Saturday, December 26, 2015

Deuteronomy 30: In Writing

When it all comes down
like rain, a storm,
when you drink it in
drowning droughts
you will hear the voice
within the fall of the drops

Don’t wait at the edge
of the breathing sea
that rises and falls
to the shape of your fears.
Don’t reach for the night sky
distant stars that pulse
to your longing.

The edge of the sky
gathered inwards
you will plunge, suddenly,
down the middle
to the base of your heart
and be pumped,
like the diluted blood in your veins
filled rich and salty again
charged with breath
to circle your hands
your legs
embracing your neck
lighting your skin

lick your lips
for the trace of sugar
for the remnant of salt

on your tongue.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Deuteronomy: Chapter 30

Sometimes, you can go back again 
and home is waiting
where it was left.

Just breath deep,
look in
And say... 

It's on your lips

[For full chapter, click here

This chapter brings together and closes the sequence of chapters dealing with the future covenant, with their attendant blessings and curses. As such, it repeats and intensifies many of the key words that have run throughout these chapters: "Look, I have set before you to do the life and the good, and the death and the evil. Choose life that you might live!" Once again, the focus on "seeing" (r'e'e), and on binary oppositions with a clear path running between; again, the focus on the wayward "heart" (lev); on what is given (n't'n); and on learning to hear. 

Yet there is a profoundly different ambiance to this chapter of reconciliation than those previous chapters of threat and imprecation. A kind of peace that comes after the storm: "and it shall be when all these things have come upon you, the blessing at the curse." No more dire warnings. It will all happen, regardless. What is important is that there is a way back. Again and again, the chapter repeats the root sh'a'v--"return," "reconciliation," which is also the root for the Hebrew word for repentance, teshuva: "you shall return (ve-shavta) to God, your Lord... and God your Lord will return (shav) you from captivity (shvut'kha)" . If in previous chapters, the land becomes a physical embodiment of the relationship with God, here the return to the Land is the direct correlation of spiritual reconciliation.

The focus on return is echoed in the literary form, which forms a chiastic frame structure, that returns us to the the initial threats and promises: if in chapter 28, the curse revolves around the "the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your animal," here, God will increase "the fruit of the womb at the fruit of your animal" more than it was in the beginning.

 What is discovered in this long way home is that the way back was no so far as what it seemed. It is not in the heavens, or over the see, but "it is very close to you, in your mouth and your heart to do." What is furthest in the end turns out to be closest, like the frame structure of the chapter,  which brings us back to the beginning.]


Sunday, December 20, 2015

Deuteronomy 29: In Writing

I saw, eyes wide open
yet had no eyes to see
no ear to hear
no heart to know
what I saw.

Curled in earth
unknowing, unchanging
sealed in my pod
that never wears down.

Does entropy freeze
as I battle 
through childhood
roots curling down
like fine white hair
enwrapping your fingers

till we grow enwrapped 
in each other 
I was yours before I was me 
If you move, 

I am uprooted 
from root to tip
ash and sulphur 
who will know me?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Deuteronomy: Chapter 29

The hidden and the revealed--
what came before
and what comes after
intertwined in covenant and oath

Walk between, and give your word
Will you grow and prosper?

[For full chapter, click here
This chapter follows seamlessly from the previous one, sharing many of its leitwords: the focus on seeing and eyes (r''e'a); on hearing (sh'm'a) and knowing (y'd'a); on giving (n't'n);  the idea of rising (k'a'm); and the shadowy presence of Egypt. Yet if in the previous chapter, Egypt is a source of threat , with the possibility that Israel might be force to "return on  the path" they had thought never to see again, in this chapter, Egypt is the source and bedrock of the relationship between God and Israel.  "You have seen what God did before your eyes in the land of Egypt unto Pharaoh and onto all his servants and unto all his land." Rather than looming as a cursed future, Egypt is the proof of God's past faithfulness and care.
We continue the previous chapter's structure of binary oppositions. Here, covenant itself becomes dual. You shall "cross" between parts to create the covenant, which is always both a "covenant" and an "oath" (ala).  The covenant includes both "those who are here today" and "those who are not here today." Those who are "not here" include both the past--the promise to "your forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob"-- and also the future children who have yet to be born.
Thus, the binary structure is no longer one of opposition, but rather of inclusion. The parts are continuously related to a whole. Covenant is founded on a continuity between past and future, so that the past is always present, even within "the last generations, your children who will come after you."  The nation now becomes symbolized --for good and for bad--by "a root that bareth" (29:18): a single organic entity, whose roots reach downwards, and whose future can blossom in different directions.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Deuteronomy 28: In Writing

Your land will be bronze,
a sky of iron,
as the earth rains down
a shower of bone.

You will not be calm
You will not find rest
for the sole of you foot.
For your shivering heart.

In the morning you say:
Cover my eyes
with darkness
In terror of night
when darkness
rises in your heart
you say: Would it be day.
You grope the afternoon
for air.

When what you see you cannot have
and what you have in not
yours because it’s taken
and your heart leaves your chest
and you pounce on it starving
and the earth unravels
unwinding threads into the sky
like your life, that billows before you
a frayed shirt
that will not keep faith.

You cannot trust
that look in the mirror
you cannot trust
your face, distended,
like a sentence said backward
like a palindrome unraveled
like a poem recited in reverse
eyes out of focus
mouth slack
teeth glistening in hyena mouth
who will eat whom first
when you trust
no one
when your right arm slices your left?

I trust you, you whisper
to the torturer’s whisper.
The pain, at least, is


Sunday, December 13, 2015

Deuteronomy: Chapter 28

What do you see,
what can't you see?

