Commentary Magazine


From the Wandering Jew

O Jerusalem, if I forget thee, may I die!
If I forget thee not, how will I live!

 

The Gates of Gaza

I sidelong in this obscene world going,
Under battery of filth, bawdry of
    elements,
Perjurious day forsworn and grieving
At night’s bar, all loud and absurd,
Absurd and foul, in this butchery
Of flesh, carnival of fur, I
Running, and on my back the Gates
Of Gaza from the world’s muck pulled
Like a rotten tooth—to be carried where?

Never to rest, never to sink down at road’s
    end,
Knowing the journey over, the thing done;
Never to reach settled city, never come
    home,
By every road moving from that;
Never to rest, accounting this taint of
The soul’s honor, debasement of its gold;
Never to sleep, never to know long rhythms
Of earth, the water slowly moving, a light.

O Jerusalem, where shall I build thee? What
    hill
Is high enough? what earth so rich? what
    people
Good? Where shall I set down the Gates?
Having no city but this heart of weed and
    cloud,
Trampled and foraged by herd of folly,
By brutal bodies’ violent milling there.
Ridden by goodness I go,
God, in the damp mist descending,
Running at my ankles like a dog.
Why for the pure task these tools of dirt?
This abstracted heart, this fever, this world?

_____________

 

The Face of God

Upon the altar of the kitchen stove,
Enameled white and shining with
    the cares
Of hands that giving graced with love
Three meals a day for thirty years—

There at Friday dusk it crouched beside
The week-end’s pit, the mount of Sabbath:
A tumbler-candle dimly hissed and sighed,
Too sweet to judge, too nice for wrath.
All night long the wax ran down
—Crying dead to whom we burnt that rod.
They in the ghostly tallow lay to drown
The bent body of the dying god

Who lit a platter-clock that ticked our sleep.
Its even hands dipped in the dark streaming
And up and down carried us in its sweep.
Chests rose and fell like empires dreaming.

And now I wander accused by that Sinai
In a glass, by muteness of our closet wish,
By a God humble, tiny, and good. And I
choke with pathos of a clean dish.

_____________

 

The Wailing Wall

O God, in my exile and affliction,
    hear me!
From my enemies, save me! Scourge, burn,
    hash,
Make their inner rot grow badges on their
    flesh!
Why did You tempt me with goodness?
    why do You crease
With pain? why this suffering that won’t
    cease?

Here am I stupidly living in sackcloth and
    ash.
Why was I born just a year before the Crash?
Why’d my father lose his lots and his cash
And go jobless till his gentle lack of courage
Was endemic? Then why’d I grow in this
    image?
How can I be a hero if I’m not half-a-fake
Like my cousins Joe and Jake?
To be Chosen—that means having only one
    part.
But if I’m Elect, why all this fat around my
    heart?
Why was I born in Brooklyn in the lower
    middle-classes?
Is that a hero’s place? Was Moses freckled!
    Samson wear glasses!
Why me? Haven’t You had FDR and
    Cecil de Mille?
(Pardon me, O Lord, if I question Your will,
But wouldn’t Seymour or Sherman have
    done as well?)
Why do You tell me to build when I want
    to destroy?
Can’t a Jew get that job, is it only for a goy?
Can’t a Jew be bad and mean, why sad and
    nice?
Do You think it’s better to have ulcers than
    a vice?
Why, when I damn others, must I look for
    my own guilt?
If the evil aren’t all bad, the good all good,
    can’t I cry, Tilt!
Couldn’t You come as an angel, not a pebble
    in my shoe?
When I crashed Katz’s car did he have to
    sue?
And then in court, why didn’t You put in
    Your Word?
Don’t I know what Sisyphus doesn’t, that
    only pain’s absurd?
Then why don’t You teach me to strike and
    not to complain?
Why do You let me suffer if it’s not to suffer
    better again?
Isn’t my hardship bitter? my pain pain?
Why did You send that toadying
    bureaucrat against me?
And that spiteful sage and that selfish
    landlady?
Why, if You love me, didn’t You strike them
    down?
Bend closer, My God, I can complain till all
    the stars drown.

_____________

 

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