Monday, December 31, 2018

Thoughts for the ending of a year

I had my new year already -months ago.  So what is the lesson? 

We like to mark time, chop it into manageable chunks that separate one moment from the next: here, on this side, the world is one way; there, on the other side of that narrow, almost invisible line, that hoped-for chasm of change and difference, the world changes, is different. It is newer, freer, happier, brighter.

We hope that our burdens are lighter, our grief is lessened, our joy magnified. We yearn for new  possibilities, to find an array of different, spread before us like a banquet. We imagine that we step over that magic, nearly invisible line that marks one place to the next, with a sense of mindulness and some ceremony.

We mark that magic demarkation with celebration, and say "The before was old. This, now, is new. And into this new, into this vast expanse that is spread before me, all clean and unmarked, I will find and create and do and be and sing and love and experience-- differently. Better. More."

What we don't often stop to realize is that we have this power within us all the time. Like Dorothy and her shoes, we have the power to go home any time we want. We don't need to destroy the witch or bow down to magicians and madmen. We have the chance, no matter the day or the hour, to say "On this side, life and the world are one way. Now, in this moment, this time, from here on out, it is different. It is new and filled with possibility and potential. It is so, because I choose, I decide."

So here we stand, on the edge of a new year, ready to jump, to leap, to shed the old year like we do our winter coats when we finally come in from the cold.

My wish, my prayer for this new year: blessings and joy and wonder and love. And most especially, that we remember that a new year, a new day, doesn't need a calendar. We are given the chance to renew, to reclaim, to begin again always, when we give meaning to the day, when we decide.  We are at Sinai always.  We are blessed and redeemed always. 

The very moment we decide, that we chose it,  we will be carried through, from one moment to the next, to an endless expanse of possibility and promise.

Love and light, to all I hold dear... ♥

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Red Sky Riot: for Angela

She tried to capture the sky
A royal riot of red and blue.

It was not hers to capture
The colors slipped too quickly
Into a subtlety of gray.

She tried to tether a song
With a thousand parts of harmony.

It was not hers to bind
The sound burst and rose
And she could only rise with it.

Heart unbound.
Soul set free.

Amen v'amein.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Sing Hallelujah - a poem for Thanksgiving

Sing praise and
shout hallelujah,
as bullets sing their siren song
and death is never far;
and sing praise
while fires rage and
children fall silent
behind barbed wire fences, and
children fall silent
with bellies distended, and
children fall silent
as their homes are devoured,
and they race against monsters and time.
Sing praise, for the monsters are winning.

Free the captive.
Feed the hungry.
Give shelter to those in need.
This is my song,
this praises my name -
Be kind.
Work for peace.
Hope is an action.
Pray with your feet.
Lift your eyes and see God
In the eyes of the other.

All the earth is holy ground.
The bush burns,
do you not see?
Open your eyes -
there are such wonders!
Open your heart -
there is such love!
Sing hallelujah!

This is my bounty.
This the glory.
For this we give thanks.

For the richness of life,
And the jagged edges that cut
and draw blood,
And the beauty
In the sound of rain
and silence,

We give thanks.

For the Creator of eternity
and time,
Who calls to us in darkness
and light,
In our hunger
And our want,

We give thanks.

For the fullness,
For the stones that bite
And the bedrock upon which we stand,
For the hands that lift us,
And the song that fills us

We give thanks.

For our breath,
For our bodies
For the grace of  healing,
And the blessing of light,
So that we can taste the sweet,
The sharp,
The weary,
Holiness of this day
Sing hallelujah
And give thanks.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Being - for Ellen, who taught this lesson

The sun , catching
the tuning pegs of the guitar,
kept distracting me -
a flash of light
while I was busy praising Your name
and declaring Your love.
That seemed somewhat awkward,
like maybe I should
Stop, take notice.
Be present.

Be in Your love.
Be in Your presence.
Let the words go
and be.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

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.

Thief! You liar and thief!
You stole my parents
and I loved you,
would have given it all to you,
if you had only said the words
I longed to hear.
Instead, I hid in your shadow
that blazed and shimmered
and grew mighty--
long, and longer still.
It covered all the land:
my birthright, my heart.

Thief-- you stole everything from me!
You stole the light of heaven,
and my father's eyes,
that were so dim and faulty
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;
you demanded the curse of
blessings 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 silence.

My brother--
all liquid cunning.
You took it all, you thief,
You liar and thief!
I begged, hungering for the
easy grace of their notice,
living a poor and pale echo
of your sheltering,
smothering life.

You turned hard rock into the kingdom of Heaven
and betrayal into a nation of sand and stars.
You knew God,
so you were blessed
and cursed
and loved.

Now we are here, at the river's edge
on the border of night and shadows.
You knew God,
but I learned forgiveness,
so I bless you,
and curse you,
and love you

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Where God Is

There is no place that God is not;
even in the barrel of a gun.
Bullets sing their own psalm,
a deadly hymn to the True Judge,
the Creator of us all.

