Dialectic In Abeyance
With little direction from their teacher,
the children—boys in white shirts and blue shorts,
girls in white blouses and blue plaid jumpers,
both genders united by navy blue knee socks—
file tidily up the stone stairs, presumably into the sanctuary,
out of view of the heretic loitering across the street, in any case.
The children are being schooled in the intricacies of submission.
They will remember these outings: the break from the classroom,
these homilies and sermons, their own links in the chain of tradition.
They will remember the candles in daylight and, with eyes lowered,
the rhythm of call and response: knowing what to say when.
They will remember the palace of certainty shielding the unknowable.
Children of the uncertain or the unbelieving, on the other hand,
will have no such collective memory, reflects the heretic.
They will not have entered edifices constructed long ago to celebrate
a force unseen, to sing hymns to events that may not have happened,
all the while rejoicing in the flutter of the dark
that will soothe away the summer and the dust of doubt.
Even if they arrive here later in life,
children of the uncertain or the unbelieving will never have had
this foundation, the ease of assumed understanding.
They will have to work harder to master these arcana, to submit,
for they have not learned through precepts bequeathed by elders.
Their missteps in the labyrinth, along with their zeal, will be noted.
They may find themselves longing for the ways of their parents, the
mess of uncertainty and unbelieving. They may remember arguments
at the kitchen table, figures gesticulating on a soapbox, reason marshaled
to question authority, action direct with a placard or an editorial or
bodies. Perhaps he will see these children some day outside a lecture or
labor hall or a bathhouse, thought the heretic, turning finally away.
Briefly, they could swap stories from opposite sides of the heretical fence.
A Meditation On the Question Of Agency
How did the heretic land on this rickety footstool,
cowering before the junkies near Sabbath’s end while others
celebrate the movement victories. He gazes at the letters that have
fluttered in from those transfixed by the model of his hereticism,
yet who have chosen a different path,
or rather to remain on the one they all once shared.
He stares blankly at the postmarks and the scrawled invitations
for meetings, with their curiosity and need.
Against the cacophony of coffee machines, these have not gone well.
There are claims made, criticisms leveled.
It is suggested that he compose on other topics: on – or – , for instance.
The heretic is exhorted to “get perspective” and “lighten up”
for this is a free country.
The flames of the auto-da-fe do not lick at his heels.
The hangman’s noose does not hover here,
as it does elsewhere.
And then there are the offerings from those reared in milder environs.
From them the question is posed:
what have you done, what will you now that you are no longer caged?
Rather than dwell, it is felt that he should incorporate all that is best
from his not-quite-former world into his currently evolved self.
He has the power to fashion a confident, yet rooted persona.
Wear what you wish, but avoid labels and fixed identities.
Know that, in fact, you are not a heretic, they contend.
The heretic does not answer or dismiss these criticisms, questions,
and contentions, none of which are, after all, unreasonable.
Not from restraint or stoicism, but in deference to the quiet not yet his.
Having mastered the praxis of flight, liberation remains for him an
abstraction. No longer on the footstool, he now stands in the center of
the circle of stones on the brink of being cast while reaching for
the embrace of the departing Sabbath queen.
A crow peers forth from his quivering, serrated throat.
The People Of the Book . . . Without Books?
The wives whispered at the butcher and in the market
and on departing the bathhouse after ritual immersion;
the husbands in the house of study
and while selecting the citrons and palm branches.
They shook their heads and clicked their tongues,
looking down so as not to see.
It was shocking, as you can imagine, and yet not
in that way that only decrees affecting the People of the Book can be.
Only just released, it was already plastered on bulletin boards
outside prayer halls and on doors and telephone poles.
Seemingly ubiquitous. Yet no one quite knew how they had gotten there
since no one had been seen posting them. Is there a traitor among us?
A meeting in the synagogue was convened on Tuesday evening.
After long prayers composed for occasions such as this,
shouting erupted. The rabbi proved unable to control the frenzy,
which could well have been heightened by the days of fasting.
The burly beadle and his henchmen, whose physical prowess
was feared by all, Jew and gentile alike, had to step in and restore order.
Even if temptations of the flesh could be completely filtered out
to save us and our children from ruin,
the synagogue’s chief benefactor wondered,
and that is far from a given for cunning is the Evil Inclination,
could legal permission actually be granted?
How shall we pray on the Sabbath and holidays
when electronic devices are forbidden?
And how dare we depart from the path of our ancestors,
they who touched and swayed over and died for these holy books
and from the ground below where the fragments are buried,
cried the cantor in intonation normally reserved for the Days of Awe.
And how shall the weekly Torah portion be recited,
the words that unite our people in homeland and diaspora alike,
for surely scrolls will not be spared, wept the Torah reader,
so young and already renowned across several provinces
for a style of cantillation stunning in its
precision of enunciation and mastery of melody.
We shall descend underground. No, we shall study the ways of the martyrs.
Cease! God will reveal the means, the rabbi said, resuming prayer.
Leaves rustling in gratitude, only the trees rejoiced.
Yermiyahu Ahron Taub is the author of three books of poetry, Uncle Feygele (Plain View Press, 2011), What Stillness Illuminated/Vos shtilkayt hot baloykhtn (Parlor Press, 2008; Free Verse Editions series), and The Insatiable Psalm (Wind River Press, 2005). He was honored by the Museum of Jewish Heritage as one of New York ’s best emerging Jewish artists and has been nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize and twice for a Best of the Net award. Please visit his web site at www.yataub.net.