In a world of doubles
split down the middle
a path running between
What will come on you?

Will you be swallowed by a mirror
Where the center cannot hold?

For full chapter, click here
This chapter follows seamlessly from the previous chapter’s command to set up the “blessing” and the “curse” on facing mountains. If in the previous chapter, the children of Israel were to be split between Mt. Grizim and Mt. Eival, half articulating the “blessings” while the other half articulated the “curse,” this chapter continues and emphasizes this binary structure. The chapter is set up along a clear split between the blessings that will come “if you listen” and the curses that “will come” “if you do not listen.” This overall frame is repeated on a microcosmic levels, as the individual blessing / curses are also structured along binary oppositions: “blessed are you in the field blessed are you in the city” “be cursed in your leaving be cursed in your coming.”

Between these mountains of blessing and curse, a path runs. Again, and again, the chapter emphasizes the leitword d’r’k, path, road: “You must not shift to the left or to the right” “you will walk in His paths.” These binary structure does not simply delineate isolated instances of consequence, but rather a path leading inevitably to a destination. The blessing and the curse will “come upon you and overtake you,” like the sun comes up, or a flood follows rain.

Yet as the chapter continues, the binary structure is also complicated and undermined. A single word unites both the blessing and the curse: n’t’n, “given”—the same word used to introduce this whole section of covenant: you will either be "given" blessing, or "given" into the hands of your enemies, or given a "fearful heart" you will wish to escape. A single concept unites the opposite sides: the question is how it is utilized. 

What is more, the description of the curses is far more detailed and extensive than the presentation of the blessings. Though they echo each other, there is also a break in the pattern. In the end, the curses become a kind of canon, raising and repeating the same issues again and again, in infinite regress, with continuously growing complexity. 

For example, the simple “Blessed shall be the fruit of your body, and the fruit of your land, ,” is first directly echoed in “cursed shall be the fruit of your body, and the fruit of your land." 
But then the curse is expanded: it is not simply that the “fruit of your body” are cursed—they will be actively taken away: “your sons and thy daughters shall be given unto another people, and your eyes shall look, and fail with longing for them all the day…” 
Then it it is not only that they will be taken away—they were never truly yours: “You shalt beget sons and daughters, but they shall not be yours; for they shall go into captivity.” 
And in the final horror, it is you yourself who destroy these “fruit of the body”: “You shall eat the fruit of your own body, the flesh of your sons and of your daughters whom God your Lord gave you.”

The terror of the curses seems to lie specifically in this break of the binary structure. A cursed world is a hazy world, where one cannot--or does not want to--see: "you shall grope in the afternoon like a blind man." The curses undermines the clear demarcation of heaven and earth, as "dust shall rain from the sky." They make the distinction between "city" and "field" meaningless, as the walls of the city are "pulled down" and the outside comes in. Even past and future becomes fluid, as the past is not really past. "God shall bring you back to Egypt in ships, by the path that I said to you "you shall never see it more." With the erasure of these primary distinctions, the relationship between self and other breaks down. Brotherhood, "the wife of your bosom," beloved child--all turn into the enemy. One cannot even relate to one's self: disease attacks from within, and one "watches your life hanging in doubt before you."

If up to this point, Deuteronomy has been concerned with establishing the lines between inside and outside, ingroup and outgroup (see for example 21, 20, 19), this chapter gives a sickening glimpse into what it would mean to break down all these distinctions. What if opening the bounds does not make all men brothers, but rather assures that no men are kin? )

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Deuteronomy 27: In Writing

As you cross
As you cross

Map the earth with your foot
tread hard
tread heavy
grip like a chisels
your arrival a hammer.

Find contour in the crossing
your veins a river
your bones the stones
your breath the wind
your voice runs within
like streams
like seeds
like the veins in the stones
waiting to be freed

Every rock can speak
if you listen hard enough.
Every mountain can bear witness
to your passing.

Let the weight of being
press into soil
leave a mark
a mouth
a hollow
that cradles and demands answer.

Answer Amen
Answer I am
here. Answer
Yes; answer  in-
graved; answer, yes, a fissure
crossing the landscape

Say Yes to your blood
Say Yes to your shadow
Say Yes to sinews and muscles and bone
Say Yes to curse
say Yes to darkness
Say Yes to fractures
to caverns your cannot cross
Yes to before
Yes to after
Yes to the sea and the mountain and divide

And yes, I walk the bounds
And yes, the bounds are deep
And yes, I will gather
And yes I will bring
And yes and yes and yes.

Deuteronomy: Chapter 27

Trace the line
in earth, in stone

the chasm between

be silent, listen
declare and answer: 
We affirm

[For full chapter, click here
This chapter continues the focus on narrative and articulation. If the previous chapter emphasized the need to testify, we now move from the oral to the written. Upon crossing the Jordan, the children of Israel must erect standing stones, engraved with "all the words of this law, very clearly."

Again and again, the word "crossing" (a'v'r, also "past") is emphasized. Crossing the Jordan is not just a change in physical space--it is a change in existential space. The very physicality of the Land becomes a player in the relationship between God and Israel. The stones become new Tablets of Law, and then the basis of a new altar. The two mountains become physical manifestations of the split between "blessing" and "curse."

The embodying of the relationship between  the human and divine in the earth gives the human a more active voice. The new Tablets will be written by human hands: "you shall write upon the stones" (27: 8). Now, Israel does not only need to speak to a witness (as they did in the previous chapter), but to activly affirm the price of covenant, answering each curse with an affirmative "Amen."]