Monday, August 26, 2013

High Holiday Poem: The Cry

The Cry

“Heed the cry of the shofar!”
the crowd reads in unison,
the hum of the air conditioning system,
the monotone reserved for special occasions,
the hundreds of pairs of eyeglasses perched on the end of noses,
the heavy prayer-books held at a slight angle.

And when we turn the page, not so much in unison, and the cantor lifts the long, curly, brightly polished ram’s horn bought on a last trip to Jerusalem,

We wait for it.

A-roooooooooooo. A-roooo. A-rooooo.
And I say to myself:
Would you call this a cry?

It sounds like something you might hear at a truck stop.
A low bellow, a trombone-like elongated honk.

A-roooo. A-rooooo. A-roooo.


I don’t know about you, but I came for the sound of heartbreak and disappointment.   
I came for squawky squeals, exasperated red-faces, eeked out chirps of grief and failure, sorrow and mourning, regret and remorse.

I came for frailty.

I will not heed the cry of a Cadillac of a shofar played by someone with a Master’s degree in sacred music!  

Give me an illiterate shepherd boy with a pure heart who stumbles over the alef-bet!
A childless woman so distraught and desperate in her plea that they mistake her for a drunkard!
A mother who can’t bare the pain of watching her baby die of thirst!
An aging prophet who drinks in the suffering of the exiles and dreams of redemption!

I channel the inner shofar,
the breath that wheezes through me,
the held-back sighs,
the self-storage container of loss,
the backed-up memory banks of traumas of various sizes,
my first cry and my last
and every one in between.

-      -  Daniel S. Brenner

High Holiday Poem: Stains


Stains, sins, impurities,
He searches for a liturgy with deep scrubbing action,
All-purpose cleaner,
Not for use on delicates.

But everything is delicate,
A life that was once baby powder white has been soiled with  
blood, tears, feces, smoke, toxins - 
a residue build-up.

You’d think that the smell would go away as the years stretch on,
the fir trees grow tall as the house, 
the old neighborhood is gentrified, 
Hollywood stars of old are laid to rest
but smell is eternal, of God. 

Waters of purification! Divine bleach with color-safe action!
Flow for me tonight,
Wash over me,
Cleanse me,
Heal me,

I want to tingle again.
I want a fresh scent.  
I want to believe in something other than my own cynicism.
I want to feel the radiating spirit of static cling between me and all sentient beings.

High Holiday Poem: This Unit Has Been Refurbished

This Unit Has Been Refurbished 

Teshuvah does not work. 

Beat your heart, confess your sins, reflect on your life for ten days straight if you want - but the statistics are convincing -
people do not make significant changes to their personality after the age of thirty.
Your four-valve sack of nature/nurture hardened long ago.
You got what you got.
Deal, cope, manage.
And the distance between you and everyone else grows two kilometers each year.

Self reflection?
Stare deeply into an empty Pringles can.
Personal transformation?
Change your socks. 

Rabbis teach:
Teshuvah means returning to God

But what about those of us who never were with God in the first place? Or only visited for a rare weekend?

The King sits in the field, the midrash says – God meets us halfway like visiting a friend at the airport during a layover. 

Close your eyes and try for a second to walk in God’s direction – a step closer to the one who is Dayan HaEmet – the judge of all truth.

It ain’t easy.

(It might be easy if you could close your eyes and imagine Santa Claus or that nice old lady from the library – but, fohgettaboutit, that ain’t God.)

God is the truth – with a big T –
what Is.
that which Is.
which includes the truth about you and who you are
– what you are now and what you could be.

Teshuvah might not work. But to God it is the one time of year that the Gates of Righteousness are left opened, the security alarm turned off. Perfect time for a break-in. 

High Holiday Poem: This is the New Liturgy

This is the New Liturgy

This is the new liturgy
The one that greets the world with that
new hardcover urgency
next year’s model
fresh-baked-out-the-oven nooks and crannies liturgy.

It speaks not of general woes – but of what is broken at this hour
Not a list of historical injustices – but the wrong being committed at this very moment.
It is What Hurts Now.

The early adapters, hipsters, the fashionable, the urban set – they’re all lining up to hear the new liturgy.
And even though you’ve never heard it before it does sound like something you once read.
Traces of ancient love songs,
Hints of a familiar cry,
Was that symbolism pillaged from a medieval homily?
That silence lifted from the meditation of a lost tribe?

Yes! This is the new liturgy!
Freshly scrambled,
Yesterday’s prayerbooks put through the shredder,
This morning’s headlines mixed in,
Strips recycled together and reglued to appear before you as a
new creature,
new creation,
new revelation.

Please turn now to the handout and sing a new song unto God. 

High Holiday Poem: Closing Time

Closing Time

Attention K-Mart worshippers!
The Gates of Repentance will be closing in fifteen minutes.
Please bring any items you wish to regret to the check-out line at this time.
The Gates of Repentance will be closing in fifteen minutes.
Thank you.

If God were clever,
There would be automatic sliding glass doors that lead into each house of worship.
And you’d put your feet on that black plastic mat
And stand there waiting
but nothing would happen.

And then you’d realize
That it isn’t busted
That your body’s weight has nothing to do with it
All that is being measured is your merit.
Each good deed four measly ounces.

And you’d go back into the parking lot
You’d drive to a dangerous part of town,
and you’d roam the sidewalks, bent on righteousness.

- Daniel S. Brenner

High Holiday Poem: I am Allergic to Prayer

I am allergic to prayer

I am allergic to prayer.
I write in the other slot.
Forms on a latex clipboard.
Doctor’s waiting room.
Checking off my imperfections.
To the rhythm of smooth jazz.
Soundtrack to boredom.

Supplications too.
And exultations, hoshannas,
Even hallelujahs.
I’m experiencing recurring liturgical aversions.

Is there some form of anti-something?
A booster shot? An elixir? A purple pill?

At fifteen I took a hayride around Stone Mountain, Georgia.
The flood gates of shiny liquid that I wiped on my hooded sweatshirt sleeve caused a thought bubble:
Hay fever – hay.
It was a great moment of ‘duh.’

Then it was grass, cats, dust.
And now this –
Sacred utterances, chants, even whispers –
Heck, I can’t even be around silent prayer.
I’m over-sensitive I guess.

So, Doc, please, I’m begging you,
Inject me with the strongest stuff you got.
I got to lead Kol Nidrei in two hours.

- Daniel S. Brenner