Category Archives: Poetry

Ben Wade

I have to confess, over the course of the first few months of the creative writing exercise I gave myself (adapting the Book of Psalms to fan poetry), I was really itching to give James Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma a go. When I finally wrote it, I ended up holding it back. But here we go.

This is one of my favorite movies, with two of my favorite actors going toe to toe, and I even found out the name of the handsome black horse Russell rides in this movie! That’s Ribbon. Ribbon was my favorite, out of all the horses Russell had ridden in the movies, until Honey made an appearance in The Water Diviner. (Although I do think it’s super cool that Rusty and George, who both turned heads in Gladiator, made starring appearances in Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, too!)

Based on the 36th Psalm, this one is naturally in the voice of Ben Wade.

I hear the voice of crime speak to the wicked
as it speaks to me with the weight of my heart:
“There is no fear of God or holy justice
upon the world that stands before my eyes.”
The sparkle in the eyes of crime seduced me
by feeding off my sin – hatred is a fuel.
I learned the trade of mischief and deception,
and laid aside all other trades and virtues.
Getaways and murders can be planned a-bed,
but the leader of a gang must cut a stance,
only evil itself escapes his contempt.
I can be awed by the heavens – this kindness
is a kind of faithfulness to that night sky.
God’s justice lights like sunshine on bare mountains,
his judgment opens like a naked defile,
that man and beast escape by singular grace.
The farthest hawk pays tribute to this kindness,
and I but shelter in his soaring shadow.
I take my fill from the fare of providence,
and from wild streams and passing delights drink up.
For I will not spurn to take the best from life.
I can take pleasure in acts of kindness, too.
Draw down your mercy on those who know your law,
and save your justice for the gates of hell.
Let no man’s pride in this life overtake mine,
nor the hand of the wicked stay my hand.
There lie the murderers I led to this death.
They fell where they stood – they did not strike in time.

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Filed under 3:10 to Yuma, Acting, Gladiator, Poetry, Robin Hood, Roll Credits

Sinai

In a debate in the Horayot over which of two learned men should be trusted to make a decision, word was sent to rabbinic scholars in Palestine to ask which style of intellectual leadership was best: “Sinai” or an “uprooter of mountains”? (Sinai here means a scholar whose knowledge of received wisdom is comprehensive and reliable, whereas an “uprooter of mountains” is someone skilled in debate.) Word came back: “Sinai is preferred, for as the teacher says, Everyone needs wheat.”

A stork overseeing wheat fields in Ukraine photographed by Viktor Smoliak @unsplash.

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Filed under A Good Year, Poetry

selkie

This poem is dedicated to all the Ukrainian soldiers and civilians who have lost limbs to Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, but it also goes out to everyone who has dealt with mystery pain that is chronic, indelible and frightening. Even when it doesn’t progress to full-blown body dysmorphic disorder, the struggle to find care and affirmation and a path to recovery from the physical loss of a creative outlet through disability is terribly daunting.

In so many stories about Ukrainian volunteers and soldiers handicapped by combat injuries, survivors of terrible loss talk about their ambitions to reskill and return to service in a new role, this one as an army trainer, another one as a combat psychologist – to me, this is a really inspirational example, and one that I hope to follow in my life.

Sea lion photographed by Samuel Scrimshaw @unsplash

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Filed under Art, Music, Poetry

oranges

Reading a poem about oranges from the Australian poetry journal Cordite alongside a passage in the Talmud took me back to my freshman year in college, when a friend confided in me about having been raped by his roommate. I couldn’t believe it – literally, I told myself it was some sort of inside joke. We had played Risk together (the three of us), watched movies together, listened to music together, gone to gay pride events together. My friend was injured in the assault, and the student health insurance wouldn’t cover his medical care. I’ve lost contact with him completely since then.

The injury my friend sustained is similar to fistula, which occurs mostly in girl children forced to give birth before they are old enough to safely deliver a baby. It just makes me so angry to realize that these girl children will grow up with preventable + treatable fistula and be denied everything from abortion care to fistula surgery, by the American healthcare and legal system, which rewards violence with impunity by making it virtually impossible to collect damages for intentional assaults, and leaves victims without access to even basic medical attention for the harms caused.

This poem is a partial response to those reflections.

Orange tree photographed in Budapest by Tomi Vadász @unsplash.

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Filed under Economics, Poetry

Reflections on January 6

I had the scariest dream the other night, about trying to sneak past a mob that was setting tents full of people on fire… it really made me think about where my instincts and emotional habits would lead me, if it really came to that.

I ended up writing a poem about the reflections this started. On the importance of keeping up with the January 6 Committee hearings, and not sticking your head in the sand, and not waiting until it’s your turn to be targeted by the rabid mobs, before you find your courage and stand up against fear and hatred.

Honolulu news stand photographed for @unsplash by @little_plant.

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Filed under Corruption, Economics, False controversies, Poetry

dead souls

I wrote this poem in response to a passage in the Talmud about a judge who releases his son from the duty of vindicating his ancestral knowledge, realizing that times have changed and the traditions his own teachers instructed him in have become outdated.

It also brought to mind a quote from Anton Gerashchenko on Twitter, about how Ukraine doesn’t want to be forever defined and limited by Russia’s obsession with its Soviet territorial past:

“[Ukraine] does not want to be a wall between [the] civilized world and [Russia], does not want to be [a] territory of constant confrontation, danger and war. [Ukraine] wants to win to reinvent itself, to be interesting to investors, to restart the economy. We want to be a calm, peaceful, successful country.” – Anton Gerashchenko

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Filed under Poetry

Happy (belated) birthday Vitali!

This poem was inspired by a post wishing happy birthday to the mayor of Kiev, heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko earlier this week, who said of his boxing career that he always knew any fight could be his last, so he always gives everything to what he does.

слава україні!

Black Sea from Odesa photographed by Anna Koval @unsplash.

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Filed under Cinderella Man, Poetry

under oath

I decided to go back to reading the Torah this week, because I needed help staying grounded, and there is something about reading ancient religious law discourse that is strangely helpful for putting things back in perspective.

The image with the poem is a Metro subway entrance in Ukraine photographed anonymously for @unsplash.

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Filed under Corruption, Poetry

guelder rose ghazal

The berries of the guelder rose (kalina in Ukrainian) are carried on a twig in the beaks of doves in traditional Ukrainian embroidery – but the birds are not depicted in traditional clothing so much as on kitchen towels! The ghazal is a form of traditional Arabic poetry in which each couplet repeats a single refrain at the end of the second line, but the couplets of the poem are otherwise unconnected to each other in both structure and theme. The last couplet should include a reference to the poet’s name, as a sort of signature. This poem isn’t a true ghazal, because there is a unifying theme of imagery that I associate with Ukraine and emotions that I associate with the war.

Guelder rose berries photographed in Kiev by Eugene Chystiakov @unsplash.

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Filed under Music, Poetry, Art

Untitled response to Micah 6:8

Park in Kharkiv photographed by Anna Hunko @unsplash

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Filed under Poetry