Day 6 of Chanukah arrives with a prose poem from our forthcoming retrospective, The Missing Jew: Poems 1976-2021 by Rodger Kamenetz. If you’ve read and enjoyed his poetry (or his nonfiction!), or if you’re new to it, it will bring light into your life – quite literally.
Before we start, you can also take a look at the earlier updates:
And now, let’s read this poem inspired by the Rebbe Nachman of Breslov!
To Add Light to a Name by Rodger Kamenetz
— after Rebbe Nachman Sichos HaRan #44 “On the topic of a person’s name”
Am I a misspelling? Perhaps there are too many versions for any to be convincing. In one version you will bless intricacies. I see in the fey of rafael a dangling yod. And a white bet traced in black which meaning calls house. I will bet on a hidden bet the b-b-b-b of first creation. Letters inside letters spell hidden lives. The rebbe said I will take your name and permute —do not say it is a trick. Do not say this! It is a great work to add light to aname.
Or in a dream to seal a body in light to brave a darkened door. To wrap wings of presence around trembling shoulders. Every word has secret doors. I will find levels in my name or stumble through a trap. There is a trope in your name rebbe. You drew me into yours and we fell together in the Nameless Who says I kill and I make live.
All around me I saw live the light in every name.
Thank you for reading! We will be back after Shabbat 🙂 Shabbat shalom, chag sameach and chodesh tov!
You voted on which of our books I should introduce next, and the winner was:
🐝 THE SABBATH BEE 🐝 by Wilhelmina Gottschalk!
Heartwarming, thought-provoking, sometimes gender-bending prose poems about Shabbat 🥰 Because we all need some warmth for this new year!
These poems feature some sort of personification of Shabbat. The classic one, of course, is Shabbat the queen, Shabbat the bride… but this book very deliberately goes beyond that. As Gottschalk says in the foreword:
“There are times when Shabbat might be more like a visiting uncle than a queen. And for that matter, as a citizen of a representative democracy, how should I feel about royalty?”
Shabbat can be anything really.
“if Shabbat can be a queen, doesn’t it stand to reason that he can also be a grandparent? Or a blanket? Or to take an idea from the Kabbalist Shlomo Halevi, the ruins of a mighty city?”
(SHABBAT IS TOTALLY A BLANKET. I am CONVINCED)
Every week, Shabbat is different, so there are poems in the book for each week of the year, and then some more. As the author explains, sometimes you feel like “Oh, it’s Friday again!” 😍 And sometimes you feel like “Oh. It’s Friday. Again?” 😩
Some of the poems are very short, some are longer. Some are for special Shabbatot, like the ones falling on holidays, or Shabbat Shuvah, which is coming right up!!! (It’s between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.)
Let’s start with a tiny one.
Battered by the week, I lean into Shabbat. “Can we just cuddle tonight?”
We actually posted the Rosh Hashanah one recently on our parent publisher’s Twitter account, so you can head over there to read it – it’s a bit longer and titled “Beads”. (Very sensorily satisfying if you like that kind of thing!)
Some of the segments are very serious. Some are fun! Some are little stories that miiiiiiiiight sound familiar.
Let me share “The Muse-Shabbat Smackdown”!
Friday at 6:45, my muse knocks on the door.
Shabbat answers. “Oh, it’s you. What do *you* want?” she asks.
“Who is it?” I call.
My muse starts to answer, but Shabbat cuts her off. “No one! Just a salesperson!” She glares at my muse. “You can’t come in now. It’s *my* time.”
My muse raises her hands in confusion, diaphanous robes fluttering. “But, I just have this one really great idea-“
“Tough. Come back in twenty-five hours.”
“Can I just leave a message? A short little-“
Shabbat glares. “I don’t take dictation,” she says, slamming the door in my muse’s face.
I watch from the end of the hallway, slipping back into the kitchen before Shabbat turns around. When she glides back into the room and cups her body against my back, I pretend nothing happened.
Shabbat is a taste of paradise, but she can be jealous.
I think that’s painfully relatable! Now let’s pick another one where Shabbat is more like… things. Or rather, processes? (to paraphrase William James, Shabbat is a process, not a thing 😆 ) I really enjoy these reconceptualizations –
The first moment of Shabbat is when everything becomes easy.
Shabbat is the waterslide after waiting in line under the summer sun. Shabbat is the tiny change in calculation that makes X finally mark the spot. It is the moment when the 3-D picture resolves itself, when the pie dough reaches the right consistency. Shabbat is slippers after stilettos, a real hug after a week of quick pats on the back. When the curtains open and the first streams of Shabbat shine in, the middling details and distant humming vanish.
It all happens in the flare of a match, the last sliver of sunlight. You just have to know the magic words.
But you know, Shabbat is actually drag. The next piece might convince you 😁 (All-ages! While we have certainly published some VERY adult content elsewhere, this is not it.)
The cover of night
Night falls, the darkness spreading over the sky as a shelter of peace. On Shabbat someone asks, “To what can the black sky be likened?”
One says – to the roof of a tent.
(But no, a tent protects from storms and poor weather, while the night sky often brings with it rain or hail.)
Says another – to a covering blanket. (But although Shabbat is a day of rest, surely most celebrants will be awake very late, enjoying its festive cheer.)
Is not the darkness of Shabbat like a wedding canopy? asks a third.
(Perhaps, but only two stand beneath a wedding canopy, while the whole world is shadowed by the dark.)
And finally a child speaks, saying, “The sky of Shabbat is like dress-up clothes, that let anyone underneath become a king or queen for just a little while.”
(SEE, I TOLD YOU)
And for the last piece today, I picked something a little mysterious… that resolves into something very familiar…
Shabbat was hiding.
Somewhere in the house, I hoped. The windows were all closed, and anyway I hated the idea of him lost in the hard, unfriendly outside. I looked everywhere, pretending that I was just cleaning as I checked under the couch, behind the curtains, in drawers.
No luck. Next I tried to lure him with the smell of pie just out of the oven, fresh bread from the bakery. Nothing.
I lit candles hoping to attract him like a moth. I sang his favorite songs.
Finally, I gave up. I collapsed on the sofa and watched the candles burn until the room went dark.
…And sometime in the middle of the night I woke up with a crick in my neck and the warm, fuzzy feeling of Shabbat curled up warm against my stomach. I shifted to a more comfortable position and fell back asleep.
Thank you for reading – I hope these poems brought a bit of Shabbat cheer and warmth into your weekday!