Issue 18: Zohar Atkins
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
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
Mistakenly swallowed chewing tobacco
And Moses swallowed his words
And Aaron swallowed his silence
And Miriam swallowed her song
Let me enter your plexiglass
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
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
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.