Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Numbers 9: In Writing

In a world of have and not
Today and tomorrow
Where night burns to mist
And when the cloud lifts
We move again 

Through shifting sands
Far from solid shapes
of here, of now
Knotted to air and water
Fog that catches fire

Where can we feel our fingertips
The cool of solid skin that says
     I am here
     I am here
     I am here
When the wind changes
And They are Us

And Now is Then?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Numbers: Chapter 9



The space between

Now and then

Them and us

[For full chapter, click here
In a sudden chronological leap, we return in time to the "first month of the second year." The a-chronology is ironically juxtaposed with the demand to "perform the Passover in its time (be-moado)."
The change in chronology is actually thematic. In the opening section, the Isralites who cannot keep the Passover demand: "we are unclean to the dead; Why should we lose, to not to bring the offering to God in its appointed time among the children of Israel?" God responds by creating a fluidity within the rigid structure: there is to be an alternative time for those who cannot make the first appointment, though those who choose to miss the time "will be cut off from their people."
This idea of replacement and  alternatives within the long-term impact of the Exodus echoes the previous chapter. Just as the Levites replace the firstborn of Israel, who were consecrated during the Plague of the First Born, so the alternate Passover in the second month is an alternative to the consecrated first month. we are in the spaces "between:: the Levites stand between the Kohanim and Israel; Passover is celebrated "between the evenings" (ben ha-arbayim, twilight)
the fluidity of time is heightened in  the final section, where the Israelites' sense of time becomes utterly caught up in the Cloud above the Tent of Meeting. The can encamp for "many days" "two days" "a night" "a month" "a year": "According to the word of God they camped; according to the word of God they traveled." Time becomes defined by relationship]

Numbers 8: In Writing

Between the lines of
lanterns looming in
goosebumps gleam
skin pale and pitted
as a plucked dove

Stripped, shorn,
Hairless as a babe born
tadpole riding the rising wave
that wanders the wilderness

Bear me up
Lay me down
Bobbing between
The rise and crest
The you and them
The give and take

We are 
puckered flesh
the sudden inhalation


the closed O of shared breath

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Numbers: Chapter 8

The spaces between

You and I and Thou

Between the palms of your hands

To be given, 


To be mine, to be yours, to be his

[For full chapter, click here
After the gifts of princes, and the dedication of the altar, we move inwards, literally and figuratively: we speak to the head of Levi, Aaron, the High Priest, and move into the sanctuary to light the Menora. The section of the menora can serve as a symbol for the position of Levi as a whole; "The candles will look to the center (pnei) of the Menora" just as the tribes look inwards towards Levi, who stands before them (pnei) and between them. Just as the Menorah is a single whole (miksha), the set aside Levi nonetheless comes from "within" (be-toch, mi-toch) Israel.
This chapter of consecration repeatedly emphasizes Levi's liminal state as the double "given" (netunim netunim). They come to serve the kohanim, yet here they are unmistakably presented as representatives of Israel. There are the "offering" of Israel (k'r'b) who are brought close (k'r'b). Their symbolic state is emphasized by the fact that Israel "lays their hands" over them, as is done in the case of a literal offering. Levi are the offering, Aaron is the priest, "waving them before God"; Israel are those who bring the offering. "Given to Aaron and his sons from among the children of Israel" Levi is the conduit between inside and outside, the Tent of Meeting and the encampment]

Numbers 7: In Writing

What is in a name?
Speak, echo, repeat
Reverberating voice
What I bring
What you bring
Alone and together
Forever and apart

A name, what is in?
Echo, repeat, speak
Voice reverberating
I bring what
You bring what
Alone together and
Apart and forever

In a name, what?
Echo, speak, recall
Voice reverberating
Bring what I?
Bring what you?
And alone together
Apart forever, and…

A name in what is?
Echo, speak, repeat
Voices reverberating
Bring what I
You bring what?
Alone together forever
Apart and linked
Tomorrow, yesterday, today

