Issue 18: Zohar Atkins


Dear Lord

Let me delete Uber

Without gloating about it

On social media

Let it be one of our many secrets

Like the time you caught me

Wishing I knew Yiddish

As I watched your two servants

Touch each other in the bathhouse

Or the time I saw the tops of houses

Poking through an open field

And thought it was the set

Of a film by Tarkovsky, or Eisenstein

Because I couldn’t fathom that a people had lived


Forgive me

For not saying

“Who made miracles in this place”

When I read Bialik or pass

Over a tree where you hung

Three innocents instead of five

And forgive me

For letting my imagination swallow me

Like Korach

Mistakenly swallowed chewing tobacco

And Moses swallowed his words

And Aaron swallowed his silence

And Miriam swallowed her song

Let me enter your plexiglass

Covered cathedral

Swim through your cellophane ears

And return not to tell the tale

But to become it

Lord, ripen my neurosis

Let each sinful thought keeping me

From you

Find its place

Kneaded in your montage


Our precise meaning unknown

(say the dictionaries)

we rest in the shade of the familiar.

Some call us household gods,

others simply hide us under

the body’s floorboards

or leave us out, forged,

on the mantel over the Mind.

I am used to serving as a decoy

for things more powerful than myself:

kings and witches and poverty.

I am the wanted and the unwanted.

Illicit, yet banal, harmless.

Like an over-the-counter drug.

Commonly accepted, yet taboo.

Scholars say I am powerless, except

when accompanied by incantation,

astral know-how, ornaments and cloaks.

It’s true that, alone, I am nothing.

But I am easily activated, even by the smallest,

most apprenticed touch.

Whoever touches me will, indeed, know

the future.

Know the future as intimately as a household god

knows its place

will soon be erased

just as it has erased others

leaving only the shape

of a mouth that clings to my name, because it has nothing else.


Jacob wakes and sees the woman of his dreams is not the person lying next to him, massaging his neck. Can he love her anyways? Can he love Rachel by loving Leah? He reaches for the nearest commentary, seeking comfort: “The voice was the voice of Rachel, but the body was the body of Leah.”

It’s not Rachel’s fault she has dementia, but without a conniving Lavan or a wily Rebecca around, who can Jacob blame but himself? The love is there, but it’s almost like the love of an old man for his heirloom watch. And what does Leah know? She is like a Rachel who wants Jacob to know she’s Rachel, but is stuck in the body of Leah. Whenever Jacob asks her “How are you?” Leah says “Fine,” but under the bed of Leah’s body, Rachel is crying out for Jacob to look harder.

Zohar Atkins holds a DPhil in Theology from Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. His poetry appears in Haaretz, The Oxonian Review, PN Review, TYPO, Wave Composition, and elsewhere. A précis of his work is forthcoming in Carcanet’s New Poetries Anthology. A rabbinical student, he teaches philosophy, Torah, and dance in New York.