ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem is spillover from the April 3, 2015 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] librarygeek. It also fills "the sky at night" square in my 3-16-15 card for the [community profile] genprompt_bingo fest. This poem has been selected in an audience poll for the May 5, 2015 Poetry Fishbowl making its $200 goal. It belongs to the series The Clay of Life.


"Heard for Himself"


Yossele the golem and
Menachem the blacksmith
traveled together, and on Fridays
they always stopped early so they
could prepare for Shabbat.

It was not always possible to spend
the holy day in town near a synagogue,
although they did as often as they could.

More often they had to make do on the road,
but Menachem taught Yossele how to read
the secret signs that showed the way.

"Look there," Menachem said, pointing
to a rock as they passed it. "See the shin mark?"

Yossele looked and found the שׁ etched
in the rock, and beneath it an arrow
in the direction they were headed,
grooves just deep enough to remain,
but shallow enough to be overlooked unless
you knew exactly what to look for and where.

"That means that a special sanctuary lies ahead,"
Menachem explained. "So you will understand
how to find one in the future, by watching for these."

Yossele reached out with a heavy, gentle hand
and tapped the fingers with which Menachem
held the reins of the horse pulling their wagon.

"Nu, of course now I am driving," said Menachem,
"but think if I became ill, or something else
went wrong that you had to drive. Then you
would need to know the way, my friend."

Yossele nodded. Menachem already
knew the routes and the waystops, but
it was kind of him to teach a friend.

Before long they came to a place
beside the road where travelers could rest.

Stones had been gathered and stacked
into a low wall around the campsite,
so that the ground inside it lay smooth
except for a firepit lined by more stones.

A wide doorway in the wall faced the road,
and a narrower one faced a trail leading
into the forest where lay the latrine site and,
farther away, a stream for fetching water.

Overhead, the branches of the trees
laced together into subtle arches.

It was a perfect place to spend Shabbat,
and as they drew near, they saw that
someone had already begun preparations.

A colorful wagon stood inside, with a gray horse
tethered nearby where he could graze.
A young man leaned over the fire,
tending a large pot of stew.

"The walls and branches make an eruv,
a traveling commons," Menachem explained.
"When we share a meal within, then
we will be as family sharing one home,
so that we may carry a few things if needed."

The young man stood and called out to them
in greeting, but his words were strange.

"I believe he is speaking Ladino," said Menachem.
He tried Yiddish, but the stranger shook his head.
Hebrew, however, brought a warm response.

"Welcome, friends!" said the man. "I am Aharon,
a merchant. We have a little time left before
the Bride arrives. I will help you make ready."

They exchanged introductions, and then
Menachem quickly parked the wagon, as
Aharon helped settle it in place and unpack
necessary things while Yossele unhitched
their brown mare and brushed her down,
tethering her beside the gray gelding.

"I see that you have made stew,"
Menachem said to Aharon.

"Yes, it's lamb. I have wine, but I had no way
to bake any challah," Aharon replied.

"I have two loaves for Shabbat,"
Menachem assured him.

Aharon moved the stew to one side,
so that the fire could go out but
their food would remain warm.
"Your companion does not speak?"
he murmured.

"He cannot," Menachem said.
"Yossele is a golem, and
it is nearly time for him to rest."

"Ah," said Aharon, "it is good
to remember the Shabbat,
and keep it holy."

"It is good that some do,"
Menachem said grimly, for
Yossele's first master had not,
working him cruelly without respite.

Together Menachem and Yossele checked
the stone wall, making certain that it was in
good repair, the golem moving loose rocks back
into place and the blacksmith tapping them home
with sure strokes of his hammer.

Meanwhile Aharon did the same for the trees
where their limbs arched over the campsite,
making doorways and canopy to enclose
the communal space within which
their wagons were as houses.

Just then someone else came upon them,
an old man, walking quite briskly although
he was barefoot with his boots in hand.

He chattered something in yet another language.

"That sounds like Syrael," said Menachem,
shaking his head to show that he did not
understand the stranger's words.

This one, too, switched to Hebrew and said,
"Lucky I am to make it here in time,
for the heel of my boot came off.
My name is Hezekiah, and I am a rabbi."

The others introduced themselves,
delighted to have a rabbi for Shabbat.
"I am a blacksmith," Menachem added.
"There is not enough time to fix your boot
today, but on Sunday I will see what I can do.
A few nails may be enough to get you
into town to a real cobbler."

They broke bread together,
sharing the end of a loaf that
Menachem had left from lunch, and
spoke of plans for the coming day.

It was nearly sundown, and so
Hezekiah went to light the candles.

Yossele climbed into their wagon
and lay down on the bed that
Menachem had made for him.

Gently the blacksmith reached
into his mouth and withdrew the shem
so that the golem could rest, tucking it
into an iron box which he placed
on Yossele's chest for safekeeping.

"What happened to his feet?"
Aharon said. "I didn't like to ask
while he was awake to hear it, but --
was there some terrible accident?"