Monday, September 22, 2014

Numbers: Chapter 7

A canon of connection


Yet one

[For full chapter, click here"And it was on the day"--we find ourselves suddenly back on that fateful day that closes the Book of Exodus "when Moses established the Dwelling." The chapter draws attention to the intertextual link by using the same key words: the dramatic "vayehi"--"and it was"; "vayakem", --establish; and "vayikal / khalot" completed, finished.
Yet even as it draws attention to the previous presentation of this day in Exodus, it places it firmly within the context of this book that revolves around the Israelite encampment, according to tribe and "father's house". The focus this time is on "the princes of Israel / the heads of their father's house / these are the princes of the tribes / these are they in charge of the count." The anaphora of hem / hem ("they" "they) draws attention to the fact that this version of the story has different heroes: The tribal leaders who do not even appear in Exodus 40, which is the story of how Moses, the liminal figure linking heaven and earth, brings together the disparate parts of the Dwelling.
Now we here of a side drama. Rather than the relationship of Moses and the priests, the focus is on the tribes and Levi: the tribal leaders offer a gift to Levi, which is accepted, and then begin a twelve day dedication of the altar.
The dedication of the altar is a complex literary game, exemplifying the power of repetition and change.The chapter opens by revisiting the fateful day of consecration,, while offering a new perspective;  it closes with a description of the 12 day dedication of the altar, repeating the description, word for word, 12 times, while only changing the name of the prince and  tribe. Sometimes the same event cam seem completely different; sometimes different events can seem the same. On a deeper level, the chapter is exemplifying the cumulative power of repetition. The same words do not have the same impact. The 12-time repetition creates an effect of a canon, the voices overlapping and gaining force. The chapter emphasizes that the whole is different than the parts alone, by summing up all the gifts together, as though they had no just been enumerated separately.
More importantly, the closing of the dedication leads to the appearance of  God's voice: "And when Moses came to the Tent of Meeting to speak with Him, then he heard the voice of one speaking unto him from off the mercy seat that was upon the Ark of Testimony, from between the two keruvim: and He spoke unto him." Exodus's scene of a lone Moses erecting the Dwelling creates a space of utter aloness, with no sharing possible--"And Moses was not able to enter into the Tent of Meeting, because the cloud dwelled upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the Dwelling". Here, the communal gifts create a space of communication. Reptition and change create room--and the root speak (d'b'r) is repeated 3 times]

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Numbers 6: In Writing

Entwined in my curls
Locked in my locks
Curled in you
Alone together

Running in each other's veins
Winedark and heady
Eternal doorways
Scrabbling mirrors 
For a glimpse of your face

Friday, September 19, 2014

Numbers: Chapter 6

Curling locks

and vines

set apart

The wild card

[For full chapter, click here
The chapter centers on the laws of the nazir (nazarite), a laden word that means "set aside," "consecrated" "crowned" "separated". The chapter plays with all aspect of the word, as the Nazarite is both "set aside" from wine, even as his / her hair is "consecrated"  to God. 
We continue here with the translation of the laws of Leviticus into the world of the Israelite encampment. "If a man or a woman set aside with a vow to separate (n'z'r) themselves,  they shall be nazarites/separated (n'z'r) to God." This unusual root takes us back to Leviticus 22: "Speak to Aaron and his sons and let them separate (n'z'r) themselves from the holy things of Israel" --and indeed, many of the laws of the Nazarite echo the laws limiting the High Priests: The prohibition of coming into contact with the dead; the definition of the Nazarite as "consecrated to God"--which is the very inscription the High Priest wears on his head. 
The Nazarite, like the priests at their consecration, stands at the liminal space of the "doorway," bringing the outside in, allowing anybody, male or female, to take on the status of the High Priest. It is a strange position, that is defined by holding back (from grapes) and by growing wild (the hair). Like Joseph, who is defined as "the apex, the set aside (n'z'r) of his brothers," the Nazarite remains separate, a wild card. He or she is not part of the system of consecration set into place  in Leviticus. They are driven from within, "going beyond" (yafli). Their hair "grows wild" (pereh)--a clear echo of the wayward wife (sotah) of the previous chapter, whose hair is made "wild" (parah). At the closing of the period of consecration, the Nazarite must bring a "sin offering" implying a dangerous position.
There are laden lexical links between the neighboring  sections of the wayward wife (sota) and the nazir ( both focus on hair, both use the word "wild", both hold out their hands to hold their offering (natan...kaf) ). This highlights the ambiguity of the status of the Nazir, but also open the question of the place of the wild and unconstrained within the encampment. The chapter closes with the priestly blessing: "God will bless you and guard you; May God light his face towards you and grace you (huneka--another clear echo of Joseph); God will turn his face to you and give you peace." Perhaps blessing requires the wild card, like Joseph who brings "the blessings of the waters above and the deeps lurking below."]

