Saturday, August 30, 2014

From the Notebook of J Michel

Kochavim

Sing something, the voice said.
It was so soft I barely noticed
as it ruffled the pensive quite of early morning
(pebbles in a pond).
What should I sing? Suddenly I was unsure if I slept or dreamt.
Something for the night, for the quiet, something just for the two of us.
Do you think we’re alone? I asked, musing.
Are we? he said.
I didn’t respond, just kissed him,
feeling the sweetness of his hands
that were used to holding books.
I sat up.
The notes came first, the words later –
into the stillness that lay all around us
in the streets and alleyways between buildings,
into the spaces where light from the stars couldn’t yet reach.
(Shy as a bride, the Sabbath had withdrawn from the city hours ago,
leaving only three stars to give birth to a new week).
That night was special –it belonged to us –
yet that unnamable quality of her definition
had already slipped away into another world.
And so I used the melody of the six days,
(those set apart from the last).
Bless the ineffable name of blessing,
That one is blessed!
He listened; he didn’t say a word.
He stood beside me as if seeing the individual notes hanging
On the tapestry of night around us, the night whose death only we had witnessed. 
Suddenly I marveled that the world would come into being again –
Whether I slept or woke in the hours of darkness
The sun would rise again;
Whether we stayed or parted, love would not be forgotten.
I dried my cheeks gently as the last echoes of song
faded into the maze of concrete around us,
wishing for an eternity.





Friday, August 22, 2014

From the Notebook of J Michel

Threshold 

Here you stand, now, breathless and trembling at the foot
Where the pool ends, eternity begins,
And we yearn for God’s blessing.
This journey unfolds as we breathe in and out,
Counting the moments of soul encapsulated within these confines –
Watching, bearing witness, receiving the imprint
Of a thousand lives until we transform.
What has brought us here? Listen.
Into the depths where it seems impossible for light to reach –
Listen –
Across distances our thoughts can barely fathom
(and through our dreams) for the voice without end.
Listen.
It is the smallest of lights in that immense darkness;
When we draw closer
It is to remember that those lights are carried by the ones who love us,
The ones in whom our souls find favor,
The ones for whom our eyes shine
Because love flames, sparks and does not consume.
This threshold is so vast
We ask ourselves how –
how can we carry the lights across?
And I guess the answer is that we carry nothing –
There’s no need
Because those we love are with us always,
Bringing their piece of the ineffable spark from the darkness.
This threshold seems endless –
As though you’d jump,
and as soon as your toes leave the earth
It becomes a chasm.
I guess is the only way to cross is to remember that,
Though fear creates the threshold, is not for us to keep;
Close our eyes and allow gratitude
To sprout our wings (long dormant)
From between our shoulder blades.

                                                                                                         

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

From the Notebook of J Michel

Funeral 

I remember, when I was a mermaid, when I witnessed the death of a whale (and the subsequent funeral). He was so close to shore, I still don’t know why. By the time I heard his distress call it was too late –I didn’t get there in time. No one did. It was an awful way to die, but he died quietly, with dignity.

I flung myself up onto the unforgiving sand, trying to embrace the great bulk that had once housed my friend, wondering how, just the day before, he’d sung to me in the welcoming waters of the Pacific. And now he lay so still. He was always singing, my whale, he sang to me, he told me stories, and sometimes he told me about the future he saw in cryptic bits of melody, one by one like the bits of vessels sunk at sea, drifting through the water like the souls that sink with them. I’d never understood what it’s like to have a family until I lost him.

In my distress my scales and fins dried up, shriveling into two human-like appendages. And then I wept as I’d done years ago on the coast of Britannia. That was the first time I can ever remember, and then I wept because love and shattered my world into a kaleidoscope.

In their distress, the other whales in the pod began to beach themselves in mourning. And it was then, in perhaps my first real act of humanity, that I summoned the last of my legacy (what was bequeathed to me in flame and smoke) to call forth the elements to drive them back into the water. Sobbing, half mad with grief, I stood on the shore and threw up the barrier. I think wanted to keep them out as much as save them, wanted a physical symbol of how isolated I felt.