There is no place that God is not.

Perhaps that is why God asks us -
pleads for us -
to sing a new song
for all the earth to hear,
to drown out the ugly and
sibilant crackle of bullets,
whose only benediction is
one of destruction and pain.

There is no place that God is not.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Blessing of Bounty

The blessing of bounty is a fragile one.

So you reap what was sown,
though the corners are not yours.
Harvest the last of summer's promise,
and live, for a time, only
sheltered by grace.

Look up! Look up!
The lattice-worked heavens
of sun and moon and stars
dapple your harvest
of paper chains and pasta art.

The blessing of bounty is a fragile one.

Harvest the wind, gusty with rain
and the first fruits of cold.
Sit with me for a timeless time,
and feel the earth beneath us.
Let us be sheltered by graceful impermanence.

The blessing of bounty is fragile,
But oh! what a glorious thing!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

At the Gates

So, here's the part where I get a little wonky, a little out there. A little (if I may be so bold) vulnerable. Here's the part where I say: 

We are always at the Gate. 
We are always at Sinai. 
We are always redeemed.

We all-- every one of us-- walk a path with God. We may not recognize it or acknowledge it, but we do. There is beauty and pain and hope and despair in every one of those paths. Percentages may change. How long I choose to walk in despair may change and shift. It is the same for sorrow and wonder and joy. They are all there. It's what we carry and what we take away. It is our breath. Our souls. Our hope and sorrow. It is the Gate. It is Sinai. 

It is, ever and always, our redemption.

The beauty of this the realization is the sure knowledge that I am there-- right there-- poised at the edge of everything-- always. I have dived and reflected, shined lights and prepared, to stand here-- right here-- with my heart open, eyes wide, filled with blessings and forgiveness, filled with my humanity and acceptance of yours. Ready, so very ready, to step through. To fit, to be, to become. 


And the thing I take away from this holy and sacred undertaking - another of those profound, transformative, life-altering truths that I find unlooked for and in odd places-- what I find is this: either every day is holy or no day is.  Today, I choose to live in a world where every day is holy. The gate is always open. I am always there. God is always there, ready to catch me, grab my hand and dance.

Yom Kippur. Tomorrow. A week from next Thursday. Either every day is holy or no day is. The gates of repentance are always open. I am returned. I am redeemed. All I have to do is step through.

Thank you for being a part of my journey. Thank you for shining your lights in my darkness, for celebrating my joy and triumph, for teaching me the glory of silence and the holiness of community. You brought your songs, your souls your lives and gave me welcome.  I have been blessed beyond imagining. 

Shana tova u'metukah-- may you have a sweet year, filled with wonder and joy, light and love, healing and wholeness.

G'mar chatima tova - May you be sealed (in the Book of Life) for good.

Monday, September 17, 2018


There is a rising expectancy
A hold-your-breath
gathering in,
gathering at the edge
that drops away
ten thousand feet
and ten thousand more.

A moment--
just that one,
that separates you from
everything else.
You hold yourself so
so poised.
so expectantly still.

There's a heartbeat's difference
between waiting
and ready,
a heartbeat,
a moment,
the distance between
that narrow space
between God
and everything else.
And you have walked that narrow space,
that dry and dusty narrow space,
cradling the tethers
that bind you
to that rock-strewn road,
that narrow space between breaths,
between God--
between waiting and

You have walked the ten thousand steps,
and ten thousand more,
an eternity of steps
to cross that narrow distance,
to stand in hushed--
in waiting--
in rising

To leap into that moment,
to complete that breath,
to bridge the distance
between waiting
and God.

To stand
in grace,
in quiet stillness,
in breathless wonder,
on the other side of waiting.
And you gather in those tethers
that have shackled you
and bound you
to the narrow places.
You gather them
and let them fall,
let them lie
cracked and dusty and rusted through.

A breath.
A heartbeat.
A moment that stretches into
the rest of forever
(and then some)
And then
you leap.


Friday, September 14, 2018

To God, who divides the waters: a poem in response to hurricanes

Nachshon ran from the narrow places, 
racing to freedom and God. 
He was stopped on the shores 
of the forever sea,
until he walked into the waters,
until they almost swallowed him whole.
Past his chin they came.
He walked; they rose.

And then they parted.

Just like that,
a miracle of divine order,
and the angels flew about,
singing sweet psalms
cheering the all those marchers onward,
until God reined them in,
showering them with shame.

The waters rise once more,
a new forever sea of
chest-high currents
that eddy and ripple and 
drag at the angels' sodden feet
and leaden wings, 
hosannas sung in a minor key.

Dear God, who moves 
upon the water's face;
who divided the waters 
and makes the rain;
Who sends the storms
and attends the tides -
do You wait again for Nachshon,
wrapped in his faith 
and in his folly,
to walk, and show You
once more, where the waters 
need to part?