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Numbers 5: In Writing

The rot within
Sinking intimacy
Swelling billow-bellied
Out to the wind

Sailing out out out
Beyond hearth or harbor
Beyond tented waves
Beyond you

Rest in shifting sand
That bears without traces
Exposed to the pitiless sun
after the night winds pass away

Numbers: Chapter 5


The things we take

The things we steal

Can there be restitution

 within and without?

[For full chapter, click here
Having set up the encampment "around the Dwelling," this chapter returns to reiterate Leviticus' law of the encampment. If before, the laws of leprosy and ritual impurity were presented from the "inside" perspective of the priests, we now focus on the extended" space of Israel. It is they who are to "send out" (shlakh--a key word of the chapter) the ritually impure to preserve the Dwelling within.
The focus on redemption and restitution (geula) that closed Leviticus is also reiterated and brought down to earth. Geula is now not an absolute right on the land, but rather restitution for  money that was unlawfully taken (maal, lit: unfaithfulness, sin, treachery). 
The  concept of meila--a breakdown of holiness, de-consecration--introduces the final section: the laws of a wife suspected of adultery, who was moel in her husband. The betrayal of the husband directly echoes the betrayal of God. The priest is the one who must settle the marital dispute. This strange section of the Sotah (the wayward woman) creates the basis for the Prophets' central metaphor of the relationship of God-Israel as that of Husband-Wife. Sin is presented as unfaithfulness; the woman's reiteration of her innocence echoes Israel's acceptance of the curses that come from breaking the covenant. The woman is tested within the Dwelling itself.
Yet there is a bitter aftertaste to these "bitter waters," a feel that regardless, the woman will always be in a worse position: "the man shall be clear from iniquity, and that woman shall bear her iniquity."]   

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Numbers 4: In Writing

See not
the hallowed hiding
the veiled face
the parts and whole

Unweave not
the textured textile
between I and Thou
here and now

Numbers: Chapter 4

What must be hidden

Swathed in scarlet and blue

Hold me

Do not cut me loose!

[For full chapter, click here

We continue with the appointment of the Levites, now moving into a detailed census of the three primary families (Gershon, Kehat and Merari) and the enumeration of their duties. The key root is p'k'd, to count, appoint, be responsible--each of these meanings is explored, as the Levites are counted, appointed to their duties, and placed under the charge of Aaron's sons. The duality of the Levites--their positioning as the transition/linkage between Israel and the Dwelling, is repeatedly emphasized. They not only are doubly "given", they also "serve serve". The incipient menace of this in-betweeness also becomes clear, as Aaron and his sons are warned to ensure that Kehat does not become "cut off" through over-exposure, through getting too far within. They must not "see the covering of the holy." They remain always on the limen, leaning against the dwelling but not entering the intimate space within.]

Numbers 3: In Writing

Formed in the wound
the hollows of your face
How can I be
consumed in the shadow of a flame?

