The Art of Blessing the Day: Poems with a Jewish Theme


Winner of the 2000 Paterson Poetry Prize

Appearing in various collections and spanning two decades, Marge Piercy’s liturgical poems have been recited in people’s homes and places of worship; in wedding and shabbat services; in rituals of the Passover Seder, Rosh Chodesh, and the Jewish High Holy Days. Some of these poems are highly personal and deal with the poet’s family and her childhood, while others concern themselves with midrash (contemporary interpretations of the torah) or a new take on Jewish tradition. Now, for the first time, all these poems have been collected in one volume.

 

ISBN: 0-375-40477-5
Published by Alfred A. Knopf

 

“Accessible, transformative, thrilling. Marge Piercy teases out the spiritual lights hidden within the most ordinary events. Here is poetry so reverent and disturbing that it borders on liturgy.”
–Rabbi Lawrence Kushner

 

“Keep her volume near your home altar; Marge Piercy will give wings to your heart’s stirrings.”
–Rabbi Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi

 

“If poetry, as Auden said, exists to praise, then surely it exists to bless. And Marge Piercy teaches us the art of blessing in her poems, with the firmness of her eye, the courage of her strength, the directness of her language, as gritty and sweet and real as the fruits she carries with her on all her journeys through family memory and tradition, prayer and the holy days of sacred year, gathering her wisdom and the wisdom of her difficult Jewish tribe, and bringing that wisdom home.”
–Rodger Kamenetz, author of The Jew in the Lotus

 

“Whether I find myself guffawing over ‘Eat fruit’ or falling shattered by “At the well’ or being attuned to the Breath of Life by ‘Nishmat,’ it is my life–my whole life–that I am finding, renewed and enlivened by these poems. We can shmooze these poems, pray these poems, Torah-study these poems. What we breath out, Piercy has breathed in; what Piercy breaths out, we can breath in. We and she breath each other into life.”
–Rabbi Arthur Waskow

 

“Marge Piercy’s superb spiritual powers are up to their elbows in the lived world, bringing a liberated and grounded wisdom to everything they touch. Behind this book one hears the great embracing toast of Jewish tradition: ‘L’Chaim!’ — ‘to life!’ In its pages the work of the heart and the work of the spirit are visibly, passionately advanced.”
–Jane Hirschfield

 

“The Art of Blessing the Day is organized in six sections, each comprised of poems having to deal with Jewish life and ritual:

 

Mishpocheh (Family)
The Chuppah (Marriage)
Tikkum Olam (Repair of the world)
Maggidim, Midrashim (Of History and Interpretation)
Tefillah (Prayer)
Ha Shana (The Year)

 

Many of these poems are commonly used in shabbat services, weddings, funerals, memorials, bar- and bat- mitzvah ceremonies, Passover seders and Jewish High Holiday services.

 

Here is a small sampling:

 

The Chuppah

 

The chuppah stands on four poles.
The home has its four corners.
The chuppah stands on four poles.
The marriage stands on four legs.
Four points loose the winds
that blow on the walls of the house,
the south wind that brings the warm rain,
the east wind that brings the cold rain,
the north wind that brings the cold sun
and the snow, the long west wind
bringing the weather off the far plains.

 

Here we live open to the seasons.
Here the winds caress and cuff us
contrary and fierce as bears.
Here the winds are caught and snarling
in the pines, a cat in a net clawing
breaking twigs to fight loose.
Here the winds brush your face
soft in the morning as feathers
that float down from a dove’s breast.

 

Here the moon sails up out of the ocean
dripping like a just washed apple.
Here the sun wakes us like a baby.
Therefore the chuppah has no sides.

 

It is not a box.
It is not a coffin.
It is not a dead end.
Therefore the chuppah has no walls.
We have made a home together
open to the weather of our time.
We are mills that turn in the winds of struggle
converting fierce energy into bread.

 

The canopy is the cloth of our table
where we share fruit and vegetables
of our labor, where our care for the earth
comes back and we take its body in ours.
The canopy is the cover of our bed
where our bodies open their portals wide,
where we eat and drink the blood
of our love, where the skin shines red
as a swallowed sunrise and we burn
in one furnace of joy molten as steel
and the dream is flesh and flower.

 

O my love O my love we dance
under the chuppah standing over us
like an animal on its four legs,
like a table on which we set our love
as a feast, like a tent
under which we work
not safe but no longer solitary
in the searing heat of our time.

 

Kaddish

 

Look around us, search above us, below, behind.
We stand in a great web of being joined together.
Let us praise, let us love the life we are lent
passing through us in the body of Israel
and our own bodies, let’s say amen.

 

Time flows through us like water.
The past and the dead speak through us.
We breathe out our children’s children, blessing.

 

Blessed is the earth from which we grow,
Blessed the life we are lent,
blessed the ones who teach us,
blessed the ones we teach,
blessed is the word that cannot say the glory
that shines through us and remains to shine
flowing past distant suns on the way to forever.
Let’s say amen.

 

Blessed is light, blessed is darkness,
but blessed above all else is peace
which bears the fruits of knowledge
on strong branches, let’s say amen.

 

Peace that bears joy into the world,
peace that enables love, peace over Israel
everywhere, blessed and holy is peace, let’s say amen.
Apple sauce for Eve

 

Those old daddies cursed you and us in you,
damned for your curiosity: for your sin
was wanting knowledge. To try, to taste,
to take into the body, into the brain
and turn each thing, each sign, each factoid
round and round as new facets glint and white
fractures into colors and the image breaks
into crystal fragments that pierce the nerves
while the brain casts the chips into patterns.

 

Each experiment sticks a finger deep in the pie,
dares existence, blows a horn in the ear
of belief, lets the nasty and difficult brats
of real questions into the still air
of the desiccated parlor of stasis.
What we all know to be true, constant,
melts like frost landscapes on a window
in a jet of steam. How many last words
in how many dead languages would translate into,
But what happens if I, and Whoops!

 

We see Adam wagging his tail, good dog, good
dog, while you and the snake shimmy up the tree,
lab partners in a dance of will and hunger,
that thirst not of the flesh but of the brain.
Men always think women are wanting sex,
cock, snake, when it is the world she’s after.
Then birth trauma for the first conceived kid
of the ego, I think therefore I am, I
kick the tree, who am I, why am I,
going, going to die, die, die.

 

You are indeed the mother of invention,
the first scientist. Your name means
life: finite, dynamic, swimming against
the current of time, tasting, testing,
eating knowledge like any other nutrient.
We are all the children of your bright hunger.
We are all products of that first experiment,
for if death was the worm in that apple,
the seeds were freedom and the flowering of choice.

 

All Poems, Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, Middlemarsh, Inc.
They may not be reproduced in print or electronically without prior written permission of the publisher.

 

from The Art of Blessing the Day: Poems with a Jewish Theme
Alfred A. Knopf Publisher, New York
ISBN 0-375-40477-5
Available in Paperback