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This Rosh Hashanah, We Throw the Door Open



To go home, leave crumbs.
When the wood circles you
back here instead, let the lost
and the impossible ripen in
you, ripen and go.

What is Growing in these Woods,” Nomi Stone


There are days I want to throw open the doors of an abandoned temple and find my people.

Yet here is another year I will again welcome Rosh Hashanah without belonging to a House of Prayer.

Yet another my love and I will wander the city all over to find where the Book might lead.

My love who does not believe in God.

My love who believes only in the briefness of time and what we must do with that time.

And I admit, even with his hand locked into mine, there are things I hear I do not wish to hear on the new year that leave me wondering if I would be more whole, more solidified, if only I was praying inside, somewhere, a home I could call, collectively, my own.

A place where a Jew is at home enveloped in the unknown.

A place that I once carried with a great certitude, with a great ease, no matter where I’d go.

Must faith always mean finding your way back?

Dear Nomi: I’ve emptied my pockets, but there are no crumbs to leave.

“Green in here,” you begin in your poem “What is Growing in these Woods,” a promise of growth, a promise of life, that is “gleaming like / being inside a fable but with / stalls of fruit you can’t eat.”

Dear Nomi: do Jews not only live in inherited fables, but within the Word itself? Are the woods not the broken cities within the cities we built, the shtetls within the heart of the creation stories we ourselves are telling?

When I left Jerusalem, I agreed to be lost. Or so the story I’ve told myself goes.

* * *

The story I tell myself wanders along beside me, as my love and I now walk along the piers of 12th avenue, between a highway rare with stoplights and the gunmetal waters of the Hudson river, and I hear them.

Do you too hear them, dear poet?

Do you hear the new voices that have joined the cantor and choir of Cohen’s “You Want it Darker?” Do you hear them breaking the water, the murky water crashing against the 12th avenue piers? Do you too already feel that particular metallic chill of Rosh Hashanah morning fighting for its life in this heatwave, this odd summer gripping the city, its skyline and its cranes, its scaffolds, its endless construction and repairs, its tearing down, its dust, its weathered marquees left to dumpsters? All its lost names and leveled certainties?

Is the city not an unending revision, the mark of ancillary creators whose work, like themselves, are mortal, fragile, replaceable?

There are days I want to throw open the doors of an abandoned temple and find my people.

These are the same days I ask for the impossible, like the days I will beseech for one more year in the Book of Life, to have my name written and remembered.

These are the days I am most filled with belief.

My sentences grow long.

My prayers grow longer and are left unfinished.

Perhaps faith is a form of poetic reach that will never quite have what she seeks.

Perhaps love is feeling all sorts of time in a brief second.

Perhaps that feeling is a second chance, and that second chance the first entreaty for more time.

Are we not as Jews, as poets, always asking for more time?

Are we not always running toward the end of the page, heavy-footed, with arms outreached?


 * * *


But there is a taste in me for salt, the beloved everyday halving then re-growing /
into losing.

Turning 35,” Nomi Stone


This past year, a great-uncle on my father’s side passed away. He passed away, unable to forgive me for marrying a non-Jew. He always told me I’d make a wonderful mother, but that I must raise the child as a Jew, in a Jewish household, with a solid Jewish education, when did I lose you, his last words to me, when I did lose you, when did I stray; that even in my bare arms and my sundresses and a history of loving more women than men, I had lived my own Jewish life; that he had such a certitude we shared the exact same amount of faith; that I carried the light, for all surface glamour and secular education, I had not strayed. That I had carried the light. 

And how it seemed to my great-uncle that such a certitude could be broken, that the destruction was my own, the reason for strained, the reason we’d end unfinished, when I married a man he could not love as his own, could not accept, no matter how much this man loved me.

And it is one of my greatest regrets when my great-uncle died before I could tell him, with my anger and sadness, with my anger and rage, that how dare he abandon me, that I had lost a child, that I needed him, needed his prayers and his guidance, this great man of a venerable age who had unknowingly taught me one should not love identity politics and religious tradition more than the people who love them dearly. A man who then often broke that rule, but never shut the door in my face. A man who would not say my mother’s name, as he would not my husband’s, but according to cousins, was calling for me and my father toward the end in his small crowded house in Jerusalem. A man who secretly loved Celan and Tranströmer, who’d deny such love to anyone else, a man who’d lived through too many wars, a man full of contradictions and full of rules he’d bend for me until I married and then he could not, who opened his home every Shabbat to anyone, who was stringent, to whom I did not say goodbye. No, we were both too angry and hurt in the leaving-off.