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

To a Year Filled With Wonder - Shana Tovah!

For some time now, I have been wishing people a year filled with wonder as my  Facebook birthday message to them,. I tend to gloss over the exact meaning of that. It sounds good: deep, kind of profound, definitely spiritual in some way, and certainly with a vague and unspoken reference to God. 

In actuality, I don't know that I've ever given any real thought to what a year of wonder actually means. My meanderings have been interesting. That one of them was "I wonder how I have managed to not kill my beloved boy child yet..." will give you an idea of just how far afield (and how much on the edge) I can get. My son, though, gets me closer to an answer, a better understanding of wonder. 

We were sitting in services one morning, me because I wanted to be there, he because I forced him out of bed and insisted, He's a good kid, so my insistence was not too demanding. He sat next to me, playing with the tzitzit of my tallit, listening some, fiddling some, reading some, possibly praying some. Later, after the service, sitting and kibbitzing with friends, my son informed me, again, that he didn't believe in God. And again, I answered him in the only way that makes sense to me; "That's okay; you believe in kindness. I'm okay with that."

This being the time of year that it is, I felt the need to elaborate. "Nate, you look out at the woods there behind the house and see nature in all its glory-- fractals and delicate equations and chemical reactions and set laws that are knowable and predictable. I see all that, my beloved boy, and hovering just above that field, I see the breath of God hanging in the still most. You say science; I say God. I don't think God cares one way or another what you call him (her)."

What is that leap? How do I get to God - the God of fractals and predictable science? We both looked at that idyllic scene with a sense of wonder. I think though, the wonder of it all, is the willingness to strip bare - leave the cynicism and absolute certainty off to the side. There is delight in wonder, and surprise. There is something breathtaking about it. Perhaps the difference between my son's vision and mine is that I see no disconnect between science and God. 

I want to end here. Mostly. I don't know that I'm quite satisfied with this explanation. There is some otherness that pushes one into wonder. There is a willingness to be vulnerable and naked - a willingness to disallow preconceived ideas of how things work/ There should be a sense of God, of beyondness. And I know I'm making up words, but I'm trying to pull this together and the words I know aren't getting me far enough.

Wonder is a startlement, a gasp of recognition and beauty. It is God and fractals and a double helix, twined in an intimate dance. It is a leap, from a field of liquid green laced with late summer gold to a glorious hymn to God, made of bright color and soft breezes.

And all of this may be true, but it doesn't even come close to the sense that is wonder. But there's this - I went to service with my son one morning. I, because I wanted to; he because I insisted. And there was enough love, enough trust, enough a sense of rightness and respect, that we sat, for an hour or two, praying, listening, fiddling, laughing and loving. For all the geometry and beyondness: there is breathtaking wonder in that simple and glorious  moment.

If you're interested, there's a poem I wrote a few years back, about startlement with a bit of wonder and exultation. If you've read this far, and want to read a bit more, here's the link...

Shana tovah. May we all have a year filled with wonder.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Days of Awe, Days of Sadness

As I write, Rosh Hashanah is less than a week away. Full disclosure: mu parents were mostly gastronomical Jews – holidays were more about meals and family gatherings, and less about religious obligation, God or ritual. The High Holy Days were the (mostly) exception to this rule.

Don't get me wrong – we still had the huge meal, inhaled in mere seconds, or so it seemed. Every year we promised that while the  next year may not be in Jerusalem (and we were mostly sure that we were referencing the wrong holiday, but we said it anyway, because it was Jewish and . Me us seem mostly knowledgeable) we would at least create more space between the courses, eat more slowly, and maybe – just maybe – cut a course or two. That never happened, Still, once a year, we all gathered – the immediate family, extended family of grandparents, aunts uncles, cousins from both sides, along with anystray friends with nowhere to go.

More, on these days – two for Rosh Hashanah and one for Yom Kippur, we all went to synagogue. There were no kid services, no family services. There were new dresses and shoes, and mom hauled out the brimmed hats and good jewlery. Dad did the suit and tie and my brothers were forced into their ouw suits, with ties the sixe of Texas and colors that ran the spectrum. Hey, it was the 60s and 70s; what would you expect?

So, you'll understand my love for these days, these Days of Awe – they are about gathering and connecting and loving and jostling about and food and family. And these days, as I have chosen to dive more fully into my own Judaism, they are also about obligation and ritual and God. And, oh! how I love that my Judaism holds sacred space for both expressions!

I accept that, by training, the High Holy Days are reserved for family (whether you like 'em or not, and on these days, whatever the feuds may be, they are set aside for these gatherings as much as possible, even though flare ups were bound to happen, and provided some amount of theater to the long and sometimes boring dinners), just as I accept that I have been commanded by God to be present for ancient prayer, sacred music, the afflcting of my soul. On that first day of Rosh Hashanah, I know that then the shofar sounds, I have both satisfied the commandment that I hear the shofar and that the service is just about over. I am a Jew with feet in both worlds.

