Yermiyahu Ahron Taub
Midnight in the Garden of GridironThe daffodil finds himself called to the gridiron long past the call to sleep.
He walks to a nearby school, as his yeshivah lacks such facilities.
There are few athletes in the yeshivah, and even the most gifted
among them do not focus on the training needed to excel.
Matters of the spirit necessarily take precedence there;
the body is a vessel that allows the soul to flourish.
And yet this lack of athletic super-prowess at his yeshivah has not
diminished the daffodil’s sense of inadequacy on its fields, although
perhaps it has lessened the taunts, which truth be told, are not as frequent
as they might have been elsewhere, for example, at this nearby school.
He is not surprised to find the field gates ajar,
for he has absorbed early that access can be denied
even without barking dogs or sirens or locked gates, for that matter.
He sashays down the sidelines, taking in the sweep of the field,
the panorama of its enormity, challenging for the most disciplined of
athletes, let alone a daffodil under powerful, if partially lit, floodlights.
The bleachers are empty but he can perceive the cheers
that so often flooded the streets on Friday nights,
when the Sabbath, with its rest and quiet,
commenced for the daffodil and his folk.
In this quiet, the daffodil can make out the shapes of the bodies
hammered into strength and speed straining against tight shiny jerseys,
the grunts of their forward thrust. He wishes not to be of them really,
but to be the one for one of them,
to feel strong arms around his impossibly willowy stalks.
He can’t imagine how of any of this can happen;
and even as a young daffodil, can’t see how it ever will.
Still this dream, this image really, for nothing ever happens
beyond the envelopment of arms, the embrace ultimate,
flits through his fevered mind as he continues to make his way downfield.
The cheerleaders are no less present than the objects of their cheer.
The daffodil is dazzled by the lustrousness of their hair, apparent even in
ponytail and so different from his own shorn head and sidelocks.
And the uniforms, with their bold lettering and skirts so skimpy
to reveal bodies lithe and proud. And why shouldn’t they be proud?
He would be too if they would let him be one of them.
Even he has to giggle at this incongruity,
for what place a daffodil among cultivated hibiscus?
The symmetry of the chants and cheers eggs him on in delight,
and the daffodil is now past mid-field.
The play in this world just beyond his cloistered one has influenced him
more than he’s been aware, the daffodil perceives. The style and stakes
and structures here have determined the fate of his bloom. But tonight he
is not concerned with difference or apartness, call it what you will.
Instead, the daffodil begins to dance just before the end zone.
It is a dance of simplicity and charm, with the understatement of the
moderns and the ardor of the ancients. It is the ultimate solo act,
of course, with none to join, and none even to witness.
This is his touchdown. Here, tonight, his skirts skirting cleated astroturf,
the daffodil finally touches down.
Musings (Made-Up) of Melanieafter the portrait, “Melanie, the Schoolteacher” by Chaim Soutine
at the Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, Ohio
His reputation precedes him.
They say he walked on foot to the City of Light
from a town in the remote regions of the East,
where he was punished for violating the prohibition on the graven image.
And that his paintings are composed of brushstrokes of rage.
Even his trees are said to bear malevolence, or perhaps bear witness to it.
I wouldn’t know; I haven’t seen them. I’m merely stating what I’ve heard.
They say too that he lives a life of poverty,
which seems only to expand his ego and strengthen his determination.
Perhaps he’ll find a patron undeterred, or compelled even, by rage and
focus. Some are so drawn. So perhaps.
Alas I am not of that persuasion. My father raised me to appreciate
all that was fine and good and restrained. He valued carefully hewn lines,
such as those to be found in the essays of X and the polemics of W.
He instilled in me the principles of frugality, of living simply if zestfully,
of discovering joy in the everyday—the black of coffee against white
porcelain under a breakfast sun, the rigors of an evening constitutional
through parks and along river banks and the pleasure of returning home,
taking the lift, or taking the stairs when the lift was out of order.
All of which drove my mother to mild (and then not so) distraction
until she left us altogether for charms more roiling, perhaps not unlike
those of this painter bent now over my unfolding likeness.
And thus I was left with the care of Father in the evenings, although there
was always a sharing of duties along expected lines, of course. I learned
to make crêpes and soufflés as he required, and he found the most
suitable wines for every occasion and quizzed me on my
Greek and and Latin and Hebrew. And when I received my
first-class certificate and was thus qualified to teach, he did so beam.
I had never seen such brightness on him in the mutedness of our quarters.
And always did Father have suggestions for me, for my students, recalling
what had succeeded for him, warming to his theme of how learning,
methodically attained, thoughtfully applied, cannot fail us.
There can be no shortcut to wissenschaft, Father insisted.
And here I am on canvas, at last, flattered to sit,
although doubting whether Father, gone these many years,
would have approved. Vanity, chimera, I can hear him say now.
