Two Elul Poems
These two poems for Elul help us to walk the forty-day span between the new moon of Elul and Yom Kippur.
Forty days of Flood
forty years between slavery
and what came after
even Moses took forty days
the Rabbis found forty
weeks between a womanís
and the birth of a child
an idea takes
from seed to fruition
so from the first sliver
of Elul moon we wake
to the cry of shofar
forty days until Yom Kippur
brings whatever rebirth
we can muster
we chant our longing
a house of holiness all the days
of our lives
here in Massachusetts
the first of Elul means
through my windows blaze
the first yellowed branches
autumnís strange fire
and even if my mouth
honeyed with television
forgets the psalms
my spirit remembers
the change is coming
If you offer Fortune a beer
she giggles, demurs, because she's
"born again." I'm not exactly sure
what that means in Ghanaian parlance
though I imagine a lake baptism
like the one I saw in Galilee,
robes billowing against dark water.
Rebirth is always metaphor.
Forty days to refocus, like a lens,
then Yom Kippur's labor, singing
and praying, hoping against hope
this year the old words
and hungerís familiar pangs
will bear new meaning.
The closest I've come
was that week on retreat, sitting
until pins crept up my calves, then
walking the fireweed fields rapt
in my prayer shawl. Friday afternoon
we shucked modesty, plunged
in the swimming pool, laughing
and blessing, then a hot tub dunk
to welcome the Sabbath bride.
We could dip each week in those waters.
We could sanctify every morsel.
We could open our eyes and be thankful,
could dwell in that house all the days
of our lives. And we donít. And that's
okay. The goldenrod always blooms
five weeks before first frost
and these forty days are for pausing
relearning the Name in every breath
preparing to be open to awe
again, to be ready
to make ourselves born.
Rachel Barenblat is a writer of essays, poems, and liturgy, and is working on a book of Jewish ritualcraft.
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