Unfortunately, I also know – have known for the past eight years – that my brother literally took his last breath as the shofar sounded on that first day of Rosh Hashanah. We were all gathered, not around my brother's crowded dining room table, but his haspital room. He was not conscious, not on those last handful of days, but we were there, to talk to him, talk to one anohter, let kim know (please God, let him know!) that he was, ever and always, surrounded by love.

We played his sacred music on that last day, the first day of the new year – music from the Broadway stage. He, my other brother and I had grown up on this music, had spent our summers on the stage, performing our hearts out to the music of Gershwin and Berlin, Rogers and Hammerstein and Hart. The last show we played for him was Once Upon a Mattress, the first show he was eer in. It was during “Yesterday I Loved You” that he suddenly opened his eyes for just a flash, took a shallow breath and died. The shofar sounded at that exact moment in a room down the hallway.

Rosh Hashanah: what a busy and joyous jumble of a day! The Book of Life and Death is opened and the Gates of Justice swing wide. 1It's the birthday of the world. We stand with awe and trepidation as we undertake the breathtaking majesty of diving inwards, a deep and long and solitary dive, into murky waters that make us gasp and shiver with cold. But eventually, the water warms and the silt and grit settle and we learn to see, to shine a light on the inside, all the beauty, all the pain, all the hope and need.

It is all about redemption.

This day is redemption and majesty and reflection and God.  It is joy and celebration and hope and...

Whatever this day is, whatever the ritual and tradition that surrounds this day may be, what it is, what Rosh Hashanah and all the Days of Awe will ever and always be, is my brother's yahrzeit. And year after year, for all the pomp and circumstance of Rosh Hashanah, for all my yearning for redemption and God, drowning out the music and prayer and the triumphant sounding of the shofar that opened the Book and flung wide the Gate - all I could hear was the steady cadence of "This is the anniversary of my brother's death."

So yo'll understand, I hope, this is one of those days that I am less forgiving of God.

I know - absolutely know - that God is not at fault in this. God didn't set the butterfly's wings to flapping that ended in the hurricane of my brother's death. There was no Divine Plan here. Randy smoked four packs of cigarettes a day, existing on equal parts caffeine and nicotine. He was diagnosed with Stage Four metastatic, inoperable and incurable lung cancer when he was 45, and died when he was 47. Not a day goes by that I don't miss him, though I don't think of him every day as I once did. Stretches of time go by-- a handful of days, a week maybe, and I will suddenly stop, feeling the ache of his loss like a stitch in my side, sharp and hot, receding into a dull throb until it is more memory than real. My breath doesn't quite catch in my throat when I think of him. Mostly.

He died because he smoked. He died because he got cancer. But he died on that day, eight years ago. On Rosh Hashanah, the day of pomp and circumstance and joy and celebration. On that day, there in the hospital, the Book was laid open and the Gates swung wide and my brother died, all in the space of tekiyah.  And so these Days have suddenly become hard. And I am suddenly less forgiving of God.

And for all of that, when I stood in prayer and my knees began to buckle from the weight of my sorrow, when I was filled with an ocean of pain and loss, when I wanted to curse God-- when I did curse God - there were hands that reached out to hold me steady, and strong arms to carry me through to firm ground. When I demanded of God, to God-- where the hell are You? I was answered: here. No farther than the nearest heartbeat, in the still small voices of all those around me, who showed me, again and again, that I was not alone. Even in my pain, even in my doubt and despair, I was not alone.
In my faith, in my prayer, what I find, again and again - what I am given, again and again, is grace. What I get is strength and courage to face what life has placed in front of me in that moment... even if that thing is the death of my beloved brother. My faith is not a guarantee that I will never know fear, or that only good and happy things will happen. My faith, my prayer allows me to put one foot in front of the other and know that I will be carried through. And in that exact moment, the moment I take that step, I am enough and I am redeemed.

And in that moment, I dance in the palm of God's hand.

For my brother, Randy (z'l)
May we all dance in the palm of God's hand

L'shana tova u'metukah
May you have a good and sweet year

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Return: a poem for the ending of Elul

I have returned again
to this place of fullness,
this place of everythingness;
and I feel empty.

I fling my sins,
all bright copper
and colored feathers,
out into the heavens -
Which is separate from the earth,
Which is separate from the waters,
and they fly like birds,
and dance and dazzle.

They are beautiful,
these sins of mine,
as they catch the light.
I am caught in their beauty,
racing after them.
They drift and fall
like so many crooked arrows,
and I collect them,
to turn them back to me
before moving on
to the next gate.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Call and Response: a poem for the shofar high Holy days,

Do not text me;
I will not notice,
And may ignore it anyway.
How can one hundred and forty of
compel me to answer,
unless I merely seek distraction
and not return?

