IT’S YOM KIPPUR, AND I’M NOT FASTING
The first thing I thought of this morning
Was coffee, café au lait in a
Blue ceramic bowl, a slice of toast
Still warm in my hand. I didn’t even
Remember today was Yom Kippur.
I say I’m not observant, which sounds
Like I have poor eyesight but really
Means that when God and I have a chat
All I hear is a dial tone at
The other end of the line. I’m tired
Of imagining what doesn’t have
An image. There’re no burning bushes
In my backyard, just history that
Can’t be changed, redeemed, or atoned for.
God, I have too many images
In my head today, videos of
Villages captured and recaptured,
Reporters asking, “Can you tell us
Where the bodies are buried?” Someone
Points to a field, fresh-turned dirt not far
From a road. Eighty-one years ago,
They were the bodies of Jews in a
Ravine in Kyiv, now Ukrainians.
When can we say atoning doesn’t
Work? The Earth is full of graves, mass and
Singular. Trees send out roots to thread
Ribcages that insects and worms have
Already hollowed. Each year, the ground
Sinks a little. In the history
Of the world, no one ever went broke
Selling shovels. God, there is something
Wrong with people, and thousands of years
Of fasting hasn’t fixed it. Neither
Has prayer or the sacrifice of
Unblemished cattle or first-born sons.
The sun will set soon, and the day will
Be over. I was taught the gates of
Heaven swing closed then: no more prayers.
The ones who haven’t repented yet
Aren’t going to. Another year’s passed.
Men put on their jackets and walk home.
—from Poets Respond
October 9, 2022
George Franklin: “This particular poem doesn’t require much in the way of explanation explanation. As recently as several hours ago, there were media reports of a mass grave in Lyman with 50 bodies. Today was also Yom Kippur. The ravine in Kyiv was, of course, Babyn Yar.” (web)