Living at peace

Velveteen Rabbi:

Yom Kippur is a rehearsal for the day of our deaths. Today we wear white, like our burial shrouds. (Some wear a white robe called a kittel, in which they will someday be buried.) Today we abstain from food and drink; the dead need neither. And today we say the vidui, the confessional prayers, as we will say on our deathbeds. As Rabbi Shef Gold has written, “For the whole day of Yom Kippur, we act as if it is our last day, our only day to face the Truth, forgive ourselves and each other, remember who we are and why we were born.”

Today is our chance to release all the karmic baggage we haven’t managed to let go in the last year. To set ourselves, and everyone we know, free. Not so that we can die at peace — but so that we can live at peace, with ourselves and with one another.

Computer Chip

This entry is part 31 of 34 in the series Small World


This is our tilled ground, our garden of forking paths. I picture its millions of transistors blinking, its mono-crystal silicon wafers pulsing as information courses like sap through the photolithographic veins, parsed by logic gates, blended by multiplexers. I know this isn’t quite what happens, but I keep trying to imagine it: how roots link up with roots & what leaps between them. How layers thinner than paper overlap like pages in a book that writes & re-writes itself, or like the sedimentary crust of a living planet. I know it’s not alive, that it is closer to a map than a landscape, & that in trying to re-purpose old templates I fall far short. But something about its stark dualism — the closed 1, the open 0 — & all it can gather in fills me with awe. The integrated circuit is my shepherd. I shall not want.


My dear, she texted late last night, if you can spare me something, I need it for food, for medicine, for things in the everyday. How could I not respond? You cannot say, But I just sent you something less than two weeks ago. Mother, sometimes I feel the days slip like water through my fingers. And then the cycle of worry rotates— paddle wheel, boat going nowhere, ferry stuck between the shores of departure and arrival, while sun-worshippers zip by in motorized rubber boats. Putting away books on the shelf, I came across a friend’s inscription in a journal, given years ago. She wrote, Looking forward to our forties, when we will have made it; to our fifties, when we’re settled, and to our sixties, when we will look back at our lives to celebrate the harvest. I set it back and ponder this assurance: something I have never really had in such pure and unadulterated form. I am the queen of making-do, I’d joked back. I’ve saved all manner of odds and ends for use on a rainy day. Wrapping paper, shampoo samples, gift bottles of wine. But there is no contentment in these miserly economies, mother. I bite into bread, or fruit, or cheese, and some part of me shrivels with the shame of being unable to share these morsels with you.


In response to cold mountain (60).

Baby Carrots

This entry is part 30 of 34 in the series Small World


As if carrots were yeast cells,
reproducing through budding:
the baby an adorably rounded
chip off the old block.
This triumph of marketing
has in fact reversed a trend
toward shorter carrots, because
of course the long ones can yield
as many as four “babies” each.
But are they infantile enough
to compete with junk food?
One ad psychologist recommends
dusting them with powder —
not Johnson & Johnson but
something orange, like Cheetos.
Carrot breeders lament
that selecting for succulence
makes them brittle as glass.
They can crunch in the mouth
but they mustn’t shatter —
they’re not bombs.
And a faint trace of bitterness
must remain, or the consumer
no longer perceives them
as true carrots. Authenticity is key,
along with air-tight packaging.
I struggle to open a bag, & find
I’m all thumbs.

Sources: “Digging the baby carrot” and “Baby carrots take on junk food with hip marketing campaign.”


If I were a leaf, a thorn, a sapling bent by wind— And you do but don’t believe, when I tell you how at seventeen, I stood up in the darkened cinema (one of two in my hometown); the usher in the shabby cardigan shone his flashlight up and down the aisles, calling my name because my father had phoned the manager to ask that I be ordered home.


If I were a knot, a burr on the surface of wood— You would not say so often, Weep then bear up; crumple then cease, endure, transmute. Transmute, as the heart of darkest wood yields coils that might still shine, after the axe— Onyx or anthracite, or something more domestic: yes, sorghum dripping from a spoon.


If I were fairer or less coarse, less complicated than a modular plot— But I am always the immigrant, wed to a handful of exit visas. Spring is a relief after the two-plot designs of rain and summer, rain and heat. Of the parched heart, a poet once wrote: come upon me with a shower of mercy. Sometimes I think spring is kinder by far than love.



In response to cold mountain (59).

Teju Cole on Instagram

Double Take:

But the rise of social photography means that we are now seeing images all the time, millions of them, billions, many of which are manipulated with the same easy algorithms, the same tiresome vignetting, the same dank green wash. So the problem is not that images are being altered—I remember the thrill I felt the first few times I saw Hipstamatic images, and I shot a few myself buoyed by that thrill—it’s that they’re all being altered in the same way: high contrasts, dewy focus, over-saturation, a skewing of the RGB curve in fairly predictable ways. Correspondingly, the range of subjects is also peculiarly narrow: pets, pretty girlfriends, sunsets, lunch. In other words, the photographic function, which should properly be the domain of the eye and the mind, is being outsourced to the camera and to an algorithm.


Yes, I still remember how the old market was laid out:
fruit, rice and dried fish, the row of coffee vendors,

the vegetable sellers; and beyond, the butchers
and the fishmongers. At the end of narrow corridors

slick with scales and fish guts, the women who packed
salt expertly into paper cones— such tiny fossils

of minerals and tears. And the boys that pulled
wobbly wooden carts filled with mountain produce

called out warnings up and down the hilly streets.
Most everyone I used to know has gone ahead—

gone on to gold, to gated subdivisions, early
retirement, presumably to everything they ever

wanted. And under this half-biscuit of a moon,
I stand, head tilted, still listening for the slow

stutter of crickets calling from the garden.


In response to Via Negativa: Fall.


I watch a hawk dive past the rising half-moon, the origami arrow of his body glowing red in the last rays of the sun and turning dark just before he plunges into the forest. I go inside meaning to tell you, but as soon as I see you I forget everything. We talk. You wrap a present, and I play with an old rubber band until it snaps.

I notice a cricket struggling in a house spider’s web behind my file cabinet and crouch down to free it. Half of a hind leg stays behind in the web like a black eyelash. I read you a ghost story from a thousand years ago until your eyelids begin to droop. We say our goodnights. Later, as the moon sinks behind the western ridge, I hear the cricket calling from the garden, a slow stutter.

The season turns again

This entry is part 1 of 41 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2012


The season turns again, mother. The names of months end
in chilled syllables. For thin-veined plants, it is almost time
to go under, into the ground where the bulbs will winter.

The red-tailed hawk takes wing, mother. But it’s been weeks
since we last saw the yellow-crowned night herons. Perhaps
they’ve begun their pilgrimage to a coast that’s warmer.

There’s a clump of mint that remains in the pot, mother.
And the stand of rosemary is hardy, and will hold its ground.
But the bee balm is fringed lace, and the lavender thins—

In time, all that remains is their feathery scent.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.