Do not leave a message
that I will not listen to.
I will let the sounds wash over
me in my inattentive attention,
while I wait for the next thing
to move me to the next thing,
so that I can wait for something
to move me again.

Do not call or cry out,
or speak the words to me
that You spoke to them--
to Abraham who held a knife,
Or his son who let him.
I will not answer.
I will not hear
from the depths of this wiilderness
that is choked with the bits and bytes
and slings and arrows
of my days.

I will answer
the sound of the shofar
that stayed the hand
that meant to slaughter;
That rang out
and tumbled the walls
that surrounded my heart;
That sang in aching
and awesome mystery
to announce the presence of God.
I will hear in this wilderness,
I will hear in my longing,
and I will turn and turn again
and listen.

I will hear the shofar's call
and I will answer.

Monday, September 3, 2018

I am meant to follow: an approach to the Days of Awe

The road is mystery still,
yet David's harp urges me
and the horns of Abraham's
dilemma push me,
and Jacob's ladder is crowded
with angels. They move aside,
not without some attitude,
so I may stumble up those
narrow rungs; still -
elevated though I am,
there is only dust
and a blaze of Glory
in the far distance.

I am meant to follow,
with open hands
and open heart,
to feel the quickening
of my blood
that moves in equal time
with my shame
and my joy, my fear and
love, my grief and my ecstasy,
So that I may claim them
all, as they have
claimed me;
so that I may dance
at the gates
and be whole.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Imeinu Malkateinu hear our prayer

I knew my mother was a queen.
She wore the night sky like a crown,
and she blessed us with her endless bounty. 
We feasted on cherries in the warm summer air
until our fingers were stained red
and sticky.

She held court at the kitchen table,
ruling us all with equal parts 
mercy and justice. 
Be kind, she commanded,
and oh! how we tried to please her,
live up to that mark!
But we were children,
and so were sometimes cruel,
and she would call us to account,
because she was Queen,
and she always knew.

We would tremble some,
standing before her,
waiting for her measured justice,
fear and shame twisting in our bellies
because we knew, always,
that we had failed her,
and so had failed ourselves.

Sorry, we would cry, every time -
time after time after time again -
Forgive us, we would plead.
We will do better,
we would promise.
Next time, 
we would say. 

My mother would gather us close,
Be kind, she would say again,
gentle, and merciful as a kiss,
and she wiped our red stained fingers 
with a soft cloth
until they were clean. 

Friday, August 31, 2018

And I am filled: a poem for Shabbat

She comes, my bride;
She comes in all her glory,
and I stop, breathless
drawn in as I always am
into her eternity.
to rest in her palace
forever, for a day,
for the sweetness
of a moment
that stretches into
endlessness and grace,
and I rest, whole.
She comes, my Shabbos bride,
and I am filled.


Thursday, August 30, 2018

Avinu Malkeinu

Today is a day of reckoning
And I can hear my mother say
"Wait ‘til your father gets home!"
Today we stand in our Father's house
King of the castle,
Lord and master,
And I am small again,
a child, waiting, trembling,
shuffling and awed

Will You hear us?
Will You save us?
We rise in Your house
Forgiveness and mercy on our tongues
standing on holy ground,
hearts bared,
heads bowed.


There is no place that god is not.
There is no time that god has not been.
But today the doors are open,
the gates flung wide,
and sunlight catches silver,
and it is holy holy holy.

We rise,
because we have fallen.
We have sinned,
missed the mark.
I have. We all have.

Who are we,
that You have regard for us?
Children of dust,
sins of ash,
and still You call us to return.

Avinu Malkeinu, hear our prayer

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

#BlogElul, Day 17: Awaken

I don't think I'm always awake for my own life. I'm way too distracted. At times, my focus is totally inwards, so that I miss much of what goes on around me. At others, I'm all external, which means I skip over the me in those experiences-- how I fit, what I feel, what I bring, and what I take away.

It is not a very present life. It is not a very intentional life. It's a life lived later, or next week, or not at all.

A handful or so of years ago, I was at OSRUI for Shabbat Shira-- a retreat that combines song and prayer and community and holiness in a profoundly rich and wondrous almost-week of days. On Friday morning, for shachrit, we participated in a movable feast-- a service that literally moved us from one place to the next, had us praying and eating and singing that bent the light, so to speak. In each place in the service-- physically, spiritually, mentally, we were asked to notice differently, challenged to engage differently, so that every one of our senses was awake and aware.

It was a sacred, holy thing. I think I caught fire-- or at least my head and my heart did. We walked together to the lake, and I could think-- be aware of, awake for-- how the cold hit my body, how the path lay dappled in gentle light, the sweet scent of a distant fire. I heard the crackle of stiff leaves fighting with the song of birds and tasted the first hint of winter.

