I am for the roadside rather than the road.

I am for the one who announces
rather than the one who is announced.

In the middle of a ballet, I am the fly
rubbing its hind legs together
on the collar of a coat.

I am a friend to those who curse
when they’re happy
& sing when they’re sad.

And when someone places a hand
like a hot iron on some starched bible,
I am with those who blush
& stare at their feet.


Wikipedia article on barakah.

10 Replies to “Barakah”

  1. Hi Dave,

    the first part of this was both funny and moving for me – which is an excellent & hard to manage effect – but the last stanza lost me completely.
    I drew a puzzled blank.

    Can you explain anything or would that ruin it?

    In peace,


    Note to later readers: Kris is responding to an earlier draft in which the last stanza read,

    And when someone places their left hand
    on a work of fiction
    I am with those who blush
    & stare at their feet.

    –Dave (1/20/09)

  2. Hi Kris – I don’t mind explaining, but I’m not sure how much you gathered. The reference here is to a swearing-in ceremony (Barakah->Barack). Those who are embarassed by the gesture might be hyper-conscious of their own untrustworthiness; they might be illiterate, and ashamed of that; or they might be opposed to oaths on principle. One way or another, I conceive of such official protestations of truthfulness as inimical to the free-flowing nature of bessings/charisma/barakah.

  3. Thank you, I think I have it. Gorgeous poem.

    “Work of fiction” being the Bible in a swearing-in ceremony did not compute for me.

    Not that some bits of it aren’t fictional . . . but I think of most of it as a beautiful and sometimes dangerous combination of factual and mythic truths.
    Of course, is a sense, the Bible etc. (Talmud, Kabbalah, New Testament, philosophy of religion . . .) is my job: I’m a professor of religion, mostly Judaism, its history, and the literatures pertaining.

    I am exceptionally lucky to have such interesting work, and often confused. ;-)

    Be well,


  4. Kris, you won’t find a bigger fan of the Bible than me (see for example Why I Love the Old Testament). I am probably guilty of obscurantism here, but what I was trying to get at is that fetishing the bible in this manner, treating it as a touchstone and guarantor of a rather narrow conception of truth, calls its own truth-statements into question in a way that a more respectful and nuanced appreciation might not.

  5. The below is not a suggestion for the poem, but a riff on your response:

    And when someone places their left hand
    on the Sacred
    to pledge mere factuality
    I am with those who blush
    & stare at their feet.


  6. Hmm. I can’t go where Kris goes, but his northward turn suggests a southward one:

    and when someone places their left hand
    on a stack of dead tree-flesh …

    or even

    and when someone places their left hand
    on a stack of dead leaves …

    I hope you enjoy this riffing. It’s a compliment.

  7. Kris – There you go.

    Jarrett – Of course. I’m honored. Sparked by this discussion, I just posted a new draft of those lines myself. I preserved the first draft as an editorial footnote to Kris’ original comment.

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