Friday, May 6, 2011

Upstairs the Eulogy

Downstairs the Rummage Sale:  Johanna Ginsburg writes in A life in poetry where the holy and secular meet, published in the April 27th New Jersey Jewish News:
Yehoshua November always seems to live in two worlds: the holy and the profane, the religious and the secular, the hasidic and the poetic. In the tension between the two, his poetry dwells.
 Yehoshua November holds an MFA from the University of Pittsburgh.  He has also studied Hasidic thought at the Rabbinical College of America, the Chabad-Lubavitch seminary in Morristown, New Jersey.
Combining those two worlds has earned November national recognition in the world of poetry— most recently, as a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for poetry for his first book of poems, God’s Optimism, published by Main Street Rag in 2010.
Here are two poems from God's Optimism for your thoughtful enjoyment:
Upstairs The Eulogy, Downstairs The Rummage Sale
The beloved Yiddish professor passed away on the same day
as the synagogue’s rummage sale,

and because they could not bear
the coffin up the many steps
that led to the sanctuary,
they left it in the hallway downstairs,

and because I was not one of his students,
and it didn’t matter if I heard the eulogy,
they told me to stay downstairs,
to watch over the body and recite Psalms.

And I thought,
this is how it is in the life and death of a righteous man:
upstairs in the sanctuary, they speak of you in glowing terms,
while down below your body rests beside
old kitchen appliances.

And I recited the Psalms as intently
as I could over a man I had only met once,
and because I knew where he was headed,
and you and I were to wed in a few months,
I asked that he bring with him a prayer for a good marriage.

And this is how it is in the life and death of a righteous man:
strangers pray over the sum of your days,
and strangers ask you to haul their heavy requests
where you cannot even take your body.

One evening you will walk past a park
between two fading apartment buildings,
and see men playing tennis in white garments,
and long to slip out of your life,
to be buried in the white robe with no pockets,
and float like the ball
between two rivals, two great friends,
this world and the next.

— from God’s Optimism by Yehoshua November

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