While we all stood at the lake, water lapping at the shore and the sun filling a cloudless sky, we prayed, we were awakened to the miracle of a new day. I am infinitely grateful that I am awake and alive and part of the wonders that fill every moment and make every moment holy. 

This is what I wrote that day. This is what I took away:

We walked
From one place to another
In quiet wonder at the rising of the morning.
Light filled us
And color.
Under canopies of gold
Shot through with green
And strong branches
Flecked with a suddenness of blue
Stretching halfway to forever.
Geese and crows
Sang their psalms
To the One
Of Creation and
A murmurous mix of
The shuffles of leaves
A muffled crunch
Signaling summer's slow end
Soft-voiced under canopies of gold.
Chill air coiled around my fingers
My bare-skinned fingers
And the rough bark of
Bare trees
Suddenly bared
Gently, sweetly bared
Yet rough
Edged in hardness
And sudden sweet chill.
They began
They ended
Distinct and edged
In beginning to end
What I saw
What I heard
What I felt
On that wondrous
That glorious
That holy walk we took
To greet the rising of the day.
That scent of morning
On that shared path
That leaf-edged path--
The morning scents were
Were not quite
And in-between.
They urged me on
Brought me here to this edge
Quickening me to this light-filled edge
This beginning
this ending
Of earth and sky
With such fullness
A richness of sound and light and still,
With an ever-present
(From my blog, titled Modah Ani, posted October 2012)

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Not Evening, Not Day: for the beginning of Elul

It was not evening,
nor night,
not quite -
although the sickle moon,
dusted in orange,
kissed the passing clouds

It was not morning,
tho the sun
stained the sky
and shivered there,
on the horizon
that was sea and sky together,
and neither sea
nor sky

And so we prayed,
gathered at the water's edge,
in the not-evening-
Almost morning.
We opened our lips
on the border
of land that moved
with fluid grace,
next to the dark glass
of an obsidian sea
that rippled with
the laughter of the stars
that skated its smooth surface.

And all the Hosts of Heaven
waited in expectant
and shimmering
in that not-quite moment,
that sacred place
of not you
and not me;
That place where God lives -
at the very edge
of Heaven
and Earth,
That is the center
And calls to us
With bird song and wind
and the rippling
obsidian sea.

And there the shofar called
A single note,
Stretching out unto

There was evening.
There was morning.
One day.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

The Color of Sin

The color of sin is white;
this is sacrilege, I know.

Still, white is an everythingness,
a pervasive mess.

It is a blanket of snow,
or the eternity of death.

It stretches, like heat,
and it contracts and cracks

like ice.
Like sin.

Red hyssop will stain it
until it is not,

until the white -
and the sin - are not,
and I am clean.

Sin is tricky like that.

Monday, July 9, 2018

White Privilege | Black Son

I was at a rehearsal dinner for a wedding to take place the next afternoon. I left my phone in my purse, so I missed the news of the massacre that took place in Dallas. I woke up the next morning to the news that five police officers were killed by a man who opened fire at the end of a peaceful Black Lives Matter rally, specifically targeting white officers. It was surreal, staring at my Facebook feed, which continued to retell a tale of the violence and savagery that has become all too common, all too tied up into a knot of racism, privilege, poverty, guns, and anger. Facebook lit up, and I just couldn’t stop reading.
One post caught my eye. Someone had reposted a letter written by a black man, a dermatologist with two sons.
Some man, grief-stricken and tired-to-the-bone, asked if my child will be hunted, and for the first time, all those lies that I had allowed myself to believe, that I so diligently protected and nurtured, shriveled into dust. I realized that my black son can never be protected by my whiteness, that the mere thought that he could be is evidence of my own privilege.
Will my son be hunted?
I remember the trill of frustration I felt, when my former husband carried what I thought was a chip on his shoulder. Yes, yes, yesI know it’s been bad, and there are still some racist people who don’t get it, I wanted to say, but it’s different now, don’t you see? He told me I was naïve. I was afraid he’d pass the chip onto our son.
My world worked on the laws of cause and effect; it was your actions that determined consequences, and while that pristine law had, at times, been clouded by economics, religion, or color, those clouds were lifting, just about gone. The fact that the entire block—inhabited by white families—stood on their lawns and porches and stoops, watching silently as he and his mom and step-father and sister moved into their home, the first black family in the neighborhood, should have no bearing on the world he moved into now, 30 or 40 years later. I was sure of it.
How could I not see that my ex-husband’s world was governed less by cause and effect, and more by color? His skin, in this white world, was the cause, and the effects were harsh and hateful. He was lucky—the consequences of his blackness were merely a few traffic violations for driving while black, or being overlooked “accidentally” at restaurants and in a handful of job interviews. No prison, a fate for one in three black men—just a sentence of invisibility and marginalization.
And how could I not see that these same problems were now settling so heavily onto our son’s shoulders? My son—my black and Jewish son. What he never told me, until we lived far away from his old grade school, was that he was regularly bullied all through elementary school. Because his golden skin was a little too brown, and his Judaism was a little too Christ-killy for all the lily-white kids who filled those pristine halls.
How could I not see—refuse to see—that my well-meaning heart and my so unconsciously invisible-to-me white privilege could not ever shield my beautiful, loving, kind, smart black son from the consequence of the color of his skin?
Will my son be hunted? He already has been.
My mother tells me, “All we can do is hope that it gets better and the world changes.” But I say hope is not enough, not unless we hope with our deed. We must dosomething, we have to act, and act now, in order to make the changes that we seem to be dying for.
I just wish I knew what those actions were. I have to know—and soon—before my son, or yours, or anyone else’s, is hunted again.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

