The hairy-goat is to bear upon itself all their sins to a desolate land…
Our Sages say that each of us has two pockets.
One holds a slip of paper:
all I am is dust & ashes and to dust I shall return.
The other holds a slip of paper:
the whole world was created just for me.
When we are full of ourselves, the first pocket
cautions us that all wanting ends in dust.
When we are empty-hearted, the second pocket
consoles us with the temptation…
of everything. I say we also have a third pocket,
slim & hidden, and fastened with a velvet clasp.
Each Yom Kippur, between we have offended
and we have rebelled, we undo the clasp
(one by one & unbeknownst to anyone), lift out
a threadbare message penned by our own hand:
all my vows were really not-vows;
all my obligations, not-obligations.
And each year between who by fire and who by
water, we savor this fatted opening where
the past falls away & we are as in our beginning –
with unbound possibility and pity which isn’t quite pity.
Buoyed and resolute, we promise everything.
Forget everything. Place our dusty note back in
its linen tent and redo the soundless clasp.
Redo it carefully, and goat by lonely goat—
for if we were to offer up our selfish selves
in unison, set loose our bloodstained flesh
and common nature…
Wilderness would spill into endless wilderness
and time, set free, would slip away.
He shall lay his hand upon the head of his offering and slaughter it at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting; and Aaron's sons, the priests, shall dash the blood against all sides of the altar.
Ah, that first turkey sandwich
after my principles went up in smoke—
the thick sourdough, the curly leaf lettuce
and thrill of mayonnaise. Animal nature
won out, that old-time religion.
An easy falling into the once familiar:
I bit into the lost flesh without apology.
Pride should keep me from admitting this
(though you can only sacrifice what costs you):
salt was what came to me. The meat needs salt.
Not: my meal was once muscle and sinew,
a squawking creature known
to hold its mouth open in the pouring rain
and drown. Not: underpaid illegals
made possible this almost perfect moment,
their hands flying over a conveyor belt,
70 80 throats a minute, splashing blood
against hard aluminum walls,
blood then gathered up in pipes,
an anonymous river coursing through
the dreams of Memphis and Boonestown.
More places I’ve not yet seen, an entire story
of separation. So you tell your version
and I’ll tell mine. I was ungrateful, yes,
not the last to be caught up in my own
sweet self-centeredness. Forget it.
Salt soon gave way to thoughts of a friend
of a friend, a stranger really, who –
consumed by the rules inside her –
sliced her wrists once, again, and then
once again until she was made whole.
Faced with such bare determination,
what could we do? We did as was required,
washed and wrapped her body,
scattered her ashes. Scattered her,
and walked away. If you’re going to do
a thing, do it right. This is what came to me,
the once-alive held tightly in my hands.
Friends, Leviticus is not for children,
though they find its slimy innards irresistible.
No, this book is for us – grown-ups
of every sorry sort – connoisseurs
of affliction and beauty.
Sue Swartz is a poet, essayist, and social justice activist from Bloomington, Indiana. You can find her commentary and poems about Torah, tattoos, and truth on her blog, Awkward Offerings.
Welcome to the New Vilna Review
*A Note From the Publisher - February 8, 2012*
Dear readers and contributors,
The New Vilna Review has been going through some changes the past few
months, and our focus has shifted to offering an expanded selection of
poetry, fiction and arts writing. We are once again accepting submissions,
and look forward to continuing to publish some of the most interesting and
thought provoking work in the world of Jewish arts and letters.
-Daniel E. Levenson
Publisher and Editor-in-Chief
The New Vilna Review
New Vilna Review Insulated Travel Mug
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