Still, a form of immortalization. Hmm.
What of me has been visible to this painter?
My high forehead, my figure elongated, dwarfed by this red chair,
and my rather large hands stared at by a rare suitor. Yes, there is a kind of
optimism here, as remarked upon in a recent note from a student thanking
me for my encouragement of her fifteen years ago. One never knows
one’s legacy. Perhaps there is even serenity? Enough of this. I never was
much one for looking at myself, let alone representations of that self.
I suppose my favorite part of the painting
is these washes of green, undulating and gentle.
So unlike the artist’s portrayal of trees
of which there is such chatter in the cafés and elsewhere.
Is that a light in the top right of the canvas?
He seems pleased.
Perhaps we shall leave it here.
Time to go. Goodbye, Sir. Yes, yes, the pleasure was mine.
I will stop by the bakery and try Marie’s new eclairs.
Papers to grade.
A good night beckons.
On a Given SundayThe senator from a state renowned for its cancer-causing products
has just finished the Sabbath dinner. After loosening his belt a
notch or two (Delia truly has perfected her brisket and cornbread), he
decides to take time to reflect on today’s sermon in the privacy of his
study. Perhaps too to reflect on the arrival into the congregation’s
midst of a mysterious young man, whose lines and curves were,
beneath summer linen and seersucker, utterly bewitching.
And he is reluctant, these hours later, to break that spell.
Gathering himself, the senator will have to monitor the day’s progress—
the bills, the constituents’ missives, the (dreaded) donor calls from those
who want what they claim only he can give … at least for now.
That is, if he does exactly as they “suggest”, which today,
given the brisket and the cornbread, he is largely wont to do.
He knows that this is the Day of Rest, but the public must be served.
And Mae is visiting the ladies to plan a fund raising benefit for …
He wishes he could remember the inspiration for Mae’s current initiative.
And of course Delia is still here, cleaning in the kitchen. Humming
hymns under breath no doubt. Dear, devoted Delia. With them all these
years. With good reason to skedaddle, he acknowledges. Mae has never
been easy, and the years have only hardened her ways. He wonders how
Delia makes ends meet; all too aware is he of the limits of his largesse.
Expectations managed, he supposes, something with which he, despite
his power, is all too familiar. Wealth shall not follow us into earth,
the preacher had said earlier, declining to note its value in the today.
Delia knows not to interrupt him in his study, his sanctuary.
Only he can clean it, he insists. If his listless fanning of the duster can be
called “cleaning.” And you won’t find what you’d think you’d find.
There are no images locked away in drawers, no clean supply of
hand towels. Mostly he prefers reverie. He thinks of the preacher’s
invective against abomination, or he should say “invectives” for he
has heard them since he was a little boy, comprehending, knowing,
trembling in sky blue shorts that clung to the pew benches.
How he has despised that little boy, all too grateful for the energy supplied
by his neighbors who became his constituents, how he eagerly joined them
repeatedly, rapturously even, in the failed erasure of that little boy. Some-
times he wonders how he hasn’t skedaddled. A word he finds ridiculous
but nevertheless alluring. He might have, too, in this day and age. Times
are changing. Or are they? Some would feign surprise; others would claim
they’d seen the signs all along. Sometimes he thinks, if I had just returned
the gaze of X, or followed Y down the alley behind the haberdashery …
Still, what would (have) become of Mae? Mae, whose grief at the silence
coursing from the nursery, has left her submerged in good works. And
what would become of the images that he has so carefully cultivated—the
men who circulate through gray, who open doors only to close them—
as he strokes the hand of Mae, charitable plans in hand, in the newly
renovated parlor, as he accompanies Mae to her ever lightless room, as
the wave of Delia’s sacred song (and the clatter of the heirloom cutlery)
carries him, breathless, to the cluttered visions of his own sanctuary.
Copyright © 2015 Yermiyahu Ahron Taub
Yermiyahu Ahron Taub is the author of four books of poetry, Prayers of a Heretic/Tfiles fun an apikoyres (2013), Uncle Feygele (2011), What Stillness Illuminated/Vos shtilkayt hot baloykhtn (2008), and The Insatiable Psalm (2005). Tsugreytndik zikh tsu tantsn: naye Yidishe lider/Preparing to Dance: New Yiddish songs, a CD of nine of his Yiddish poems set to music by Michał Górczyński, was released in 2014 on the Multikulti Project label (www.multikulti.com). Taub was honored by the Museum of Jewish Heritage as one of New York’s best emerging Jewish artists and has been nominated four times for a Pushcart Prize and twice for a Best of the Net award. With his colleague, Ellen Cassedy, he is the recipient of the 2012 National Yiddish Book Center Translation Prize for translation of fiction by Blume Lempel. Please visit his website at www.yataub.net.