Poetry: New Prayer

My temple has new prayer books printed in Cincinnati.

Their shiny red covers, scent of glue, are sacrilegious,

washed clean of suffering as if we had never spoken

with accents, and empty of history like the ghosts

of children never born. We have a new Torah, too,

one that never hid at the bottom of a chest,

velvet coat cinched tightly around its waist.

I hope god skips synagogue altogether and saves Flint

and South Sudan and is the god we praise

not the one we know, the one defeated so easily

by trains. While chemicals were eating my relatives,

my mother, all of seven, flipped through a prayer book

with a torn binding in a Jersey City synagogue

where morning light fell in bars across the dusty

wood floor. She learned to wear a coat of many colors

all of them black and weighted like bodies, like earth,

like bullets. I’d capture her DNA from those pages for an altar

if I could. She was allowed to exist

except in her imagination.

Poetry Editor Alicia Ostriker comments:
This is a poem of deep, complex, controlled anger. Anger at the prayer book that does not smell of suffering, anger at the God who permitted the suffering, anger at the culture that clothed her mother in black and buried her imagination. It is also—read carefully—a poem of deep love.