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In the Days of Awe

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for Abbe, Sally, and Joseph

I Amidah

Hear my personal prayer, the words of my mouth and the meditation
of my heart that I may find a way back through love
In the hospital room   packed in blood-soaked cotton   the new mother lay
animal-exhausted   technicians whisked the child away   in the first
hours there was fear O teach me to withhold judgment

of the one who took my place who said yes when I said no
whose days opened to the child when my days foreclosed
she who conceived of joy where I imagined the crossbar
against my chest   subjugation of family life   the double
harness   the never ending tasks   the clamp and vise

II Shofar

The shofar blasts birthday of the world of our dominion
over nature in the Kingdom of the Lord our God Ruler
of the Universe   Then why am I weeping into this tissue?
What is this child to me who refused to stay and raise him?
What is the broken covenant, this yoke?

III Tashlikh

By a small stream as is customary
we cast into the water with its drift
of leaves our quarrels like stones our envies
and resentments O Lord   You do not maintain anger
but delight in forgiveness

IV Aleinu

You take me down to the nursery to see
Joseph in his little cap of many colors
with hi jaundice and his brisk efficient keepers
Will you be kind? Cleanse my mind of wickedness
Teach me to attain a heart of wisdom

In the synagogue the families praise all fruitbearing trees
and cedars   all wild beasts and cattle   I watch a woman
and her teenage daughter confer   lean into each other
They hold the mahzor between them   their mouths shape the beautiful
Hebrew I do not know how to read except in transliteration

V Teshuvah

Turn from evil and do good   the Psalmist says   turning
Round the turn   turn the key   clock the turn   turn in time
time to turn words into footsteps   to lead the young colt to the field
to turn from the old year   the old self   You are ready
to turn and be healed   only face   only begin

VI Amidah

Inscribe him in the Book of Life for Your sake   living God
She opened up the book of her body again and again
She would not stop trying though I mocked her   a year
ended and a year began   I had no imagination for family life
inhabiting sadly that place for years

inhabiting sadly that place for years   with me   who chose
to keep my faith with those who sleep in dust   she chose
against the quiet house and noiseless rooms she chose
to bear her mortal woman’s hare and split her life in two
or three or four   she said I know what you want   I want more

VII Avinu malkeinu

Avinu malkeinu inscribe us in the Book of Deliverance
Avinu malkeinu inscribe us in the Book of Merit
Avinu malkeinu inscribe us in the Book of Forgiveness
Sarah beseeched God for a child and brought forth Isaac
And Sally brought forth Joseph   Amen

A voice commands the lightning that cleaves stones
A voice shatters stately cedars
A voice twists the trees and strips the forest bare
The devout say In your love for your neighbor will you find God
They say Days are scrolls   Write only what you want remembered

VIII Kedushah

We believe that God abides in mystery   in a diaspora of dust
in the obsessive   the compulsive   the disordered   in the lonely
in the bosses   in the unendurable   in the technological
and pharmaceutical failures   in the very old
in the newborn   in memory   in kindness   in acts of lovingkindness

We believe that God abides in the unfit   in those unshielded
by luck or faith and by bad luck made abject by the unctuous
I believe in the uncomputerized and the demoralized
the belittled and benumbed gazing like dumb beasts
like my sister groping mid-seizure back to speech

IX Mourner’s Kaddish

Bless my sister who could not endure   bless her failure to thrive
and bless my parents in their magnificent witness
Sanctify this Day of Remembrance   Grant them peace
from the clichéd language of condolence cards   Be merciful to those
who passed Your blessed days in a curtained room of shame

In the public place   in the hall outfitted with a simple ark
the mourners stand   Whom shall I dread? we ask with our private
dreads on our civic faces   We are an assembly of stunned
children called to recite Yit-gadal ve-yit kadash shmei raba
There is always someone to mourn   Look around

X The Fast of Yom Kippur

Look around   the congregation atones   we certify regret
we recall our transgressions   and those who transgressed against us
Where is my milk?   Joseph cries and she feeds him   The Torah
teaches repentance   I remember my zayde, a shrunken man
at the front of the shul fasting   By the last Aleinu he could not stand

My father brought smelling salts   the son who did no know
the prayers sat with his father   His life was one long prayer
in the hereness of God    On the maternity floor food and flowers
Choose life! shouts baby Joseph tightly bound in a cotton blanket
I’m afraid it’s time to go says the kind nurse after visiting hours

XI Selihot

The days of women and men are as grass.
They flourish as flowers in the field.
The wind passes over them and is gone,
and no one can recognize where they grew.

XII Amidah

Inscribe for me a childless life   O lift me
to the Book of Many Forms that I might find another way
to honor my father and mother   their agony of bereavement
Let me understand the girl child I was   beloved as Joseph in his coat
of many colors, favored by his father   hated by his brothers

and by his brothers thrown into the pit   Then to live among strangers
in Egypt far from family   Bind me to these friends and to this child
that I may learn my true relation to the people of this story
Sanctify difference and refusal   bless
the lesbians   the child with two mothers   Amen

Robin Becker, "In the Days of Awe" from The Horse Fair: Poems, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Copyright © 2000 by Robin Becker.  Reprinted by permission of Robin Becker.
Source: The Horse Fair: Poems (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2000)
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