November 07

Three Poems by Rodger Kamenetz

Rodger Kamenetz

The Real

The word “real”-- completely vexed foreign word
we use every day– “get real man”-- “reality tv”
oxymoron– not to be confused with the real
in real estate which comes from royal meaning
the king owns the land– no this real means
either the material concrete nubby substantial
toe stubbing, bullet piercing, ass hurting, scar
tissue forming, sidewalk scraping, hot flashing hardware–
or else the highest deepest broadest truest hidden
arrangement of light behind thought behind body
behind deed- the holy of holy of holies
in the high priest’s brain when the Ein Sof shouts down
its lightning and breaks open the heart of the universe
and time stops in its gears to unwind another year’s folly–
and all the people outside bow down muttering and kiss the ground–
their lips in the dust– but a minute later they wipe them off
brush off their clothes, stand up, start up that cycle
of what’s real man, what’s really really real & don’t you know
they get back to their business in a God damned minute?

Seder of theWicked Sun

--…halilah hazeh-- maror

Never until now and again feeling
Lonely man on the roof, lonely man with correct spelling
and noon in the moon, the roof with moon flowers
of shadows only, light on the gravel, you wait
for the full moon to pass over. And no one will rescue you, Lonely.
No one will speak with you. The moon's head is out of voice.
And you will not fly off the roof, blood smeared on the lintel
means death has passed you by. Until the sun raises another day
you pray at the moon. Teeth set on edge. The dog will bark, Lonely
the dog will say its name in the dark, Lonely, you will call
the dog but the dog will not call you, Lonely. Spell it any way you can
with or without the I.

They came in a group, left in a group, with a mighty hand
and an outstretched arm, her grandmother arm with fat shaking gelatin
his hand bony and veined, the old children, the young old men
singing in the dark in fire-darkened Egypt, clouds of fire
crowds of smoke, dogs barking up and down the Nile
river full of blood, frogs and lice, black snakes curled in the trees.
Never until now and again feeling
passed over
with or without the I.
Had you been there, you would not have been there,
for you boils and plague, said the wise son
for you matzah meal and eggs, said the wise son
and the simple son, What is this?

Had you been there you would not have been there
Last year he was slave, this year he is free
last night we were slaves, tonight we are free
a minute ago I was slave, in a minute will be free
The wicked son bites the wise son
The wise son strangles the simple son
The silent son praises the wise son who does not know

Alone on the gravel roof, the sound of barking
forced sounds struggle in the throat of a dog, Lonely music
dispel it any way you can, had you been there
you would not have been saved tonight
or any night passed over
for you bile and plague, for you murdered rain
for you dam, for you ersatz, for you ten drops
of blood in the plate, spattered trail, morse code dits and dats
the angels laughing,
my children are dying and you are laughing
angels on the rooftop laughing and angels muffled in earth
and for the son who does not know how to ask, weeping
we tell the whole story:
How the fire burnt the stick, how the cat burned the lamb
how the butcher slew the butcher's wife, how the angel
of death loved them all, how the holy one blessed the death
how the stick beat the stick, how the angel beat the angel
how the burned burned the fire, how the fire quenched the thirst
how the water bathed the angel, how the lamb slew the butcher
how the lion loves the lion and the lamb loves the lamb
how one kid one kid one kid father bought and lost

The dog barks in itself. The day circles in night
night bears out the day. Noon in the moon and dawn in the dusk
The lonely dog barks for no reason, like music.
But to hear it from here
it sounds like someone joking in his voice.
Lonely, the dog will not call you. Lonely, the lamb will not bark
Lonely the gnats will fly out of a river of blood,
hover over the brimming cup undrunk by Elijah,
spill it any way you can: ten drops on the plate
subtracted from the weeping, four brothers at the table
subtracted from the father who cries out to the angels
for the one who does not know, who cannot ask
why are you laughing, my children are dying and you
bark and bark, a lion choking in your throat
lamb bone smeared lintel, burnt egg on the plate
parsley tuftsgreen, bitter herbs sweetened with stained apples
you lift a cup for the promise, lonely on the roof
invisible cup, cup of nothing, invisible Elijah.

A Street in Manhattan , A Hut in Kabul

The dead lie in their furrows side by side.
Their feet are horn, their bones, clay.
They lie with their mouths open, covered with webs.
An itinerant spider works. An army of mites
crawls over their eyes and into their nostrils.

I am sorry for the dead there inside my hut.
The hut I have built out of words and slight music.
I stand over them and sprinkle them with icing of dust.
My pity is another shovel in their ditch.

Rodger Kamenetz will be doing a live reading at the Zeek event, Praise, Grumble, Schmooze, Lament on 31 January 2008 at the 92nd Street Y.


Images from Aileen Bassis' Man in a Hat series (2004 - 2005).


Rodger Kamenetz is the author of the landmark international bestseller The Jew in The Lotus and the National Jewish Book Award-winning Stalking Elijah. His five books of poetry include The Lowercase Jew --he has been called "the most formidable of the Jewish-American poets". His memoir, Terra Infirma , has been described as "the most beautiful book ever written about a mother and son."

His latest book, The History of Last Night's Dream, opens up the whole field of word and image, psychology and imagination, and points to an ancient but now hidden way of using dreams to rediscover the soul. Kamenetz lives in New Orleans and teaches at LSU in Baton Rouge where he is Professor in the Department of English and in the Department of Philosophy and Religious studies. He is the founding director of LSU's MFA program in Creative Writing, and also the founding director of the Jewish Studies Program. He holds a B.A. from Yale College and graduate degrees from Johns Hopkins and Stanford Universities.