And so I stood, above the waves, my keening sobs transforming into a song that tore at the soft edges of afternoon, pouring my shattered heart onto the shores that once burned with Atlantis as she heaved and gasped. The grief of the whales under the waves resounded through to the very most secret parts of the ocean, filling her up with salt.

On the shore the enormous carcass sat, growing colder as the sun sunk lower towards the horizon.


Monday, July 21, 2014

Current events in Israel

To all who read my blog, I want to offer my very heartfelt thanks for you taking the time to share my perspective in this crazy world that we live in. I haven't been very good about responding to posts when people have left them, so I apologize for that -I will be better about that in future. I hope you all will continue to read and enjoy (as I will continue to post on this blog throughout my cantorial school adventures in New York -or the Old Country as I like to call it).

I try not to get overly political in my posts, because my objective for this blog is not political ranting or lambasting, nor do I want to come off as extreme. I've struggled in writing this post for a long time, but I find the reaction to recent events in Israel and the Middle East so troubling that I can no longer stay silent. Our American media is unfortunately (and unfairly in my opinion) biased, verging on a perspective that can come off as anti-Israel at times. Politics are sticky and complicated, especially where the Middle East is concerned, but after living there for a year, traveling to the West Bank and really struggling directly with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and what that means for me as an invested, observant Jew, I can tell you that Hamas does not have the common good of the Palestinians at heart. True, they are the Palestinian authority, but they don't care about providing their citizens with basic, fundamental needs such as clean water, health care, adequate housing and access to education. What's more (from a Jewish perspective at least), is that too often Hamas takes advantage of our media's bias and focuses its energy on provoking Israel into defending herself, knowing that the only part of the story that will reach American ears is what Israel does in retaliation. By provoking Israel thus, Hamas has been able to ensure that the Palestinians are portrayed as the helpless victims of Israeli brutality.

With this in mind, I beg you all to realize that there is always more to the story than what our media presents to us. There seems to be a lot of anti-Israel sentiment in the air right now -what with protests against Israel in London and France and even here in the United States that seem to grow more frequent by the day. It is true that many Palestinians have suffered in light of recent events, and to call it tragic doesn't even begin to cover the injustice, but I am suggesting that Israel is not the Big-Bully-of-the-Middle-East that our media loves to portray her as. If Hamas really cared about the Palestinians and building them the homeland they deserve, if they really wanted peace in the Middle East, they wouldn't be trying to wipe Israel off the map. I am not trying to suggest that Israel is perfect and the answer to all the problems in the region, but it angers me when Israel is held to a double standard. By the modern definition, a people is not considered a nation until or unless they possess a country. Defending the borders of a country comes along with the territory -if you'll forgive the pun. Thus, if we recognize a sovereign nation's right to defend her borders, why is it any different when Israel defends herself as opposed to the United States, Great Britain, France, or any other country in the world? We, the Jewish People, have a right to defend ourselves against those that wish us harm without being labeled as murderers, hypocrites or worse. Hamas' use of the Palestinians as a political pawn has nothing to do with Israel or her right to defend her borders -plain and simple. Along those lines, I must emphasize here that it was Hamas that rejected the initial ceasefire proposal, after which subsequent talks have failed again and again. Media reports of Israel launching attacks on Gaza after ceasefire agreements are out-and-out lies. Also, people seem to forget the events that started this most recent cycle in the Conflict. I am, of course, referring to the capture and murder of the three Israeli boys, Gilad, Eyal, and Naftali. Our media, as I've been saying, has not helped this situation either, and thus continues another cycle of terror, destruction, and bitterness.

