I’m going to write a poem about anti-Semitism, but
this one’s going to be acceptable. This poem about anti-Semitism
won’t take too much of your time or attention. It will skip
backward at least fifty years to discuss some things
we can all agree on. The images will be no louder than sepia.
There will be a little Holocaust in this poem—
maybe a pair of shoes, or something else you’ve seen
in a glass case. The idea is only to moisten your eyes
but not to ask you to spill over. Your name will not be in this poem.
Nothing now. You will not get tired of this poem
about anti-Semitism, and it won’t leave you angry. You won’t
want to stop this poem at the gates.
The goal of this poem about anti-Semitism is calm. It won’t say
the things. No, this poem will enter the room quietly, will
only open its mouth to mumble please and thank you
before it slips away again. This poem will work for you.
Tired people will carry their sepia suitcases
through the poem about anti-Semitism, and you’ll feel for them;
they were a long time ago.
On Yom Kippur, Judaism shrinks to the room we’re in,
this church we’ve borrowed for the day. Our phones are off.
Our radios, our laptops closed, we sing about we and
what we’ve done, with the people who are here. There is
no other world that we know of. Other Jews gather elsewhere;
they have their own enclosures. And though we think of them
we won’t know if they’re okay until we turn the world
back on. This is the quiet. We immerse ourselves in distractions—
hunger and thirst. We read about forgiveness. Outside this church
there are police watching, or there were for the morning service.
The synagogue board member gets up to thank the rabbis
and point out all the exits. Outside, who shall be at peace, and
who pursued? Soon it’ll be dark. We atone feverishly,
the gates closing we don’t know when.
David Ebenbach is the author of nine books of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction, including his new poetry collection, What's Left to Us by Evening, as well as a spiritual guide to the creative process called The Artist's Torah. His books have won such awards as the Juniper Prize, the Drue Heinz Literature Prize, and the Patricia Bibby Award. He lives with his family in Washington, DC, where he teaches creative writing and literature at Georgetown University. You can find out more, if you like, at davidebenbach.com.