God of the Desert

We walked in the shadow time,
in the sun's reflected light.
The sun is like God in the desert,
We cannot look upon its face and live,
not while we walk,
not while we flee
not while we search for home.

We are the shadow people.

Mama carries my brother on her back,
I carry water. We both carry life.
Water is like God in the desert,
Hidden and precious
and a trickster illusionist,
a mirage that shimmers.
Still, it makes the desert bloom

I am thirsty, but I do not drink.

My stomach is tight, unfilled,
but I am used to this gnawing hunger.
Food is like God in the desert,
A gift to be gathered,
just enough and no more.
Too much will spoil.
Too much might kill you.

We have learned to live with hunger.

We reached the gates
in the almost light of dawn
Mama lifts my brother down,
and I see her shadowed face -
Careworn lines, desperate worry,
and bruise-smudged eyes of infinite compassion.
She is like God in the desert,
Abandoned. Exiled.
Deserted, with
forgiveness on her tongue.

Forgiveness is a balm in the wilderness.

The gates spark with the rising sun.
Hard iron delicately filigreed.
I imagine our footsteps are
a trail of sand and tears,
leading us home. 
Gates are like God in the desert,
welcoming strangers.
Opening. Closing.
Offering redemption to all who seek it.

I am a stranger everywhere we go.

We walk on cracked earth, 
forward on swollen feet,
to the gate of Heaven
while my mother cries out,
her arms suddenly empty and bare,
but the God of the desert
has already forgotten.

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Shape of Your Despair

I don't know the shape of your despair,
or the sound it makes when it
calls you to draw near.

I don't know its color,
or the shimmer of its dragonfly wings
that catch your gaze and draw you inward,
solitary, silent.

Does it even have wings that flutter and blur
and brush lightly against your skin,
soft, like a kiss, leaving a trail of tears
and tiny scars?

Or is that just the feel of my own?

Let me know it, your despair.
Sing me its siren song
of dissonant notes,
its wordless howl.
Let me know its shape,
and the taste it leaves on your tongue.

I will light a candle, or maybe
just sit in the dark with you
for a while, listening
to the keening wail,
and know you are not alone.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Simple: a story of despair and hope

Author's preface: I am profoundly grateful that I have not picked up a drink or a drug in over twenty-five years. I am profoundly grateful for the life I have been given as a result of that fact -  a life that has been filled with joy and pain and despair and love. Understand, please: I know that all of this can be gone in an instant. One of the things I have learned as I have walked this path of sobriety is that for all of the addictions I have chased, I was, at heart, addicted to self-destruction. I did not know Kate Spade or Anthoney Bourdain, but I recognize pieced of myself in them. I did not know them, but I could be them, in a moment, an instant, a single breath. I feel the pain of their loss, selfishly perhaps, because it could just as easily have been me.
What follows is my story, originally posted about five and a half years ago. For all the pain of addiction - what ever those addictions might be, whatever the demons we seek to chase or destroy  - there is hope. There is joy. Getting help - admitting that one needs help - can sometimes feel like the most impossible thing in the universe. I say this from personal experience. I am forever grateful that I reached out, however tentatively, however timidly, angrily, ungracefully in any given moment - I am grateful that I did. And because I did, I have this story to tell. Because I did, I can be present, to listen, to love, to comfort any who seek to unbind the chains of their despair.

Zichronam liv'rachah-- may their memories be for a blessing, and let us say "Amen."

You'd think that after 20 years, this would be easy.

Well, maybe not you, but did.  thought that after 20 years it would be easy to tell the story of these past 20 years. I am, after all, a writer. I do the words. That's my thing. More than most other things, I know how to tell the stories - some filled with wonder and light, some much harder, all twisty and dark-cornered, with frayed threads, but which, with infinite and practiced patience, can be woven together into a threadbare whole until a new story can be found. Sometimes wonder, sometimes hard and tinged with light.

You'd think, after 20 years - of living this life and mending all these frayed and broken threads, of finding purpose and dancing with God, of unimaginable pain and unbounded joy - of living this life, actually living a life filled to the very edges with life, with everything: love and anger and doubt and fear, failure and triumph, all the stuff of a life jammed together and barely contained-- you'd think...

