In the rabbi’s parable a lame one climbs
Onto a blind one’s shoulders and together
They take the fruit of the garden of the Lord.
O body the blind one, O soul the lame one.
Soul that is never purely the soul, thank God.
The body purely the body only in Death.
Barney Katz, Puritan mullah in the sixth grade,
Scowled at me O Little Town when I sang
The carols, and Robert you won’t go to Heaven.
O Barney, where did you get that idea?
When we were in our twenties I heard he died,
In a strange accident involving LSD.
Body that trembled on the shoulders of the soul,
How still we see thee lie. Above thy deep
And dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Or do I misremember, and was it Barney
Whose body was attracted by the carol?
Was mine the priggish soul that scolded him
Away from those traif hymns, thy dark streets shineth?
Purity of Sheohl, dappled impurity of life–
The ancient Jewish community included
Many who were not Jewish, the ger toshav.
In the pre-Christian Empire, Greek-speaking gentiles
Joined the synagogue body without conversion.
Is anyone ever entirely in the synagogue,
O Little Town? Or ever entirely outside it?
When the great Maimonides temporizes upon
The nature of the Jewish resurrection,
A whirring of subtle wings, a storied shadow.
And if we lack a heaven shall we construct one–
With bannisters of pearl, six-pointed stars
And cartoon harps? Or Milton’s eternal shampoo?
“With nectar pure his oozy locks he laves.”
A generation named their children Milton
And Sidney and Herbert: names of a past and a future:
The old world on the shoulders of the new,
The new world on the shoulders of the old.
The convert Hopkins thanks God for dappled things.
Barney I wish I could take you onto my shoulders
Into the Vilna Shul on Adams Street
Where an immigrant master carver from Ukraine,
Sam Katz, who specialized in merry-go-rounds
Has made a Holy Ark adorned with light bulbs
And shapes like manes and tails. How silently
The wondrous gifts are given, the freckled-forth,
Obscure inventions. Blessed is the dotted
And spotted tabernacle. O lame and blind–
O mottled town, that harbors our hopes and fears.