Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Texture of Shadows for parashat Toldot

We danced,
My brother and I,
a twisted tango of love and hate.
He cast such shadows--
long and textured,
big enough to hide in.

Liar and thief--
You stole my parents
And I loved you--
Would have died for you,
Given it all to you--
If you had only said the words.
I hid in your shadow
That blazed and shimmered
And grew mighty--
And longer still,
It covered all the land--
My birthright
My heart.

You stole from me
Stole the light of heaven,
And my father's eyes,
That were so dim
And faulty,
Until he could see only your shadow:
Dark and luminous
And richly royal,
A cloak that swallowed light.

An absence of color,
Your shadow was,
A cloak of lies for him,
And a comfort for our mother
Who needed its comfort.
She loved you best.
And I,
I loved you all.

You played on ladders
And tangled with angels;
And demanded the curse of
And names.
You took my mother's love,
Stole my father's touch
Until there was nothing left for me
but the raw desperation  of
My brother--
all liquid cunning
and silvered lies.

You took it all
You thief,
You liar and thief,
While I begged,
Hungering for the easy grace of their
Living a poor and pale echo
Of your sheltering
You turned hard rock into the kingdom of
And betrayal into a nation of
Sand and stars.

And you knew God;
And so you were blessed
And cursed
And loved.

And now here,
at the river's edge
on the border of night
and shadows--
You knew God,
But I learned forgiveness,
And so I bless you
And curse you
And love you

c Stacey Zisook Robinson
27 March 2014

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Slipping Into Fluid Grace

There are times,
minutes and hours,
Days even--
     though I'm sure not a week;
     Weeks stretch into forever--
than I care to stretch
(If I cared to stretch at all)

Which I do not.

But there are these moments
of attenuated togetherness.
Compact and flush,
short bursts of


Fitting in--
my head,
my skin.
And that prickly,
porcupine feel
that carries me
in its well-trodden
its death-gripped grasp
(its lovely)
(familiar grasp)


And for a moment,
that moment
I fit.

And I breathe,
For those moments
minutes or days,
     I leap--

And I dance
on the head of a pin,
Sleek and lithe,
all fluid grace,
until I fall


And the prickly
porcupine feel,
the death-gripped
grasp of gravity
welcomes me home
With a kiss.

Stacey Zisook Robinson
c 23 March 2014

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Book of Esther

That blush on my cheek?
It's paint,
And I have glittered my eyes
And robed myself in the finery
of silk and gossamer,
lapis and gold--
And whored myself for your salvation.

You asked for no thoughts.
You merely offered my body
to the king--
My life forfeit
If my beauty failed.

You asked for no ideas
And I gave you none,
Though I had a thousand,
And ten thousand more.

Diplomacy was played on the field of my body,
The battle won in the curve of my hip
And the satin of my skin,
Fevered dreams of lust
And redemption.

That blush on my cheeks?
It is the stain of victory
And of my shame.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Music of God - Part II

(To read The Music of God (Part One), click here.)

Here's a curious thing: the English words "miracle" and "mirror" come from the same Latin rood: mirari, which means "to wonder at." It is meant to convey a sense of awe and amazement.

Funny. I read this in a fantasy novel a thousand years ago (Ok, maybe not a thousand. Maybe it was closer to 35 or 40. But you know, as big as "a thousand" sounds, I gotta tell you-- at the age of old-plus-two, "35 or 40 years ago" sounds positively ancient). It was Peter S Beagle's The Last Unicorn. In it, Schmendrick the Magician (and how could you not absolutely adore a magician named Schmendrick?), tells another character (a Unicorn masked as a human woman, who is searching desperately - and then less so desperately as time stretches out for far too long (though maybe it was just long enough) - for others of her kind) (Unicorns, that is, not humans, or even unicorns masked as humans).

Anyway, the now-human unicorn, writing a letter to the King or some other power-that-was, in order to make a request asks the Magician how to spell "miracle," (because she was looking for one right about then) and Schmendrick replies (I paraphrase) "Miracle is spelled with two Rs, since it comes from the same root as "mirror." Schmendrick then proceeds to blithely muck up his magic and spells for almost the rest of the book, until the very end, when he stops trying to do it right quite so hard, and just hopes that it will all work out in the end.

