The Kindness of Philosophers

The Kindness of Philosophers
מחשבות אדם כחול הים. ונאמר, יזכר לעולם כרב חסדיו. Human thoughts are like the sand of the sea. And it is said, he will eternally remember in accordance with his abundant kindness.


This poem’s Google Translate is once again fascinating! Here it is, with one word removed each time:

מחשבות אדם כחול הים. ונאמר, יזכר לעולם כרב חסדיו.
Blue sea human thoughts. And it is said, “He will remember the world as his great benefactor.”

מחשבות אדם כחול הים. ונאמר, יזכר לעולם כרב
Blue sea human thoughts. And we shall say, He will remember the world as a rabbi

מחשבות אדם כחול הים. ונאמר, יזכר לעולם
Blue sea human thoughts. And it is said, Remember the world

מחשבות אדם כחול הים. ונאמר, יזכר
Blue sea human thoughts. And we shall say, remember

מחשבות אדם כחול הים. ונאמר
Blue sea human thoughts. And it was said

מחשבות אדם כחול הים.
Blue sea human thoughts.

מחשבות אדם כחול
Blue human thoughts

מחשבות אדם
Human thoughts


May Monster Madness

I wanted to participate  in May Monster Madness, but time ran away from me. So here’s a a slightly-revised version of an old poem:

Speak to me, princess, whisper in my ear,
stories my troubled young heart wants to hear.

Tell me of fairies, of lightness and cheer.
Tell me of goodness, of things you hold dear.

She whispered to me, sweet princess of mine.
She soothed my young heart with stories divine.

Stories of fairies, of goodness and light,
stories that wooed me safe into the night.

But as I grew up and dreamed these sweet dreams,
my mind made me hear the night’s muffled screams.

I called to my princess but she wouldn’t come.
A figure appeared where once she came from.

The tales she told you, the figure told me,
were but half a tale – there’s more you should see.

I trembled in fear but I took her hand.
She led me down paths that left my dreamland.

I saw that the light had kept darkness at bay,
but the darkness remained – as night pairs with day.

What are you, I asked – she answered me soft:
I’m the monster your tales tried to kill off.

Your princess told you of goodness and light.
She left me and mine to languish in night.

Her light threw a shadow over our dark world.
Her light meant to soothe a scared little girl.

She didn’t tell you of monsters or beasts.
But we live in your woods desiring release.

Let me tell you tales to woo you to sleep.
There’s more to the woods – let me take you deep.

Speak to me monster, whisper in my ear,
stories my brilliant young heart wants to hear.

A Page, A Plan, A Poem, A Video!

Hi friends! By popular demand, I’ve been working on figuring out how to most effectively sell my art-poems. I’m still working on it and am open to further suggestions!

For now, I have a Patreon account through which I can sell some booklets and prints of poems in a limited manner. I’ll be mailing my first booklet of siddur-poems and my first English-language art-poem on June 1st!

If you want to order the booklet or a print, head on over to my Patreon page and sign up for the appropriate patron bracket. Your card will be charged on June 1, and I will then collect the list of patrons and mail the goods. (This is a subscription model, but you can cancel your monthly donation anytime before the first of each month.)

I’ve also made a short little video to showcase some of my work:

The Nation Could Not Ascend

This seems to be turning into a Shavuos tradition of mine: revising and revisiting the piece I wrote on the first Shavuos I was XO.  I wrote it as a stream of consciousness with line breaks… I can’t even quite call it a poem. But every time I read it, I feel every bit of the emotion I was feeling at the time, all over again. So I know there’s something there, something worth coming back to. For now, most of my revisions were to take away the line breaks so this reads a little more smoothly. We’ll see what next year brings…

Every Shabbos I wake up thinking about how you all are in that mode of peaceandserenityandrestandholiness —

how I will be packing up my books heading to school — the library — the park, to work — to write — forbidden activity, forbidden thoughts.

I got used to that.

Strange detachment — your Shabbos table a faded image at the back of my mind — and I’m separate.

I got used to that.

And then.

You plead with me, that overused argument — I was there at Sinai, my soul was there at Sinai, I said I accept — I can’t deny it because five million witnesses — three and a half  thousand years — and no one said “my father didn’t tell me that.”

I cry. I argue. I rail. It’s not enough for me.

Fate’s a bitch — Shavuos only days later. I wake up thinking about how you all are in that mode of peaceandserenityandrestandholiness, add a dash of accepting Torah and God, with a pinch of crying because I’m not there.

The used-to-it-ness goes away.

Fate’s a real bitch.

I’ve been waiting for this for so long — now, breath stolen — the golden glowing ark as Indiana strains, lifts the badim — vestiges of awe as the line of men proceeds with the blue velvet cloth covering it — I’m back in seventh grade learning about the joy of recovering the aron with the luchos, bringing it to Shiloh, the dancing, the celebration — the dead who dared to touch the holiness

villains delighting in opening the holiness look in wonder, in crazed joy — the gold spirit emerging, swirling throughout — Indiana knows: “don’t look, Marion”

and then the spirit inside burns, melts flesh amid screams and terror and holiness

and the gold spirit ascends in a tornado of light and fury, the chest is rising — the aron, ark of the covenant, is rising, returning to god, just like he said — I feel — relief

but it’s only the cover — and it crashes back down, along with my insides — covers the ark, conceals holiness — terror

Indiana and Marion survived because they didn’t look

and I think I’ll never get used to it

The blackout page below isn’t so much of a poem on its own – this one is definitely an “art-poem,” as I’ve begun calling my creations. I’ve chosen the lines in the account of Matan Torah at Har Sinai that describe the terrifying sights and sounds accompanying the giving of the Torah. On the same page, I pasted familiar, recognizable images from children’s coloring books — images depicting joy and happiness, flowers and dancing. There’s even a space for children to paste their own faces to represent the lore that every soul was at Sinai. I filled in that face in my own way.

