Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Battle not with monsters
Lest ye become a monster,

And if you gaze into the abyss
The abyss gazes also into you.

Nietzsche, as quoted in Watchmen, p.28

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Song ov Elmallahz Kumming, Part 6

I began my epic, 6 part poem, The Song ov Elmallahz Kumming in the early 1990's, and completed almost all of the writing by about 2000. I also completed fair copies of the first 5 books by about 2000. However, Book 6, set in the Shoah (the Holocaust), remained as a rough copy only. I continue to work on it. The following poem, written in 2004, was an attempt to pull the poem's many strands together into a narrative ending, while allowing the poem's non-narrative threads to defy a sense of completeness.

In this scene you will find the main character on the run from the nazi death-grip. One thing you will need to know: she was asked to carry a Torah scroll to the Yishuv (Jewish settlements) in Palestine. She accepted this burden unwillingly, and to cope with its weight, and as a layer of protection, she wrapped it around her body. Thus her comment in this scene:
          “I kan unrap this parchmen skin,
          “Remoov it, re-roel it, delivver it. Dun!”

And thus...

Sleeping by Day, Nietmaerz all Nite

Nite and its deth dans. The dog men sirkel,
The tooth men, the slavver men,
The howling, rifel, toyfel men.
Heer the skreem, the long traen rumbel.
A berd skreechez and the aer iz torn
By a fleeting, fluttering fether. It fallz.
A flashlite bliendz her; deth skwod and deth grip...

She waeks. The sun iz glaring thru the brush
Krying, “Jew, Jew!” It points and akkuzez,
Ware she kerl, bareed in a mownd a ded leef.
Slolee she ternz, but the leevz erupt
In kersez and showting. She frezez. The throng
Ov akkuzerz tern mute. Thaer deth-state prevaelz.
Thay retern tu thaer erth, tu thaer fodder-land dreemz.
The wind lifts them and kareez them awway,
Skipping down a kartpath allong a feeld.
Thay flutter akross a swampee streem,
And intu the owtskerts ov a haf-bernd town.
All iz kwiyet. Aproeching its senter,
Oeld men on bieks, wimmen kriskrossing
The streets, peering in windo, smoking.
The smellz ov koffee and baking bred
Leenger in the aer. Awtum leevz
Liften by a gust ov wind, ar kareed...

She openz her iyz, liez still, liez bareed
In the mustee leevz. The sun haz driften
Far tu the west. Now klowdee, now windee,
The forres iz all allive, arrussel.
Konfuezd, she slolee emerj frum leef-tume.

On a distant hill a minnerret and dome.
The aer iz worm. She kannot understan.
But az sleep a-faden, she rememmer. Yes!
She wuz krossen frum Libnon intu Gallallee.
She evaded the Brits and the Arab zhendarmz.
A Jewish settelmen shoud not be far.
Stund, exxosted, she lay bak down.

She theenks, “I kan unrap this parchmen skin,
     “Remoov it, re-roel it, delivver it. Dun!”
She woud reech tu her aenkel but all she kan du
Iz groen and seenk bak in shrowden leevz.*
                    * Eeka d’omray “dreemz;”
                    * Eeka d’omray “lievz.”

She waeks wuns mor, kerreld in her dreemz,
Her greefs, her kersez, her proffettek hope.
Rapt in her Torra, its sollewbel eenk
Smeerz in her skin, so intu her Seel.
Yet tu go on, she knoez not how far.
The darkness, the embedden Prezzens, it kawlz.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Spiritual Assents

The following is from Pardaes Dokkumen, Plowmen at Faer.

Breeng Forth Maze frum the Feel
               Roesh Khodesh Adar tu Shuvvuwoet, 5765

A skriber wuns sed tu sum men in Pardaes:
The trueth e full ov hewman debree
Like the Addom in yu that iz ballas yur Seel;
Wut part iz karben, wut part khorbon*?
                    * Hebrew: burnt offering
Wut part taken, wut part tekun**?
                    ** Hebrew: repair/re-form
Wut part bane, wut part bone***?
                    *** utherz say “bonay”, Hebrew: build

The trueth iz a thred, it maezlike weev
Akross the mobeyus warp ov yur Addom
And its Shaddiy Seel, wun an the same.
Thro off this worp; unwaev* yur sellz!
                    * utherz say “unweev”
And then kan yu tell me hu yu ar?
And then kan yu tell me wy yu ar heer?
Kan yu even tell me if yu ar heer?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Learned at a Facing History seminar

As a teacher, one of the most important resources and teaching methods I have encountered is the Facing History and Ourselves approach ( They describe themselves as "Helping classrooms and communities worldwide link the past to moral choices today."