Spoiler alert: it does. Sort of. I guess hoping is a kind of wild magic all its own.

I remember, all those long and dusty years ago, because it really is a marvelous and poignant story, I remember thinking "Wow.I love that! What an awesome thought, totally fraught with meaning. I have no idea what the meaning is, but I am absolutely certain that it's huge." (Again, I paraphrase)

As with Schmendrick, I then proceededed to blithely muck up my life something fierce, until the very end. Well, not the end of my life, but certainly, for years and years and countless years of pain and pity and fear, of brokenness and isolation and silence-- until the very bitter edges of that life. I was a mess, and my life was worse.

And then I got sober.

I seem to use that plot device more often than not. I say that, somewhat tongue in cheek, but really; it was a death-defying moment, getting sober. It was a watershed, the parting of the seas of my addiction to More, my almost lifelong love affair with self destruction. It was an instantaneous and painfully attenuated moment: from one second to the next, in the blink of an eye, the beat of my heart-- on one side, the certainty of death and madness. On the other, a path. A chance. Freedom.

Hope (that is a wild magic all its own, even for me).

Ah, sobriety.


I do not know how I survived those early days (months) (ok, years). Being a drunk was easy by comparison.  I was infinitely (intimately) more comfortable with my well-lubricated life. I craved separation: anything to put some distance between me and my tormentors. So what if the tormentors were me? I blamed you for my isolation, anyway. And I blamed God for my pain.

Suddenly, life went from slippery and slick to raw and naked and much more present than I ever imagined or wanted. I swear, there were days (hours) (minutes) that I felt as if I were caught in a steel sharp-toothed trap, and if I could have gnawed away some phantom limb to escape it,  I would have.

Suddenly, I went from having no people in my life to having too many, all of them shiny, happy, cheerful people who liked to hug and laugh and speak in platitudes until I wanted to scream. But I couldn't get enough of them. I craved their company and dreaded the idea of going home, to my apartment filled with its ghosts and its silence.

Suddenly, I went from no God (or at least a distantly absent One) to a very present God. I knew, without a doubt, that I had a God in my life, and I knew, without a doubt, that my God was God's evil twin brother, out to screw with me, trip me up and make me sweat.

Maimonides argued that God could only be defined in the negative. To do otherwise would limit the might and power and limitlessness of God. I learned, slowly-- and not without my own pain and drama-- I learned to define God in hindsight.

I learned to find God behind me, in my past. I called these the God Moments. You might call them coincidences or random chance. Happenstance, perhaps, if you were trying to impress. I'm okay with any of that. I am not very particular in what name you or I may use to call God. Much more important for me, in my infinitely grateful hindsight, is that I call out-- in anger (and, oh, I was filled with anger, there at the end and for the long stretch of my beginning) or joy, pain or doubt or sorrow or wonder. Anyhing and everything. 

And I did. I learned, in fits and starts, I learned to call. To trust.

But there was still no music in it (certainly none that I could hear) (and certainly none that I would let you hear). For all that I was learning to find God again, I would do it without the one way that ever made sense, that ever worked, that ever connected me to whatever name for God you may want to use.

I would not sing.

When i get very quiet, when i get very honest, i will grudgingly admit that, in actuality, I was afraid to sing. Afraid of my voice and what it would sound like after years and years of disuse (not to mention the years and years of abuse). Afraid that even when I sang again, if I ever did, I would no longer be able to find God, no longer be able to dance that holy path up and out, in joy and reverence and grave. I was terrified that I would be trapped in my silence forever.

God, but it was noisy in my head without any music-- noisy and jangly and dissonant. Fear is like that-- sharp-edged and soulless, a chaos of silence.

And then, somewhere in there, somewhere in all that silence and fear, I took my son to Sunday school for the first time. He was six. I hadn't set foot in a synagogie in years. I hadn't had a formal conversation with God in just shy of forever-- so long that I wouldn't have known what to say if I felt the need (desire) (want) to say anything at all.

But Nate was six, and it was time. I knew no one, picked the synagogue out of a hat (or the pixelated internet version of a hat), and walked him into a brick-and-mortar building at the end of a long and lonely road. I walked into this structure and heard the strum of an A-minor chord being played, and I was freed.