I can explain all my thoughts and my own interpretation of what I’ve created, but I’ve given you enough and I’ll leave the rest to you…

ויעל עשנו כעשן הכבשן
ויחרד כל ההר מאד
לא יוכל העם לעלות
וכל העם ראים את הקולת
ואת הלפידים
ואת קול השופר
ואת ההר עשן
וירא העם וינעו
ויעמדו מרחוק

And his smoke rose like the smoke of the oven
And the entire mountain trembled violently
The nation could not ascend
And the whole nation saw the thunder
and the lightning
and the sound of the shofar
and the smoking mountain
And the nation was afraid and they trembled
and they stood far away.





A Poem for the Medieval Zoo

I’m at the International Congress on Medieval Studies this weekend, in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Day 1 was… amazing. Absolutely breathtakingly amazing. The blackout poem below is sloppy and messy, because I am so. so. so. tired. But I wanted to create something before I went to sleep and recharged for more amazingness tomorrow.

(Also, would you believe that I chose those colors based on aesthetic and only realized afterward that it kinda looks like a manuscript…? That’s how tired I am.)

Kzoo 1 main image
medieval ensemble / instrumental dance


Purity detail
טהורה העשויה טמאה מכלום / שהיא טהורה מכלום // The pure one – the one whom nothing can render impure / because she obtained her purity from no one
purity main image
טהורה העשויה טמאה מכלום / שהיא טהורה מכלום // The pure one – the one whom nothing can render impure / because she obtained her purity from no one

My first custom-made poem has found its home, so I can finally share her. I am in love with this art-poem…

Letter to a Brief Encounter

I think of you at random moments and smile.

I don’t remember his name anymore. I remember you, though — and when I do, my skin flushes and my heartbeat quickens and warmth suffuses me.

I repeated his name to myself over and over when you had gone. We hadn’t exchanged contact information, but maybe I could find him. In this age of social media, that wasn’t impossible.

So I repeated the few facts I knew about him – John, from the outskirts of London, worked in IT but quit his job to travel for the summer and had a new job lined up for the end of August. A free spirit, surviving on savings and friends’ couches until his new job started.

I knew his itinerary, his plans for where he’d go after his day-trip to Eigg. I considered how I could use that information to find him.

And then I stopped.

Because you, dear Brief Encounter, matter more to me than he does.

You, with your wind in my hair and your sprinkle of rain on my face –
you, dear Brief Encounter, matter more to me than he does.

You, with your image of a stranger’s face delighting in the rain
and awed by the soaring land and swirling sea surrounding us –
you, dear Brief Encounter, matter more to me than he does.

You, with your solitary journey-turned-thrill of attraction –
you, dear Brief Encounter, matter more to me than he does.

And I realize, dear Brief Encounter, that his surprise when I hugged him goodbye as we parted ways when the ferry docked – me to spend the next few days on the island, him to hike a bit and catch the evening’s return ferry – I realize his surprise was not only due to his British sensibilities, different from my American sensibilities.

It’s because I was really saying goodbye to you, Brief Encounter. Not to him. I was hugging you, not him. And I think he might have sensed that.


Notes: I have no photos from the ferry ride to Eigg because my phone had died. My companion on this trip took many photos, and I contemplated asking him to email them to me, but even then I think I knew – the beauty and preciousness of this encounter lay in its ephemeral quality. It was to pass, with no ties to futurity, if it was to retain its significance to me. So above is simply a photo I took on Eigg.

(I changed his info. Those details are close to the truth, but they’re not totally accurate. And I really don’t remember his name.)

Thirty Days of Poetry

I’m proud of myself – I wrote one poem a day for NaPoWriMo! Most of them aren’t half-bad either 😉 Here’s a look-back at most of those poems. If you have a NaPoWriMo wrap-up post, please link in the comments and I’ll check out your poetry!

The Ease of Leaving

I looked at her, eyes
wide with hurt
wet with tears

You’re leaving me
throat tight, heart aching
You’re leaving

And her eyes welled
with tears I thought
you have no right to those

It’s easy to leave,
and she gasped and clutched
her heart but said nothing

she turned and left me
she left me, took the easy
way out of pain and struggle

She looked at me, eyes
wide with hurt
wet with tears

You’re leaving me
choking and crying
You’re leaving

And my eyes welled
with tears I thought
i have no right to these

It’s easy to leave,
and I gasped and clutched
my heart and choked on my words

I turned and left her
i left her, blinded by
tears of pain and struggle

NaPoWriMo Day 30

Inspired by a scene in Disobedience, when Esti accuses Ronit, saying “It’s always easier to leave, isn’t it.” Ronit doesn’t respond, simply leaves and says nothing when Esti slams the door behind her. I know the pain of both characters. And I also thought of the song “Runaway Love.” So I wrote this poem.