This man who I was thinking of while I sat with the water running in the bathtub, my husband’s arms around me, my husband still fully clothed, we didn’t know that sometimes when you miscarry, you will bleed and bleed for days, and the bleeding doesn’t have an end, it too an unending revision of the mortal self which blurs the lines between guilt and peace and limitless sorrow.

And that child for me, dearest Nomi, that child for me I too have had to confront as she appears, ghostly, not quite solidified, but like “a new person” who arrives “into the air of this world” and like you, “I will carry the child, carrying / curled within her the DNA for the next child, and all this, love, will fit into my arms.”

This child you find in your sister who makes for you “squash soup, and the vines are burred with bees suckling tiny / buds.”

This child you make Kiddush for women like me who want to love “without / the knife shaving / into loss.”

And yet, as poets, we can be both, Nomi.

As poets, we can be the taste of salt and the fruit of the vine.

As poets, you and I can empty our pockets of loss and say our goodbyes with one foot planted in the other.


* * *

beg you do not be furious
that I wrote about the secret
center between us now that we
are gone from each other. This
poem is at the coordinates of the
shining hole in me, which is you.


Afterwards: A Love Poem,” Nomi Stone


I have never told anyone, somewhere along the way, when the music grew louder, as the poetry came with a strange ease, as I bound each word to my hand and on our doorposts, I lost a certitude of my belief in God.

A certitude never challenged for all my questions, for all my lost days, wandering a deserted and silent midrahov on Shabbat morning, or sleeping in strange rooms for less than a week, or the times I actually starved, or in the shrill afternoon light I’d found out my mother had uterine cancer and my father was working two jobs so he never slept, or in the distance that for years grew between my brother and me over the way I’d chosen to live my life, without stability, without fixed address, without known address, while getting paid under the table for various jobs, for going to Jerusalem one particular summer for three months with all only three hundred dollars to my name, through all sadness and failure, there was always that certitude, that strange, unknown place I’d set all my eggs in, my cards shining on the table, that bond between my God and me.

And then I fell ill, and I began to hear the music.

And then I fell ill and found a great, great love in a man, in a non-Jew, in his family.

And then I fell ill and for the first moment after sitting in the doctor’s office alone—only weeks before I met this man who’d become my husband—and returning home on my beloved 7 Train, feeling slightly comforted, until I got home to Queens and returned to my little room overlooking another building where pigeons gathered and flew away over and over without reason, their fear unseen and unknown to me, it was that exact moment I knew I lost that certitude.

And at that exact moment, I lost that certitude.

That great love I’d had all my life for Torah, for the promises I’d inherited, for God who’d always felt like a friend holding my hand in the darkness, as irreverent as that might sound. That nothing could ever go wrong between us.

I’ve never told anyone that before I became ill, for the fear of how it might sound in English, in secular prose, that He was my greatest love.

When I first read your poem “Afterwards: A Love Poem,” Nomi, I was thinking of my own pivotal moment with a blow fish, “a delicacy some places and if / you eat a gram too much of the / flesh it kills you.” I was thinking of the wave that “carried it and spat it / out again again you carried it.” And I’ve been thinking how I once unknowingly regarded my faith, my Judaism, as a tradition of form poetry as well as an unending poetic reach toward an origin story, and that I could not see that in this sort of going toward, I was really looking back, forever, at a certainty.

That I mistook that certainty alone for a singular promise, for the heart of my faith.

That I had tried to keep it a physical space, a somatic feeling.

And it was in my moment of crisis that I began to hear the music.

And now, I suppose as I finish these thoughts on Rosh Hashanah eve, that I am asking my God to forgive me for, as you wrote, revealing that “secret center.” And yet while the certainty is gone from me, I have not abandoned Him.

Or rather: He has not abandoned me.

And on this Rosh Hashanah eve, I am asking for forgiveness as I stand for a moment on a dark, quiet street of Queens, still looking for the God of my youth, still searching for the Book so certain.

But that I also stand in awe of the music I now hear, of another year in which the chance of human existence is one-in-a-million, while holding the hand of someone I deeply love.

That I am alive and I have written, am writing, will hold dear the music to come.

That tomorrow I am carrying the light.

That tomorrow I am throwing the door open.