Excerpts >Spring 2006

Philip Terman

Two Dwellings

1. after the service

On the doorway of a dwelling
beside the synagogue in Krakow – an indentation, a space
in the shape of a mazuza, what we are commanded
to fasten to our gates so that each time we arrive
or leave we press our fingertips to our lips
and touch the one prayer that will recall us
to our lives. A trespasser on the threshold, I look
both ways and kiss the emptiness.

2. miller’s chapel

Not the main sanctuary, with its white dome
and the choir and the microphone for the rabbi,

but this tiny room in the back of a basement,
some tapestry, the ark, a few scattered chairs,

the same minyan of mourners that gathers in the hour
of first light, shuffling in with their shadows.

On both sides, windows, the surrounding trees,
so when the service calls for them to sing the Shema

or the Alenu, they are birds chirping in Hebrew
and the song arises from out of a deep forest.

Just dawn, it is all part of the flickering world.
There are no lights on but the everlasting that shines

on the book open to where they all are at this moment,
old men and women wearing their working clothes,

hurrying their prayers before the day’s labor –
this one has to visit her sick husband at intensive care,

that one has to sign a contract for a settlement –
none of them daring to drive from home

to work in a direct line without a detour to God,
here, in this out of the way storage room

of yarmulkes and t’fillin and talissym, a space
so small each voice is distinguishable from the rest.

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