Enveloped, front and aft
in the intimate space
of I and they
Nestled against your milk thighs

Hollowed, hallowed

with the thin taste of silence

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Numbers: Chapter 3

Before my face
Face to face

In your place


[For full chapter, click hereWe move on to the last element of the encampment: the Levites, who are not "counted" among the Children of Israel, yet move within them.
The chapter opens by focusing on the ultimate expression of Levi: "the generations" of Aaron and Moses, the tribe's greatest sons. Yet it sounds an ominous note: "Nadav and Avihu died in the presence of (li-pnei) God when they brought close (k'r'b) alien fire." Their two younger brothers are left to stand in their place,  and  "minister in the presence (al pnei) Aaron their father." Closeness is presented as dangerous. Exchange implies lost, the end of the "firstborn" hope.
This opening section is a myse-en-abym of the chapter as a whole, which revolves around the "bringing close" (k'r'v) of the Levites. The Levites stand in place of the Israelite firstborns, and must be exchanged, one by one. The firstborns are in turn consecrated by death. Spared in Egypt, they  "are Mine"--existentially linked to God in a bond that is transferred to the Levites, who become "Mine."
Like Moses in the Book of Exodus, the Levites become the transitional waters, the space between inside and out. Doubly given (netunim, netunim) they belong to God, serve Aaron, and yet stand in place of the Israelite "openers of the womb."
They are all, and nobody's.  Cyphers of exchange. Mediums of intimacy.]

Monday, September 15, 2014

Numbers 2: In Writing

Send a sign
reverberating in the sand
shifting names

You are my rock
A window
A gift

Force of my father
Who heard
Made me whole

 Wounded me
In barren lostness
I help my brother
My brother, bad
We are enough

Against and around
unfurled in the wild
from the blasted past
to the murmuring deeps
who comes first
who goes last
an endless wave
An earthworm swallowing sand

Numbers: Chapter 2

Eternal cycle
of part and whole

to encamp 
 and to move 

Opposed and surround

[For full chapter, click here
This chapter continues directly from the last, with a shared focus on "father's house" "family" "counting/appointing" (p'k'd), "prince/raised one" (n's'o), and "army". Here, the focus on counting/appointing expands outwards, in a continual point counter-point "travel" and "encamp". Who travels first? Who sets up the encampment? Each sections opens with a repeated use of the root encamp (h'n'a), and closes with a description of travel (s'a'a).
Reverberating in the background of the "fathers" are the unmentioned mothers: the encampment is set up according to the matriarchs. The ones to travel "first" are the children of Leah's triumph, Judah ("this time I will praise God"), Issachar ("reward"), and Zebulun ("fertility" "fecundity"). Those who travel "second" are Leah's older children, who embody her struggle with her sister, Reuben ("God has seen my pain"), Simeon ("God has heard that I am hated") and Gad ("betrayal"--the first child of Leah's maidservant). Those who travel "third" are the displaced Rachel's children. "Last" are the  children of the maidservants, 
The only one to avoid these groupings is Levi, again aligned only with the Dwelling. He travels within his brothers, but apart. They oppose (neged)/surround (savuv) him. 
After enumerating the separations and subliminal tensions, the chapter closes by enumerating the entire encampment ("all were numbered according to their hosts'), bringing together the sub-alliances into a single whole]

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Numbers 1: In Writing

Family, father, mother, home
face engraved in face
etched in my name

Carry the inheritance
brimmed tears
entwined battles
neck to neck
arm in arm

One is not
hands unlifted
In the long declaim


Friday, September 12, 2014

Numbers: Chapter 1

What is carried
And what carries you

How do you make it count?

Set, established, 
Called by name

[For full chapter, click here
From the pointilistic Leviticus-space of "the Tent of Meeting" and "Mount Sinai",  we pan outwards to the "wilderness of Sinai". The broadening space reflects a broadened audience. No longer do we speak only to the priests. Now the words are addressed to the "entire congregation of Israel," and the first act is to appoint "those called by the congregation" to act along with Moses and Aaron. 
The new focus on nationality is reflected in the fact that this is a military census, "all who go out to the army." Yet even in establishing a military, the underlying conception of the congregation is familial. This is an extended family. "The children of Israel" are numbered by "their families," by "their father's house." The tribes are listed not by size or importance, but by their position in the family: Leah's children, then Rachel's (the children of the maidservants are the wild cards, changing order in the listing. As in the closing of Genesis, they are the glue holding the two sides of Israel's family together.) People are called by name; the focus is on "the head", the face, not the militarized body.  
Yet even as we establish this cohesion of distinct families, one tribe is set apart. Levi is not "counted" (p'k'd) or "carried" (in's'a). In a series of word-plays, Levi is instead "appointed" (p'k's) to carry (n's'a) the Dwelling. 
The focus on inside/outside and the liminal space between that so dominated Leviticus here becomes embodied within the very fabric of the nation, that encamps around the inner core of Levi]