"No," said Menachem.
"His old master did that to him.
I could not give him feet of living clay,
so I made new ones from iron instead."

"It is wicked to abuse a golem,"
Hezekiah declared. "They are
sacred servants, and we must
care for them accordingly."

"So I see it too," Menachem agreed.

The sun set, coloring the sky
with deep pink and indigo,
bringing the Bride in all her glory.

Hezekiah led the service, which
was beautiful and simple.
Menachem quite appreciated
the rabbi's gentle voice and
thoughtful turn of phrase.

They shared the feast, with
good challah and hearty stew,
finishing with fruit that Hezekiah
had gathered along the way.

After supper and its grace, they prayed,
each for the other and all together,
as he who prays for his neighbor
will be heard for himself.

Aharon prayed that Hezekiah
might have comfortable travels
with better boots, while Hezekiah
prayed that Menachem would find
welcome in the next town and that
Yossele would continue to enjoy
a kinder keeper than he'd had before.

Menachem prayed that Aharon
would have good luck in his trading
and perhaps a way to bake bread.

Aharon sang of his homeland,
the soft Spanish lilt of Ladino
spilling over the campsite.

Menachem told stories in Yiddish,
and Hezekiah delivered a Syrael hymn.

That led to a lively discussion of Torah
and its interpretation, made all the more
interesting because they came from
three different branches of tradition.

As the spoke, the night deepened,
as the stars came out above the trees.

There were no clouds, so the leaves
let through the silver sparks of light
and the wider white slice of the moon.

The men pointed out constellations
to each other, such as could be seen
in glimpses through the canopy,
and told stories about those too.

Menachem was filled with awe
at the sight of what G-d had made,
the sky at night with its studded stars
and the trees and the beasts of the field.

After the Shabbat, he would tell Yossele
about all of it, as he always did, so
the golem could enjoy it too.

A breeze stirred the branches
and caused the trees to sway,
hiding and revealing different parts
of the firmament far above,
infinite in wonder.

Menachem drifted to sleep with
that happy thought in his head.

* * *

Notes:

"He who prays for his neighbor will be heard for himself."
-- Jewish Proverbs

The practice of Shabbat includes many complex laws, which complicate matters while traveling.



Read about the letter shin.

A stone wall may be used to define a campground. Tree shaping can create arches and walls.



There are a variety of Jewish languages. Hebrew is the sacred language of all Jews. Yiddish is a Germanic language spoken by Ashkenazi Jews. Ladino is a Judeo-Spanish language spoken by Sephardic Jews.

Krymchak is Judeo-Crimean Tatar, a Turkish language spoken by Syrael or Crimean Jews.

An eruv is a privatized public space for Shabbat. Sharing food is one thing that establishes people are dwelling together. Each branch of Jewish culture is a little different. In this setting, they have discreetly created a network of these little refuges that may be enjoyed by traveling Jews.

Tonight they're having challah and lamb stew. Another Shabbat tradition is cholent, meant to be simmered overnight and served for lunch the next day.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-05-14 02:56 am (UTC)
thnidu: Four-letter abbreviation, like TGIF but the last letter is Hebrew shin, for "Shabbat" (=Sabbath) (Shabbat)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
Oh, how lovely! Baruch haShem.

Some may not understand the references to the Sabbath Bride. I suggest a note.

And thank you for introducing me to Syrael and Krymchak.
Edited Date: 2015-05-14 04:00 am (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2015-05-14 03:41 am (UTC)
stardreamer: Meez headshot (Default)
From: [personal profile] stardreamer
This is a lovely, evocative story. It makes me want to be there, and I'm not even Jewish. :-)

(no subject)

Date: 2015-05-14 02:19 pm (UTC)
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
Very nice.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-05-15 07:09 pm (UTC)
brushwolf: Icon created by ScaperDeage on DeviantArt (Default)
From: [personal profile] brushwolf
I'm unsure whether people would actually fall back on Hebrew for conversation but hey, it works, and besides how often do people write anything where we get to be sympathetic or acknowledged as minorities? so it's very cool imho.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-05-14 05:15 am (UTC)
ext_3294: Tux (Default)
From: [identity profile] technoshaman.livejournal.com
Mmmmmmm. I do not know for certain by what magick I find that story so satisfying, but I have my suspicions, involving myself, my lovely bride, and a certain fair-haired Canadienne...

"A woman of valor, who can find?"

Yay!

Date: 2015-05-14 06:41 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
I'm glad you like it so much.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-05-14 05:16 am (UTC)
ext_3294: Tux (Default)
From: [identity profile] technoshaman.livejournal.com
One damn minute, Admiral. This isn't *your* ethnic background too, is it?

Well...

Date: 2015-05-14 06:43 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
Not really. I mean, I have a little of everything this life, but I wasn't raised Jewish. I just have some Jewish friends, a soft spot for the culture, and some fond farmemories.

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