"The soup tastes different when you're in it."

-Maxim Gorky, quoted by Issac Babel



Mordechai Beck


Moon Song is from a cycle of poems-in-progress based upon the Jewish calendar.

If you're reading this issue, you might wish to read the entire text of Moonsong in our Winter 2001 issue.

Mordecai Beck

The Girl on the Bus

The girl on the bus stares at me hard.
Her plump knees, artfully parted,
smile cautiously at me.
She is reading a book
and at the same time taking my measure;
it's all written here on my sallow frame:
my kids, my wife, my performance potential—
each item registers on the sexual barometer of her face.
She is looking at me, but not at me.
I'm old enough to be her dad, or maybe a favorite uncle;
weary enough, too.
Nevertheless, I think of how it might be
to sink into her pliant arms like an old vessel drowning at sea.
I close my eyes,
imagining my death,
calculating lists of those who will miss me,
and a longer list of those who won't.
It is quite relaxing, a relief almost.
When I open these fleshy eyes again, she is not looking at me—
no longer me her plump knees are staring at.
I am dead.
She is asleep.
From my new vantage point, I await my bus stop.

The Moon Song


We pulled out of Egypt, your face aglow,
with us, kinder, kine, and candles for the long journey,
and what was owed us after all those years of unpaid labour—
with interest (this was before Sinai, when interest was still permitted).
We pulled out with the taste of bitter herbs smarting our gums and
mouths and your fullness barely scraping the gangling tops of
the palm trees or the pyramids to which we'd contributed our full share
and which we finished by reciting a blessing:
"May they all be buried thus, speedily within our days."
It was spring and the unknown birds sang us all the way down the Nile.
We pulled into the first synagogue with our burdens and 4,000 years of
exile and hagadda-retellings, as though it all happened yesterday, and
the fresh shoots of flowers and grass shoved their tiny hands through
the soil of our redeemed souls.
Someone in our carriage started to sing the Song of Songs until
someone else cautioned: "What will the Rabbis say?" For, at that very
instant, the sages were compiling a list of losses, of the four/fifths
of our fellow slaves who had no desire to leave the gefilte fish or
brine-soaked cucumbers, and who ended up in Egypt's eternal dark. So
the rabbis commanded us to add Yizkor to the festive liturgy, and they
concluded as follows:
88888 Redemption, yes. But incomplete.
88888 Half a redemption.
88888 And your glow, moon, began to shrink.


Aleph, Yod, Yod, Resh. Letters making up your second face.
Aleph— Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov— two Yuden, Resh— Rachel.
Because of the exile I transliterate: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Rachelle.
All founders. All connected to the Land. Unreal Estate.
As constant as the moon.
Smasher of idols, Abraham was driven by a voice from Ur to Haran,
and from thence to the place which is always someplace 'there,' and
sometimes not there.
The first immigrant, the first ascender, the first to wage war in the
Promised Land to make it safe for his son Isaac.
How hard it is to be the first.
To be second is no bargain either.
Isaac cannot leave the Land even once.
Even in famine. The Land, and his children's bitter rivalry blind him.
With his nostrils he blesses Jacob and Esau, but in the wrong order,
and ultimately perhaps it makes no difference.
Jacob, too, cannot see but in a way that saves him.
Wrestling with the dark angel of Seir on the banks of the Jordan, he is
smitten with sciatica— the burden of many a Jewish father trying to
prove to his family and friends how he can be firm and simultaneously
stand on God's good land.
So Jacob crosses the Yaboq limping and blessed, father of twelve sons
who will father the nation that the moon was building on its far side.
In Egypt, the moribund patriarch requests a burial in the caves of
Hebron, near the oaks of Mamre. Thus do all his sons— the Jacobs,
and the Abes, the Hyman's, the Moseses, and the Roberts— yearn for
the particular soil in which to bury their earthly remains.
As though they remember Mamre.
Listen to the celebrations in Dizengoff Square, the waving of the flag,
echoed by the nearby sea, the electrified singing and half-remembered
dancing, and the sounds of plastic hammers and sizzling grilled meat
smelling of Marrakesh and the mountains of Atlas.
It's a plastic joy.
Only Rachelle cries—
a mournful, moonfull kind of weeping,
for those who didn't return,
and for those who did.


You count the days.
We, too.
Between the Valley of the Kings and the rock of Sinai,
we remember Rabbi Akiva, who backed Bar Kochba, the Star Man,
and sealed our fate for 1900 years.
So your sons grow shadows on their long cheeks,
as Sinai casts a light into the future.
Parked beneath the mountain of God in our caravan of cars and camels,
horses and hovercraft (how else do you think we crossed the Red Sea?)
we waited.
Don't touch the mountain!
Don't touch your women!
Get too near and you die.
Stray too far and you die, too.
( As with mountains, so with women?)
When the thunder starts and the noise of the shofar
we're scared witless.
We imagine God
and we experience death, or is it the world-to-come?
We remain suspended between heaven and earth.
Our souls touch you, mother moon.
Our pure souls.