Hello Numbers

Here we go. The heart-palpitating crunch of starting a new book--and a new sketchbook.

For Numbers, I decided to keep up with the monocromatic look I have been sustaining since Genesis. This is, after all, a continuing story. But there has also been a change. From a world in formation, and  and a nameless mass of slaves, we have established a nation, with a center and leadership. Though an encampment, Israel has solidified.
In response, I've decided to move from easily erased materials (graphite, conte crayon) to the more permanent material of ink. The image now makes an unchangeable mark.
This is also a technical challenge  I am setting for myself : I feel I've had become too addicted to moving and changing the image as I go, erasing and redrawing multiple times. The move to ink is a way to force myself to make a decision and stick with it.

Along with the challenge, comes the anxiety, and the perfection-delay game: I need the exact right sketchbook, the perfect pen. That's the key! Obviously!
That has not happened. My lovely pen is, as yet, missing. Teh store was out of the sketchbook I had in mind.
So I decided to go with my ancient pen and nib, and use the sketchbook I had in my bag. It's smaller than the books I have used until now, but I want to take the plunge, and get started. After all, we are no longer in the world of the Dwelling, but out in the wilderness. It's a time to make do!

Wish me luck!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Goodbye to Leviticus

Sigh of relief. I admit it. It was a hard one.
The transition from the grand themes of Exodus to the arcane nitty-gritty of Leviticus was jarring. And yes, there were many reasons for the multiple breaks—travel, work, road trips, family responsibility, and that wonderful thing called summer—but still, when I’m honest, can I truly say the subject matter had nothing to do with it?
Leviticus was hard. Reading the intricacies of each chapter was hard; finding an image was hard; being inspired was hard. Animal dissections, strange (and many no longer practiced) rules of ritual purity and impurity, leprosy, the altar, the limitations on permitted food, and limitations on sexuality…
Yet strewn between are also some of the greatest biblical landmarks: “Do not bear a grudge… love your neighbor as yourself”  “Do not hate your brother in your heart”; “do not curse the deaf, or put a stumbling block before the blind”; the care for justice; the active command to protect the weak and vulnerable;  the repeated injunctions to make space for the stranger.  A mix of high and low; animal body parts and love for your neighbor. It’s a discordant mix to the modern ear. Grand themes wrapped in the language of ritual, tying together vicera and spirit. There is no Cartesian duality here, no way to separate the body and the “soul/ life spirit” (nefesh) that so dominates this book/
Having slogged through the laws of sacrifice, I’ve come to realize that on its own terms, Leviticus is unified, and a logical stage to follow Exodus. Genesis revolved  around the creation of the self, with how the self “reaches forth [its] hand” to handle the world. It is the story of developing individual, wrapped in oedipal themes, sibling rivalry, and the sparks of connection between man and woman.
In Exodus, we more from the formation of the self, to the formation of the community. The book deals with the creation of a collective identity around the relationship to God. It closes with the establishment of the Dwelling, the shared space of God and humanity.
In   Leviticus, we move into the Dwelling itself, into this consecrated space of relationship. All the rituals revolve around the creation of boundaries. We define what can be ingested into the body; what must be left outside. Who enters, who is outside, and what happens in the liminal space of connection.  Relationship is a dangerous space: come too close, and one is ingested by the fire; go too far, and one is “cut off” from one’s people.  Intimacy requires the liminal space, the dividing waters, in order to survive. When the divider disappears,  the “soul revolts” in existential nausea.

