Snapshots of the Tree of Life

She is a tree of life to those who grasp her,
and whoever holds onto her is happy.
Proverbs 3:18

The chazan’s low intoning of the Mourner’s
Kaddish for his father stirs
the leaves on the Tree of Life.

The yellow tickets—a dollar
a piece—for a knish,
a pastrami sandwich, a pickle—at Hard
Lox Jewish Food festival are leaves
fallen from the Tree of Life.

A security code unlocks
the door to Shalom, a Tree of Life
sheltering the children who thrive
at the JCC’s pre-school
while their parents work.

While the rabbi delivers
his sermon, outside
the sanctuary’s doors
members chatter, their gossip
a spray of Sabbath morning mist
around the mighty Tree of Life.

Exhausted from buffeting wind, the father
of the girl with a brain
tumor perches at dusk
on a branch of the Tree of Life.
The congregation’s imploring
Shema, Hear, O Israel, bends
a bough on the Tree of Life.

Doodles, ledgers, love letters—
household records, ancestral
gestures—tossed into
the bonfire: the last parent
gone, they empty, the daughters
and son, their childhood
home. The smoke
a chaos of letters and numbers
released from the Tree of Life.

This blessing, that. Torah, haftarah,
chant chant breathe chant.
Does the girl rehearsing
her portion know that the oxygen
she breathes comes
from the Tree of Life?
That logging truck: is it
transporting the trunk of the felled
Tree of Life? There will be lumber.
A young family will celebrate a daughter’s
first birthday in new construction
built of the Tree of Life, a widow
will slide open a drawer (its wood
from the Tree of Life) and remove
a spoon to swirl sugar
into her tea, a young
scholar will line his books on shelves
of the Tree of Life.
The Tree of Life: turned into
a bowl cradling a few peaches,
a heavy door through which mourners
enter the sanctuary of grief.

Before Kol Nidre, the president
appeals to the members to cling
to each other as the world
rages. Deeply rooted
here in this congregation, he says, you are
a Tree of Life, flourishing
in your cycles, green to golden to
bare to green, season upon
season upon season.

Nap in the shade of the Tree of Life.
Carve your initials and the initials
of your beloved into the trunk
of the Tree of Life.
Even after a limb has been torn
from its trunk by a violent wind, even
with its trunk scarred by lightning, it is
a Tree of Life to those who, traumatized,
survive by clinging to it.

The ark is open, the congregation
bows, and into the sanctuary wafts
the rich aroma of coffee which is a Tree of Life
to those finishing their Day
of Atonement feast of prayers.

The bedroom at night, cool, dark—
a chapel in which shoelaces
dangle, responsibilities are
released–it is a Tree
Of Life into which parshiyot retreat, each
and every verse that will sing
again when the world at dawn
is created anew.

We number
the stars but lose count. We remember
the names of the descendants
of Abraham and Sarah, they
who weaved and nursed, who hammered
copper and harvested wheat and managed
banks, who were elected and exiled, nourished
and murdered because of the Tree
of the Life they clung to and carried and sometimes
forgot and in which they were wrapped and set afire
and in which they were swaddled
for a good night’s sleep.

The Tree of Life is ten
thousand rabbis singing the names
Of God under a full moon!
The Tree of Life is a siren pulsing its message,
Help is coming!

It’s simple. Rise in the morning, lie
down at night. An egg, a slice
of brisket, barley soup: satisfy
your appetite. Justice, mercy:
your work. The Tree
of Life: your nerves
hum with its wisdom
traveling from crown
to root, root to crown.
Honor the Tree of Truth
with sunlight, rain.

The Tree of Life lifts
all eyes toward it,
brings us to our feet. We breathe
its stories and laws and live.

Late October, Sunday morning.
While his mother zips up his jacket, a boy
at the open door gazes
at his front yard, the rope
swing on a sturdy limb of
the Tree of Life.

a fragile soul in search of a friend
The Words We Speak