Simchat Torah, 5784

 

On Simchat Torah, we wound the scroll,
four handles between us all
to bear the fallen stone of our story
back to its origin—back to its place

of honour—like the four elders of Mecca
keeping the stations assigned to them by the Prophet.
I watched the long rows of letters
reel past like the flowing Jordan,

thinking of my favourite Hebrew word,
איתן—which means ‘firm’, ‘enduring’,
and ‘ever-flowing’—stood beside
the cantor thinking of how her voice waters

every bed of lilies the scribe has planted,
heals every seam between
the parchments as they turn. How I have envied
her this precious gift, with a generous envy

that would not take it from her, but wishes
only that my voice might hang from hers
like the fingers of Ruth’s desperate hands
curled into the smooth of Naomi’s cloak.

Alas, it falls always from her dove’s
height—dandelion seeds
scattered like bouquets of cut flowers
upon broken concrete, a dripping of ink

from the back of the parchment-like oil dripping
from an old car. I don’t doubt,
of course, that God keeps promises
even when the rainbow slides away

unseen into the storm drain,
so why is it so hard to keep
faith in myself, scrolling through four
days of texts and finding nothing

but clattered pebbles at the bottom of a shaft?
Oh, my friend . . . once these hands
carved swans of consolation,
pitched them into the air for all

the quarters—every form of malady—
made stone into seed, with no grief
so barren that some tenacious flower
could not take root in the heart of a companion.

This was my gift, uncantillated
but flowing freely from my splintered chest.
How I loved that other word, נהר,
which is both stream and shine—which is

all that any growing thing
might need. ניצן, bud,
reminded me always of ניצח, victory,
and every triumph had its song

to redeem a cracking voice—to move
the heavy, tired feet still caked
in the mud of the seabed to dance. But I
am undone, rewound, and who is like Miriam?

Not I. Not now. Not when her timbrel
has been returned to the silence of the furled scroll
—a stone across a tomb leaving
chippings as it rolls, flakes that are my tongue.

I stutter sorrows, condolences, mute
understandings that grasp wildly at the air,
but the parsha that will make my stutter an appeal
has not yet come. Who is like Aaron,

to silver the new moon of my lips?
Who is like unto the prophet who is like
unto Moses, to fit the burnt-out chariot
of my mouth with a wheel of iron, unconquered?

But all these things are the same—aren’t they?—
as the darkness that was in the beginning, as the
shadow cast in the scroll’s curl,
as a black stone broken off a sky

that gives no light or water until the word
is spoken—until Miriam sings a well.
The dance is over. The dance is yet
to come. I descend the bimah and all

my words, like wilted flowers, scatter
at my kicking steps.

About the Poem

People ask if my family is okay. They are not; all Jews are my family, and I have spent these days thinking of my Israeli ‘eema’ (mom) who taught me Hebrew, of the young woman from my Minnesota synagogue who is serving in the IDF, and so many others, but also of Palestinian friends whose kindness and generosity I have never forgotten, who taught me ahadith (oral traditions) of the Prophet and his companions and inspired me to study comparative religion in graduate school. This poem was written on the fourth day of the war, looking back at my texts with a Jewish friend, and realizing with terrible frustration how few words, trivial and helpless, I had been able to find to try to soothe our shared grief. Someday we will–all of us–dance together in peace again, but that day is not today, and I fear we will wait for it a long time.

About the Author

Reyzl Grace is a poet, essayist, translator, short story writer, and post-Soviet Jewish lesbian from Alaska. She is a past Pushcart nominee and finalist for the Jewish Women’s Poetry Prize and Best Literary Translations and has been featured in Room, Rust & Moth, the Times of Israel, and elsewhere. By day, she is a teen services librarian in Minneapolis—by night, a poetry editor for Psaltery & Lyre and Cordella Magazine. You can find more of her at reyzlgrace.com and on Twitter/Bluesky @reyzlgrace

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