Archives for posts with tag: poetry

F9781627200141-OneNation-COV.inddor a polyglot midrashic poetic joyride on a Yiddish-English-Baltimore-American bassackward hybrid – with musical cantor-brown-300x200stylings too – come see me and Cantor Ariane Brown at Adas Israel Congregation, Washington, DC, on Sunday, November 8th. I’ll read from my book of poetry One Nation Taken Out of Another, which features the following main characters:

Avra(ha)m of Ur
Avrom Sutzkever
Matriarchs aplenty
Amy Weinhouse
et al.

America! You’re frustrating
Though substantively less hating
(at least this week, for some subgroups.
Regarding others — ha ha, oops…).

America! You love the loving
But can be nasty, push-and-shoving.
Can we get our shit together
Ere End Times’ catastrophic weather?

I like you lots, my favorite land,
The number 1 refuge for scound-
rels, mountebanks, and smarties:
Frauds and blackguards of both parties.

A poem from One Nation Taken Out of Another.



The songs you liked are now ironic —
The slope of age is monotonic.
A creature needs her gin and tonic
To ascertain if she’s bionic:

Thereafter, calmed to an irenic
Trance (Synthetic? Analytic?)
You realize ages are syncretic.
Decades are no mere static metric

But drive – in toto – an organic
Plunge, more Virgil than Titanic.

Why then does your mirror panic?

Some new poems of mine were published in the journal The Legendary. Here they are below.


I wake up with a craving for the whole damn diamond
yet scrabble for shards.

Light shatters on my grayish rainment.

Every hour is my friend:
I name them after beetles.

Everything Has a Hole In It

Everything has a hole in it
and all the holes line up
a telescope of defect
a tube of not-enough
to see right through to error
or what might come to pass
You try to catch the football
and whump right on your ass
remember that you never
should play a sport at all.
Passivity’s your call.
This should have been foreseen:
mene, tekel, ufarsin.
So how can we repair?
What thoughts can we select
Already on the stair
Away from the repast
Full of insult and eclairs?
There is a lining up of holes.
There is a defect-rich alignment.
This they did not teach in school.
You give yourself this one assignment.


In the membrane of my heart
curls a cardiac worm,
uncorking bloodflow’s spurt
as current squirms.

“That’s not how these things work!
There IS no ‘cardiac worm’!”
But my muscle is verrucous.
And sensations: vermiform.

What It’s Like

Myths bloom among mistakes.
A voyage of secrets:
along the routes of truth
you hear real screams.

Put down your pencil. People are dying
on the artists’ street.
What’s the point of rhyme
when your body doesn’t know what’s worse:

instant fire, or aimlessness
in endless hallways.
The poetic license expires.

Put down your pencil. You manage
instant sympathy.
You feel in your entrails
the hand of annihilation.

A missile eliminates
A bomb shatters you.

You are now expert in possible demises
The end of a straw-packed trunk of dreams

What’s life like
in death’s developments?


Today marks the anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, and to commemorate it I’ll repost a poem I wrote 4 years ago (originally published here).



She was a woman worth a certain amount

to her family: a pension or lump sum.

All I could say was this is human

when I saw her on the street, red

gathered at what must have been her neck. Count

the holes in my body — she faced me: I retched — some

of which I made when jumping. What man

reckons what the living owe the dead?

I didn’t kill you. My every liberal part

aches for the laborer, the immigrant,

the seamstress whose callused finger bled.

I’m killed and rise up daily. My scalded heart

fibrillates, a sack of worker ants.

My words in your mouth are beit-din’s lead.

Here are some poems to read if you are too far away to get shalekhmones from me. Or if you don’t celebrate Purim at all…these poems are still for you.


Purim Doggerel 2014

Herring Barrels
Dvoyre Fogel (1934)

Round like the world, like the city
five hooped barrels of herring
in the grocer’s

Five round wooden barrels
of fat gray salted herring.


And on faraway glassy seas
narrow ships loaded with fish
— fish gray and velvety like an autumn sky —
ships cool, blue, the faraway
of resigned steely landscapes

And on hot seas
of blue cobalt and ultramarine
ships loaded with oranges
meaty bananas and humid dates

Ships from brass landscapes
where the sun is a great metal ingot
where on streets elastic like gold foil
everything is for the first time and urgent.
Fantastic and out of nothing
like old world-weary bananas. Like oranges.
Like people who’ve gambled away their constellations.



My translation from the Yiddish (original here). Originally published in Eleven Eleven.

I’ve picked a vocation (physician) and avocation (poet) which have a lot in common. Here I’ll leave aside the rareified literary and spiritual aspects and talk instead about the practicalities of self-promotion: getting stuff out there, submitting the carefully polished pantoum*or the clever villanelle – or the report of a study which one slaved over for years. 

The two venues, the scientific journal on the one hand and the literary journal on the other, each have something to teach us about the best way editors and writers can interact. (They have plenty to tell us about the worst ways, too, but let me be positive today.)

Poetry journals…

  • usually acknowledge explicitly that their decisions on acceptance or rejection are by necessity made subjectively. Not laboring under the scientist’s delusion that they are pure empiricists, they are cheerfully prepared to admit that a lot of acceptance is luck.
  • thus differ one from another in matters of style as much as strict criteria of quality. 
  • usually have frequent special issues with interesting and well-known guest editors.
  • throw launch parties with snacks

Scientific journals, for their part

  • provide, through their reviewers, copious and often helpful comments on the submission. 
  • are conveniently searchable through well-indexed databases (providing you are an academic with access to them)
  • cater to an international audience
  • are at least supposed to consider submissions while blinded to the authors’ identities

The best journals in both categories should combine all these virtues…what do you think?


*which I’ve never written

The Bal-Shem stands at the village edge
and sees the night roll up its veils.
Dark, and in the darkness fires flash:
A golden vision on the black soil.

A golden vision on the flag of night.
Thrice holy. He falls down, kneels
and drinks up its soul like a melody
which the wind brought from a distant steppe.

Drunk with the colors and magic
he stays a moment more, alone with the night
until a prayer starts its twilight on his visage.

Then he runs back to the joy of settlement
knocking on dark walls with the news
“The world is holy and three times beautiful!”

Original Yiddish here. Translation mine.