper’s fears
and that sad answer
leaves me restless again
as I understand you
hearing the words that you
so often thought of
I was quick to neglect
and how we came to the end;
it was one sunrise
in petah tikvah
I heard for the first time
an old man pray
the song of first rains
to come down again;
was this the religious longing
your fragile lips once spoke of?
was this the faith
that I had so recklessly set fire to?
I never knew G-d
nor what He could do
with every harvest and
new summer moon
hanging in the purple night
with that lingering citrus smell
that reminds me of you.
now a different hope,
a man’s hope,
festers deep down
walking the streets of holiness.
standing on the hill,
where the shells fell straight
we heard the chief order
us into the Lion’s Gate,
and I could feel the weight of your
distant joy, like heavy water
walking the charred streets
dodging bullets and occasional
explosive fodder; the wall was craggy
to the touch, and I couldn’t restrain
my tears that caused
these cheeks to rust,
I had become iron, so inhuman; incapable of love, and emotionally decayed,
and at the foot of the holy presence
the first prayer in two-thousand years
of my own negligence,
now the restless hope
liberated like the heart
of the Jewish people,
sets my faith anew
as I wait for you
whether by charcoal eyes
or Mediterranean blue
I build, and wait on this temple
for the day I can be true,
lest I lose my left hand
and its vacant finger
ready for a hope fulfilled
in spite of a past omitted–
I think the dying man
Does not want us to question our dreams
Such as when we protest about life
And cannot remember what life means,
The weight of goodness it brings;
He wants us to be examples
To break the chains and give pursuit to our peace
Whispering gently as the levant’s revenant cyclamens grow
Heart furiously ablaze, eyes welled up like a spring,
One last thought
When I first met you,
Your arms stuttering
Across the cabin
With a dreadful fear
That was once anger,
Your eyes blue with youth
Your finger was entwined by a wearying gold
And your chest wrapped in a scarf, but your soul was nakedly standing
Before us all nakedly waiting.
It’s tough to savor the flight from Mitzrayim.
This Sten is your Staff,
Hold it close to to your heart, m’zun
Its pillars of fire
Will deliver you to the land
–Give your children a name;
Our cousins in Palestin’eh call,
So when you face Ost
Pray that they’ll have abundance of grain
For you’n me.
Those navy, glossy eyes
You afraid, m’zun?
Your shtetl you shouldn’t worry about
Only look forward, into the flame;
Never mind the smoke and ash.
What was she like, m’son?
Eyes of charcoal, a tikhel of dirty hair,
Miriam’s hand swinging between her breasts?
You’ll find her again in Eretzyisroel,
Trust me, m’son
Put this Staff to good use, though
You’ve probably never used a gun.
Look at me.
You’ve come this far,
You believe in reason?
Make dying your treason;
Success is your fate.
Though’w’re hunted like rats
Let Adonai be your lance,
Stand by it, pray quiet
And don’t you ever look back
They say the Reds are giv’n them hell,
Plagues of green are a’coming through France,
The Mandate holds our land,
And the fascist murderers panic.
Hope runs through your veins;
One day you’ll change your name,
And in streets of peace your daughters will dance,
Consider this fight a bris,
You’ll draw blood, sweat;
And these tears,
Hold onto this Staff,
Spite our Angel of Death.
Feeling the Ypres wind whisper through my back,
Lingo of dead men long silenced, cracked;
The meaning of life descends as the surface to its shoal,
Clad in sweat and cloth, the husk of a killer over soul;
So close I could touch him, would they grimace or shy?
Would I be painted an outsider; or am I too afraid to try?
soothe the trees;
Embers prematurely spent and love a gulf away,
Given the chance to sleep I wouldn’t dare want to stay.
Long doses of peace return in throbbing, warm waves;
The relief is heavier, but shoes like body are weathered, decayed.
Prayers into curses fester at the tip of our tongue;
They all want you in my arms, not this loaded gun.
The copper whistle lies; a glimpse of false might,
Following the dark river’s cellophane light:
Breathing soon becomes bleeding as the monsters labor on,
Weariness begets peace; your memory I savor, waver… savor;
Come to me–
The poppy shivers in the field, your shoulders arrest my mind,
Your wandering coffee eyes I struggle to remember overtime;
Move me, seek;
Stalls and humility frustrated me– tore the weak seams,
Mulling over another headache, and parched gray dreams;
I’ve never forgot;
Brothers remember and feel these things, I neglect,
Holding another sweetheart in their last dying breaths,
The bickering stall!
The shores erupt in dirt, her white collar begins to fade,
German and Old Contemptibles meet in their home; make it or break!
A green smoke thaws, tattered corpses in line,
Once boys, now husbands: gifts to widows in time;
‘My Children’ He weeps;
I cannot comprehend the betrayal given,
When I stopped another man’s heart,
like mine– passchen driven,