The Center of a Creation that Doesn't Exist

                            What have you done with the world I entrusted to you?
                                    — God, to Pastor Richard Cizik

                            Yom Kippur 2020

Taut heat, scorched grass.
The Willamette slow below.

Summer's last spasm
stirring perfume from soil

and cement — sweet
I've never sensed so late in the year.

A maple glimmers
through convection waves.

Hills shrouded by firs.
Shrouded, too, by smoke,

our genius for parsing earth down  
to what we can extract.

Oh beloved world,
the week has skinned us all —

skies a livid choreography,
streets a cataract of ash,

fifty thousand unhomed.
I rub particulate from tortured eyes,

scratch prayers for strangers —
for lives so drained of life

they are wind. Joys
scrape along my throat —

a first kiss, another body's
startling press, a life's onset,

before I cough out loss, 
and the erasure that harrows my blood:

Jews burned from history
like the bright pyres of books that lined

those elegant Berlin boulevards —
abscesses on the rich flesh

of a future desperate to retain
all that made it certain.

Here, now, crow commandeering
the pine that owns the view.

Neither, I suddenly know,
will spare a second to the existential,

the conceit of a cosmos without it.
To what have you done

with the world I entrusted to you?

Militias storming the Capitol

are not discrete from glaciers fading —
from whole regions of us

consigned to dust — from the ash
that's become our intimate.

Who will look back and grieve
the trees that held these hills?

Sea, storm, Talmud
which whispered to me, once,

of stewardship, of the love
I've been too tender to live:

You are not obligated to complete the work.
But neither are you free to abandon it.

I steal into a home that's still my own.
Morning unfurling as it always has

into mist and promise — and then,
into knowing that fearless

does not mean I have no fear.
It means fear no longer has me.

So what have I done
with the world You entrusted?

Hills, firs, sky —
imperfect, defenseless heart —

I'm at last too human to spin dogma
from despair. Too human not to submit.

O ancestors, this night I kneel
and hear Creation breathe.