Just like that. Freed. If not instantaneously, pretty close to it. I stood in that brick-and-mortar building and suddenly it was a holy place. That one chord, that melancholy, joyous, yearning chord found me, found my silence, and unlocked the chains I had so carefully set in place, to bind me to my fear.

The music of my soul, the song of my heart: yearning. It is neither want nor need, though they are certainly present in it. That song is more a reaching up, a reaching out-- in hope, in joy, in despair and desolation. It is a flame that flickers and leaps upward, dancing and guttering and glowing through it all. It's an A-minor, sweet and knowing and raw. It's a question, a prayer, a fluid and graceful arc that moves in you and through you. It's the heart's cry in the darkness "Where are You?" and the breathless hope of God's answer "Hineini -- here I am."

Hope is its own wild magic, its own sacred benediction.

With that one chord, I found my voice again, left the silence behind. It was the voice of my desire, and in it, I found blessing and grace. In it, I found miracle an mirror both, wonder and awe and hope. And when I opened up again, finally, when I lifted my voice in song again, when i finally believed that my hope was stronger than my fear, I found my song, and myself again.

And in that song, there was God.


Stacey Robinson
March 2014

Monday, March 3, 2014

Good Intentions

I had intended...

Wait. Let me start again, this time in the present tense. I intend...

Ugh. I have no idea what I intend, what I had intended, what I will have intended.

What I know is that I love the English pluperfect tense: past, present and future, all rolled into one.  I am a grammar wonk of the highest order. Even more than the English pluperfect,  I love that, in Hebrew, we consider not necessarily past, present or future, but perfected versus not perfected. Action over time, complete versus intended.

The holiness of completion and the grammar of intention.

They are intricately-- intimately-- connected, by time, by action, by desire. It is not enough to want. It is not enough, even, to do. The rabbis tell us that in order to satisfy a mitzvah, I must have intended to do so. I must consciously perform the act or the action or task or I will not have satisfied the commandment.

I strive for completion, for the mindfulness of my intention. I intend to fully engage, in my Judaism, in my continued and continuing conversation with God, in finding a path to wholeness that shelters me and the world entire.

My actions mostly support this. Sigh. My intention, though, can be-- incomplete. I am subject to the laws of unintended consequences. My grammar can be faulty in this. I am less than holy, though I am human; no more, no less. I have hurt others, through my thoughtlessness. I have been unkind in my haste. I am unforgiving in my passion and self-righteousness. I am cruel in my fear. I am cynical in my doubt. I do not intend to be these things. My intentions are (mostly) good. Please God, don't let me be misunderstood-- least of all, by me.

One of my favorite of the midrash is one of creation. There are ten things, the rabbis tell us (except when there are seven) (or thereabouts; depends on the text, the rabbi, and the midrash)  (because the rabbis can spin many plates at the same time, and there is always room for one more)-- there are ten things that were created before God ever created the world. Depending upon where your finger lands in the text, these included the rainbow, and the burning bush and the ram's horn. Some include things like manna or Miriam's well that sustained us in the desert. The greatest of these, though, to my mind, is the creation-before-creation (don;t get me started on the grammar of that, or its tense!) of t'shuvah.

How awesome is God! How great is the Creator of All, to know that there would be a disconnect between intent and result? How breathtakingly, achingly divine, to understand that before creating the heavens and earth, we humans needed to have a path back, a way to return? We will sin, we will fall short, but we will not be abandoned. The gates of t'shuvah will always be open for us, whenever we approach them, whenever we get up the courage to walk through. 

Be holy, we are told, because God is holy, and we are made b'tzelem elohim: in the image of God. But we are human, and so, for all our mindfulness, for all our drive towards completion and wholeness, we will fall short. We will hurt the people we love, we will be indifferent to the needs of others, we will turn away the stranger in our midst. even when we intend otherwise. 

Just as God intends for us to find the way back, to return, to stand, once again at the Gates that are thrown wide (or openned only a small crack)-- we will find forgiveness, we will find God, we will find each other, ever and always, there at the Gates. And in the very instant that we step through, in that breath, that heartbeat, that intention-- there is neither past, nor present nor future. There is only wholeness.

The holiness of completion, the grammar of intention.

Stacey Zisook Robinson
March 2014