While I could go on, I won't belabor the point, because blame-laying is counter productive despite its infinite allure. I do, however, see it as my obligation as a Jew to defend and support Israel. I don't mean blind-faith support no matter what Israel does (as I said, she isn't perfect) -that, too, is counter productive. But I do wish people to know that the truth is never simple, and this couldn't be more true in the case of Israel. Sometimes I feel like a broken record I say that so much; I guess it's hard to fathom if you haven't spent time there. Not to be trite in an effort to put a positive spin on a post such as this, but I feel the only thing I can say to end this entry is that I urge the global community to wake up and realize that the problem does not necessarily lie with Israel. If we spent our time and energy in supporting the Palestinians to stand up to Hamas instead of trying to paint Israel unequivocally as the enemy, how different things would be. Jew and Palestinian alike deserve a place to call home in the Middle East, but it will never happen as long as organizations like Hamas are in power.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

From the Notebook of J Michel

Angel  

If I were the Angel of Death
what would I look like?
Would  I have a face
and what color would my eyes be?
Maybe I wouldn’t have a face,
but rather, I would be a nameless force
that lies just beyond the darkness
waiting to slip in through the cracks.
At night when sleep makes our dreams seem real
would I fill up hollow bodies
and hope, as I fade with the first rays of dawn,
for the cycle to begin again?
I wonder if I would cry, if I would feel anything at all,
for those chosen to walk with me
through the valley
(just for a short time; I’d be an escort).
Would I feel any grief for their families
that weep and wail beside open graves,
unsure whether they choke
on their tears or the fistfuls of dirt
they throw on the casket?
And for those whose bodies are never found,
I would be the last witness as essence
fades back into eternity,
a silent guide for those lost among the stars.
Their bodies crumble back to dust,
but their memories remain, flickering in candles.
Would God send me to wreak vengeance on Egypt
for the deaths of three innocents?
Would I feel vindicated by cruel joy
as they drowned soundlessly in waves of flame
succumbing to the walls of earth kicked up by rockets?
What would I be?
What would I be if I came to the place where you sleep –
Would you see me at all?
Would you see a woman weeping
into the hollows you once kissed
Or would you simply be blinded by pure light? 

From the Notebook of J Michel

Home  (a song cycle)

I
Years.
We carefully put the places and the people we love inside us and call it ‘home’.
We build walls, barriers to create the contexts
that make us comfortable and call it ‘home’.
It is the place, the people –
ourselves in those places with those people –
home is the place where we belong.
Then we leave, it becomes elusive, and we begin to wonder
what all the walls and barriers were for.
Home is, when we return, the place where
we want to belong but no longer fit in.
Home is the place we choose –
can it be the places that are chosen for us?
We move through the years,
collecting stones for each home we have lost.

II

For a year I chased dreams across the desert
(a year I tried to make a home there)
a year that gave me a perspective I don’t want,
knowledge I’d rather be ignorant of.
I can’t tell if it’s the time spent away or the return
that made me realize this place
is not what it once was
nor is it what I once thought it to be.
A year ago I left the Temple,
singing as I turned from its gates;
here I am again –passing through.
Suddenly I wonder if I loved him because I was home
or if this temple seemed like home
because I loved him.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

From the Notebook of J Michel

Love poem 
If I were writing a love poem I’d begin
with a line about your eyes,
say that they’re deep like still pools of water
or beautiful like the endless sky -
you know, something sufficiently trite and worn-out.
Maybe I’d praise your lips
and add some frothing and feverish line
about how I wonder -during indecent hours -
how the touch of your hands would feel.
I’d have to reference myself too (of course)
in obvious and poorly veiled metaphor
and obnoxiously insinuate the aching curves
of my body, curious lips, idle hands -
just for good measure.
If I’m feeling bold I’ll add a flirtatious line,
with a phrase I fancy only you would recognize,
and hope to make you blush.
Then I’d continue, drawing this out
much longer than strictly necessary
by musing on some irony.
I, a poor student, an aspiring singer,
you, purveyor of the vague and the artful
(or the vaguely artful);
discussions with composers over boutique alcohol,
dinner with artists and jazz in dim lounges
after which I find myself enmeshed in affairs
with architects and philosophers.
Somehow –through a statement that is undoubtedly
overdramatic –I would tie all that to you,
say how terribly romantic it all is.
Yes, that is what I would say if this were a love poem.
But, my dear, you and I are not in love,
nor am I a poet.
So that leaves us at the end
with me wondering where to begin.