In an online seminar I am currently taking with them I came across the writings of Eboo Patel, an American Muslim from India. Among his many accomplishments, he is the founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core. I don't often post other people's writings here, but this little anecdote is worth repeating many times. He writes:

When I was in college, I had the sudden realization that all of my heroes were people of deep faith: Dorothy Day, the Dalai Lama, Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Malcolm X, the Aga Khan. Moreover, they were all of different faiths. A little more research revealed two additional insights. First, This reading contains excerpts from Eboo Patel’s, Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation. religious cooperation had been central to the work of most of these faith heroes. The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. partnered with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in the struggle for civil rights. Mahatma Gandhi stated that Hindu Muslim unity was just as important to him as a free India. Second, each of my faith heroes assumed an important leadership role at a young age. King was only twenty-six years old when he led the Montgomery bus boycott. Gandhi was even younger when he started his movement against unjust laws in early-twentieth-century South Africa.

. . . In high school, the group I ate lunch with included a Cuban Jew, a Nigerian Evangelical, and an Indian Hindu. We were all devout to a degree, but we almost never talked about our religions with one another. Often somebody would announce at the table that he couldn’t eat a certain kind of food, or any food at all, for a period of time. We all knew religion hovered behind this, but nobody ever offered any explanation deeper than “my mom said,” and nobody ever asked for one.

This silent pact relieved all of us. We were not equipped with a language that allowed us to explain our faith to others or to ask about anyone else’s. Back then, I thought little about the dangers lurking within this absence. A few years after we graduated, my Jewish friend reminded me of a dark time during our adolescence. There were a group of kids in our high school who, for several weeks, took up scrawling anti-Semitic slurs on classroom desks and making obscene statements about Jews in the hallways. I did not confront them. I did not comfort my Jewish friend. I knew little about what Judaism meant to him, less about the emotional effects of anti-Semitism, and next to nothing about how to stop religious bigotry. So I averted my eyes and avoided my friend, because I couldn’t stand to face him.

A few years later, he described to me the fear he had experienced coming to school those days, and his utter loneliness as he had watched his close friends simply stand by. Hearing him recount his suffering and my complicity is the single most humiliating experience of my life. I did not know it in high school, but my silence was betrayal: betrayal of Islam, which calls upon Muslims to be courageous and compassionate in the face of injustice; betrayal of America, a nation that relies on its citizens to hold up the bridges of pluralism when others try to destroy them; betrayal of India, a country that has too often seen blood flow in its cities and villages when extremists target minorities and others fail to protect them. My friend needed more than my silent presence at the lunch table.

Pluralism is not a default position, an autopilot mode. Pluralism is an intentional commitment that is imprinted through action. It requires deliberate engagement with difference, outspoken loyalty to others, and proactive protection in the breach. You have to choose to step off the faith line onto the side of pluralism, and then you have to make your voice heard. To follow Robert Frost, it is easy to see the death of pluralism in the fire of a suicide bombing. But the ice of silence will kill it just as well.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Atternen Jewz

This from 3/22/10, 7 Nissan 5770, week ov Tzav, continues to explore the place of the Jew in consciousness. "The Jew" is such a mythically charged idea that to understand anti-Semitism (and certain aspects of philo-Semitism) requires more, much more, than just a knowledge of politics, history, and religions.

I Am In Yuez

I am in yuez, but I am not yuez.
I the standen az the dorren yur Seel.

Wen yu open that dorz, yu a let me inz.
     The vizhennaerz ammung yuez, report ov my seez.
     “O wunness o goudness o divvine harmenneez!”
Wen that dorren openz all ov itsell,
     I louks inside an shout akross yur waeslanz
     Reporten sumz ov my seez in yu.

Trembenz and wunderz shake yur grownd.
Yu kannot a standen tu my ups and downz.
     An Aenjel a Deth I am for the dyen.
     Hu groen week, say I korrup thaer kine.
     Thay see almoes nuthen, the massez a bliend.
     Hu aspiyern tu Godz kallen me saevyaer.
     Hem standen in Tempel kallz me khuvvaer*.
                    *Hebrew for 'friend' or 'partner'