Friday, August 28, 2015

From the Notebook of J Michel

Elul Day 10 (Cocoon)
Elul is the time to withdraw.
The static respite before the shock
(bright and electric)
of change.
I don’t want to stop, to pause or reflect;
I want the comfort of death
without the forgetting.
I stay awake through the nights,
gluttonously cramming my dreams back
down inside of me
(forgetting them upon waking)
so I cannot hear that faint voice.
I cling insistently to fear
Though it sears my fingertips;
It is familiar.
I weep at intervals,
eyes open, eyes closed –
while driving down the boulevards and my progress
is suddenly halted by the traffic lights.
Stop. Her voice comes to me
through the speakers of my car.

Stop creating God in the image of your fears.

Friday, August 7, 2015

From the Notebook of J Michel


White is the color of the New Year,
The color of impending death and change.

The color of darkness and waiting.
The color forgiveness and receiving.
The color of pain and healing.

I am faced with the notion of my impending death
every year;
it never gets any easier.
To remember that white is the color
of light that consumes all flesh,
transforming energy.
To remember that white is not the color of finality,

but of infiniteness –
reaching in all directions,

sweeping away heavens and earth,

the threshold and the high, hidden places,

the rest and the pause,

the becoming and the knowing.

Reaching until it disappears into
the blackness of void,

stripping away flesh and bones.

Creating boundaries.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

From the Notebook of J Michel

At the New York public library 

On the steps between the stone claws
of enormous lions
that gaze placidly onto the busy avenue
I blessed you in the words of prophets.
You stood silent –
Upset, overcome, confused,
I couldn’t tell.
You never wanted me for mere words –inane chatter.
You wanted me for my presence
(essence trapped, straining)
understanding how much I longed to pour forth
ecstatic song to the unfathomable name
but couldn’t.
I wanted you because I loved you.
And you never asked me why, or how much,
or –when I finally slipped out the compound gates, wrists raw –
if I’d ever stop loving you.
You loved me, too,
you told me so every time you put your arms around me
and spoke my name.  
You were the voice of flame guiding me through the desert,
shielding me, harboring me safely
to the peaks of sandy dunes from which to fall
into deep wadis with absent trees
and rise again when the sun set.
You were the horizon in the thickness
and gray of my shifting, twilit world.
When it came time for you to leave
(angel of death and blessed change)
I couldn’t bear it.
Because the next time we encounter each other I will be different,
and I never seem to know
if it is the blades and edges of life
or the deep, yearning curves of God (longing to manifest)
that create love.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

From the Notebook of J Michel

Old World, New World

On the train. Finally, suddenly and again it’s Friday, and I’m filled with that particular mix of longing, joy, and impatient expectation. I’m on my way back to Brooklyn in search of the source of my breath, though I hadn’t realized I was home until I’d arrived –months ago. Cold, frightened, the precious skin protecting my heart raw from the blistering loneliness of the desert.

From the window I spot the giantess of the Island, torch held aloft as she stares dispassionately at the people so far below. I think I want to cry, but not in front of rush hour witnesses. I am caught between the pain of gratitude and the sudden, pressing rush of grief as I think of all the bodies and faces given shelter here, and the ones (far out numbering them) that remained trapped in the rows of cinder blocks and cement. Desperately trying to force their way out of train cars.

I think of you, on your way back to the Father Land, stepping through time forward and back into our history. My heart aches. Suddenly ten stops to Flatbush is too long.

I see you standing beside the old barracks where they put you to sleep, reading the sign that explains with rational detachment that we were put to death in their gas chambers. My heart aches. Never again, never again, please God –never again!

My love, you don’t remember that we were there. I am going to Brooklyn, and you are in Europe, but soon we will both step into sacred time to stand outside the world. I tremble as I ache in concert with suppressed grief.

You have no idea, and I can’t even tell you, how you took a piece of my heart with you when you went back to Germany. I thought I was going to die of grief, watching you unknowingly walk right back to the place that betrayed you, and I held my tongue out of respect for the dead.

I tell myself to breathe, to hold on until I can light candles amidst the loving eyes of family and banish the mundane with a single name. For this span of sunset to star rise, you will be looking for refuge from the onslaught of disconnected emotions and I will be looking for God in silent streets and in the tiny synagogue where the men will gather to sing, praying that somewhere in the eddies of this day we will find each other, clasp hands tightly, and leave the wilderness together. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

From the Notebook of J Michel


She asked me to come over, and I was secretly afraid. Not of her, you understand, but of my emotions. Eventually though, sudden free-time left me no recourse, and so I found myself sitting in her living room, surrounded by pictures of the dead. I rested cautiously on the cushions of her sofa, not knowing quite what to say, listening to her talk until I found my voice.

Then again, she was generous in that peculiar way of the elderly; they are more than happy to tell you about their lives. And I was happy to listen. Listen as she conjured forth images of boats, handsome doctors, the Dominican Republic in nineteen thirty-nine. The places she left behind.

Slowly, I realized that she and I were both casualties of the War, and though age separates us in this life, she’s always felt like an old friend to me. (After all, we lived through the same hell, it’s just that God chose her to live while I had other paths to follow).

Suddenly, overwrought with homesickness, I couldn’t help myself. I asked about her husband, about her childhood, about Berlin –as though her memories could knit back together the heart that had broken when they forced us to leave the place we’d always called home. With each word, sweet and terrible, we became closer and my heart shattered again as we recounted the night of broken glass, she speaking –I listening.

Three hours later, I sat in my car, sobbing as though the tears could drain the grief that inhabited my body out through my puffy eyes.

You see, the terrible irony is this: after the War there were so many dead. And how I wish I could be one of those who bravely stand to pray for strangers (because there’s no one else). But the prayer just turns to ash in my mouth and I choke every time. How, how can I praise God when I’m still looking for myself amongst that six million of names?