L’Shana Tova

This year I was lucky to return to the Mendocino coast for Rosh Hashana services at the wonderful Mendocino Coast Jewish Community, led by the always inspiring Rabbi Margaret Holub. She invited me to do a teaching this year, and I responded with a poem I wrote on the coast about twenty years ago:

The Afternoon Before the Day of Atonement

I thought I was going to see the seals
asleep on the rocks, but it turned out
the cormorant was the real show, wrestling
a twisting length of eel, persistently
untwisting with its beak to swallow it whole.
Then, as I watched, uncertain whether
I’d seen eel or kelp straighten and slide
down the long bird throat, speared its beak
into the surf and did it again,
unmistakably eel, writhing
for its life, no match for the skilled
beak-tossing cormorant.

And the whole time, and afterward,
waves break on the shore,
and I wonder how to ask forgiveness
for being myself: merciless
like the cormorant, frantic
like the eel, thoughtless
like both, though I am designed to think,
God’s mindful tool, whose eyes behold the ocean
to sense the curve and crash of the infinite.

I take off my shoes and run along the edge
of the waves—border between two worlds
that is never fixed—run as the tide
drives landward and the land
lifts and resettles a little with each pulse,
run because I can, because my heart
pumps the salt sea of blood through its intricate
networks, because I am alive
though many I’ve loved are gone,
because I am here on this glittering September afternoon
legs pumping, heart pumping, mind
wrestling with this slippery existence.

2 thoughts on “L’Shana Tova

  1. Lovely! We observed on the Carmel Beach with feelings you describe so well. May your years continue to be blessed. Love, Illia

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