The ritualistic definition of relationship in turn reflects back on Genesis’ presentation of the self in formation. If Genesis revolves around questions of possession, money and value, Leviticus closes by redefining the limits of possession. Land and humanity cannot be truly owned; only valued. Yet there is a level of connection so deep—“for the Land is Mine”—that it breaks all local bonds of connection. In “devotion” to God, we can no loner speak of value or money. Ther e is only the object itself. In the end, the space of relationship redefines the self.

Leviticus: Chapter 27

To bring the outside in 

How deep is possession?

What can be exchanged What not 

Transformed, changed,  redeemed

Being beyond value

[For full chapter, click here
After the grand finale that closed the last chapter "at Mount Sinai," we return--yet again--to Mount Sinai, in a dry rendition of laws of vows and gifts to the Dwelling. 
Yet through these arcane rules, this chapter actually revisits the motifs of value vs. ownership, redemption and the limits of possession. Returning to the opening theme of  a book that comes to establish a place "within the tent", this chapter allows for bringing the outside in through consecration. 
What happens when a person consecrates themselves? Does consecration imply value, or does it engulf the object itself? We move from a generalized (male-centric) valuation of humans, who are replaced with money, without any essential connection to the Temple, and end with a level of "dedication" (herem) so all-encompassing that it cannot be undone, replaced or exchanged. The object itself becomes a source of holiness. Any attempt to replace it simply  consecrates  its replacement: " both it and that for which it is changed shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed." W close with the emergent consecration of tithing, which happens by chance, outside human choice. Here, the outside comes in.]

Friday, September 5, 2014

Leviticus: Chapter 26

A sky of steel
A world of bronze

Chased by a driven leaf

Soul sickness

In a fall
Will you rise?

Don't turn your soul away
O turned face!
What happens in the spaces

[For full chapter, click here
We continue the covenant from "Mount Sinai" seamlessly, in an ever more emphasized structure of "sevens": "I will repay  you seven for all your sins..." Here, it becomes clear that this covenant sums up the structure of the book as a whole, returning to the repeated emphasis on "walking" "doing" "guarding" and the leitmotif of eating.
But here, the focus on the all-subsuming Land becomes ominous. Ignoring the rights of the Land to its sabbaths causes you to be driven off, as the Land completes its own cycles: "then the Land shall have her sabbaths, all the days of desolation when you are in your enemies land." The rejecting land will turn to "bronze" while Israel itself becomes the "seed" to be "eaten" by other nations. 
A terrifying dance of closeness and rejection, carelessness (keri) and a fury of carelessness. The tension between close and far that animates the book becomes clear. Too great an intimacy leads to "soul sickness", as the life force revolts in "nausea / revulsion" ( ge'al nafshi), God against Israel, Israel against God.
Ultimately, the somber hope of redemption is that "I will not be revolted by them (ge'al ) to utterly destroy them.I will remember for them the primal covenant."] 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Leviticus: Chapter 25

Where you are
And where you are going

To rest
and to return
to the space that subsumed
too dear for possession
number the hours, days, years

To redeem
 after the fall
the extended flesh

[For full chapter, click here
After establishing the Dwelling replacement of Sinai, we return to Sinai, to speak of what happens "when you arrive in the Land." Like the Dwelling, this relationship is structured around a series of sevens, with an "eighth"--the Jubilee year, that proclaims "liberty to all the Land." In a play on words, the Sabbath of seven (Shabbat / Sheba) becomes also a "return" (shabtem) of estates to their owners.
The connection to the Land is  inalienable--unlike a city, which disconnects from the "field" and can "be sold to perpetuity," the Land always returns to its original owner. Yet it is also limited, as ultimately "the Land is Mine"--humanity only has rights of usage.    
The all-subsuming, unbreakable, connection to the land provides for "redemption" (geula). The land is "redeemed" back to the family; a poor relation is "redeemed" from slavery; the Jubilee year "redeems" both bondsmen and land.]