So why isn't this easier?

Why is it so difficult to strip away the artifice and just tell the story, spare and unadorned and achingly simple? Why can't I just say: There was a time, a long time ago, when time was stuck, when nothing moved and nothing changed and nothing filled me and everything failed me. This is the story of how that all changed.

I was taught, early on in my anonymous recovery program, that when you tell your story, you say what it was like, what happened, and what it's like now. Simple.

So, what was it like? I like to believe that that's where the story takes a sharp left turn away from simple, passing complicated in a few easy strides, never looking back. That's the story I tell myself. I like the drama of that, the hint of darkness and the veiled promise of lurid disarray. As comfortably as I live in that drama, I remember what a friend told me one night, early in our sobriety, as we sat in my car under cover of a midnight sky, just learning the rules of friendship in a sober world. I told him my stories through the lens of my living chaos theory. And my dear Jonathan, my new and newly sober friend, he listened, allowed me to rant, took my hand when I'd finished and said "Stacey; you're not as evil as you think you are."  I may have hated him in that moment.

That's the thing, really: I want complex. I want drama and license and chaos. But the simple story, the easy story is this: There was a time when I was empty, and in my emptiness, time stood still. No light. No sound. Just an eternity of empty. Who needed chaos when I had despair? Who needs hope when you can chase more - more anything, take your pick: alcohol, drugs, sex, money. Strange, but no matter how much I drank, no matter which drug I used, the empty never got filled. All the despair, all the hopelessness, untouched. Untouchable. An infinite void fed by subtraction stew.

And after twenty years of forever, twenty years of standing motionless on a roiling sea of empty, twenty years of my motionless, intimate dance with self-destruction and more, I was done. That's the "what happened" part. I was done: I got sober. Easy-- got sober. Ha!  Just don't drink, right? Easy. How the hell do I do that?.

They told me, those people in the rooms, from their vantage points of a decade, a year, a day, an hour of sobriety "Don't drink and go to meetings."  Don't drink?  What?  How do you not drink?  How do you not chase that thirty seconds, where you finally sit in your own skin without feeling the need to crawl out of it, that singular instant of time where all the noise in your head stops and you can breathe, really just breathe? Thirty seconds-- that's all you got, ever.  Thirty seconds, where you fit and the gears didn't grind against you and you could just be.   And God, what I wouldn't give-- what I didn't give-- to chase those thirty seconds, again and again, with every sip.  Don't drink?  How the hell do you do that?

And they all of them smiled, and they nodded, and they knew-- all of them, from their lofty vantage point of a decade or three, a day or two, an hour or so--- "Don't drink.  Go to meetings. It gets better.  Simple."

I used to not believe in miracles.  I used to believe that God, if God really existed, had set me up to fail my life.  I used to believe that I couldn't live a life without drinking.

It's amazing the changes that happen when you finally can't imagine having to take one more drink. It's amazing how infinitesimally  the universe shifts when the pain of drinking becomes more than the fear of not. How profoundly simple life became: don't drink. Again and again, one second, one minute, an hour or three, and you just don't drink. No matter how much the pain of sobriety threatens to swallow you whole; no matter how exposed and raw you feel - every minute of every day, with not even an ounce of anything standing between you and the rest of the world; no matter how much you're tweaking and want to crawl inside that bottle. 

Again and again: don't drink, go to meetings, and the seconds crawl into minutes and stumble into days and bound into years and you suddenly have time. And you breathe, finally breathe. My God, you breathe and the air is cool and pure and fills your lungs like light. You breathe, and  suddenly you have a life, that moves and leaps and dances. And you look back, and it's twenty years later.  Twenty years, and you say: simple. 

And now? Now I have a life. A life by no means simple or easy; it wouldn't be mine if that were the case. It is a complex and rich tapestry that is filled to its very edges with life - with love and light and pain and hope. There has been despair enough to fill a thousand lifetimes, and hope enough to bring me to a breathless stop. I have been given gifts unimaginable. I have sought redemption and been offered forgiveness. I have learned to live with doubt, and revel in contradiction. I live in the miracle of a day, a day that stretches before me with infinite possibility and endless hope, filled with simple stories waiting to be found and told and lived, I have found a life that is mine, that moves and breathes and is filled with all the stuff of a life. I have found God, and I allow God to be. Just be, just as I believe God allows me to just be.  

There was a time, a long time ago, when time was stuck, when nothing moved and nothing changed and nothing filled me and everything failed me. And this is the story of how that all changed. This is the story of how it got better. This is the story of how I came to believe that I was never empty. This is the story of how I learned to breathe.


For all the blessings that fill me, for God's grace that lifts me, for all who teach me, simply, to live a sober life and hear God's voice, I give thanks, with humble and profound gratitude.