Saturday, January 02, 2010


Poet's Choice: 'Temple Beth Israel'
By Gabrielle Calvocoressi

Sunday, January 3, 2010;
  • The Washington Post

  • In the spring of my 13th year, my mother took her life. It's not an unusual story, though that seems unusual to say. She had been ill my whole life and was, in some ways, a ghost the entire time I knew her. Now I can use terms like "borderline personality disorder." Back then there was just a mother who was sometimes home drinking but more often gone, in some nameless hospital.

    What was it she wanted that I wanted too? Often the answer was: for God to hear me. My mother wanted that, and as she got sicker, it seemed to be all she wanted. Sometimes she thought God did hear her, and sometimes his absence made her home feel so full of nothingness that I can't remember what happened. After she died, I tried to stop believing. It wasn't until I was asked on a radio show what I did instead of keeping a journal and said, "Pray" that I realized I'd never stopped speaking into and with that deep silence.

    My collection of poems "Apocalyptic Swing" contains faith and violence and all manner of music. One of those poems, "Temple Beth Israel," takes its name from a synagogue that was bombed in the summer of 1964. It considers faith and doubt co-existing in a world that does not welcome all of us. It is a letter about learning and risking joy in the face of tremendous loss. A love letter to a world in which faith and hope are unconquerable because they are boundless.

    Temple Beth Israel

    I thought I would write to you about the bombings
    Of all those churches and temples in the South.

    But instead I took a corner and there
    Like the sun I wake to in this distant city

    A boy resplendent in his yarmulke and Lakers
    Jacket. It has happened before but we are almost

    Champions now. In the arena, on the radio,
    On every school bus there is the song of our city

    Winning something. He was no higher than
    My chest, heaving from a run as I tried to burn

    Off a night of restless dreams. I thought
    I would write about the people standing on the corners

    In the midst of all that rubble and destruction
    But here are the fathers carrying their sons to shul

    And my legs are moving like I always dreamt they could.
    If I talk to you amidst all this traffic and choose

    To speak of joy instead of the suffering of so many,
    People laughing in the streets: Shenandoah, La Cienega,

    Doheny with its schools and girls in their long skirts
    Does it make this less of a poem? How do we make a world

    When so many don't want us here? Here are the boys
    In their black suits and golden jackets. Here are the hills

    Dry from months with no rain. Here I am learning
    To read again. We sound the alarm and it is as sweet

    As it is sorrowful. Our hands are in the air. We are running.
    We are using our legs. We are holding buckets of water

    And bright flags. We wear jerseys with the names of temporary kings upon them. We are breathing. We are breathing.

    We are almost champions now.

    Gabrielle Calvocoressi is the author of "The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart" and "Apocalyptic Swing."

  • Gaby On Colin's WNPR Show

  • Prospect Magazine Features Poet Gaby Calvocoressi, CT Young Writers Triple Knockout Event Jan. 15, 2010 & Hartford Boxers Past & Present

  • Jen Allen Big Band @ the Hartford Club Jan. 15
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