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A parapet for the roof

mostly illogical imperatives, prohibitions and rigorous modes of existence

                                                                            - CK Williams


I suppose my mother’s gesticulations from the women’s gallery

on the Day of Atonement, surreptitious eating motions

at my brother and me that meant it was time

for a visit to our car (prudently stationed blocks away),

weren’t as apparent to everyone else as they seemed to us,

though surely, we cringed,

the entire congregation must have noticed

her invitation to transgress? 

         And every year, the same debate:

whether the cup of wine should be raised or lowered

just at that point in the seder,

a word meaning ‘order,’

a challenge to our lack of certainty

as the children instructed their grandfathers

on what needed to be properly done.

         Now I have lost the gift of repetition

I can no longer see these husks

produce their garlands of variation. 


And if once I saw a man weeping in that congregation

so that someone set a chair aside for him —

angrily mistaking my childish, unguarded fascination for mockery —

I know enough now to know

that when someone weeps like that

it’s kindest to leave them

to what all ritual freely chosen bestows:

a separate place that compresses place,

a time that foreshortens time,

a broken pattern, opened sky

for the soul we had almost forgotten,

the life we almost lived, to unfurl.


Doing the washing-up, for instance: no more now

than an occasion to brood,

the glasses’ rims a tiara of offences taken

while Dad, on the other hand, sings

his favourite bits from the liturgy,

as he handles each dish slowly

as if it were an offering:

repeated, lifted, adorned

in opalescent suds.

Poetica Magazine, April 2023

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