Lexicon of Our Own Undoing        

                                 Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church arson
                                          Charleston, June 17, 2015

Veiled echo of ships lost in grey

New normal of fire
beloved forest beyond my door
almost as much threat as solace  

Voice constricting

Stark venom of small
of insignificant of who
really gives a shit I exist

Add in the charcoal skin
of the homeless man
who shivved me with guilt
while I was already shivving myself
and it was over

Does it matter
that the word surging through me
never stained my lips

as though venom unexpressed
were any less venom

as though the posture of love
might eclipse hate

Where now do I lay claim to all I am


so long-perfected
the story of the Jew

A mother's hands which scoured
the past from my moment
essential yes that set me amidst
and set me apart

Voices that insisted Judaic meant chosen
meant touched by vistas
which might even uproot hate
from the sacred soil of language
before it became blood escaping into earth

Bright knowing of Jewishness
then the slow acid of isolation


Father brother
even a beloved soft-spoken uncle

their offhand imprecations

That schvarze who works
at the front gate
mouthed off to me again

So long ago I felt the letters align
before I could hear the violence emerge

consonants as harsh as they were innate

not us
burned into me as though
our ancestral tongue might encode exile
for dissent
for what I refuse to hold
in the same mouth as meyn mentshn

my people

O bane of the Jewish millennia
the bane we become


These ashes I keep scattering

Then Charleston
my brother
it was a bunch of schvarzes
better them than us

How quietly compassion forsakes
those who've survived

A people so deep with memory
without what sings most deeply

I strain to hear the hurt behind him
to refract myself
through his darkened glass                    
But to be me
and also be that


High school winter

My posse in the jeep
gunning up that too-moneyed hill

Older housekeeper bent into shining ice
as she pressed toward her bus
breath luminous against elegant black

Virulence from my friends
igniting the air

The word scorching through me
its arc from submerged to spacious

the urge to belong too shrill
for abstractions like wrong to prevail

I staggered
certain the road
would rupture beneath us

certain she too would stagger
then turn and sear me with the poison I
the sole Jew
had just made hers

Terror before the dark
realpolitik of my heart
in the next breath of stillness

the cancer of not us
growing from soul to throat

I learned the lexicon
of our own undoing

the shattered mirror of history