THE PROMISED LAND
The land of Israel my mother loves
Gets by without the luxury of existence
And still wins followers
Though it can't be found on the map
West of Jordan or south of Lebanon,
Though what can be found bears the same name,
Making for confusion.
Not the land I fought her about for years,
But the one unvarnished by the smoke of history,
Where no one informs the people of Hebron or Jericho
They're squatting on property that isn't theirs,
Where every settler can remember wandering.
The dinners I spoiled with shouting
Could have been saved,
Both of us lingering quietly in our chairs,
If I'd guessed the truth that now is obvious,
That she wasn't lavishing all her love
On the country that doesn't deserve so rich a gift
But on the one that does, the one not there,
That she hoped supplies could reach its borders
And hopes they're crossing even now
Into the land of the righteous and merciful
That the Prophets spoke of in their hopeful moods,
That was loved by the red-eyed rabbis of Galicia
Who studied every word of the book and prayed
To get one thread of the meaning right;
The Promised Land where the great and small
Hurry to school and the wise are waiting.
from The Outskirts of Troy (Quill/Morrow, 1988)
Though her feelings for the man across town
Who writes her weekly are a tiny fraction
Of his feelings for her, and will always be,
She doesn't return his letters unopened.
It may do him good to believe she scans them
All year long, even, as now, at tax time,
A bookkeeper's busiest season, her weeknights
Commandeered by the office and many weekends.
Half an hour with his thoughts on Sunday
Hasn't hurt her so far, or stowing them in a shoe box.
And if April's hard for her, it's harder for him
In his landscape business. His customers want new lawns.
Lights are flashing on his phone when he gets home,
His back aching, his clothes crusted. But the calls
Must wait till he's done with a paragraph
For her eyes only on his luck with organic mixes.
Now his news may bore her, granted, but on gray days
When those who matter most don't seem to value
Her high regard as she'd like them to,
It does her good to think of her photograph
Commandeering the messy desk of a practical man
With taste and talent who feels compelled
To practice the lonely art of non-reciprocity,
An art that civilization requires for the virtues
Of graciousness and gratitude to reach full flower.
Yes, her busy schedule keeps her from visiting
The shelf in her heart set aside for him
As much as she'd like, but for all he knows
She may be thinking of him this very minute.
That's reason enough for the sudden rush of joy
She imagines descending on him out of nowhere
As he makes a note to himself about grub control
Or a lawn to be roto-tilled tomorrow and seeded.
Most days shes may see herself as dodging her way
Through a maze of traffic, a thin woman in a red raincoat
Rushing so as not to be late for her appointment.
Now and then he helps her think of herself
As one of those old churches that welcomed the work
Of every sculptor who made an effort, who took pains.
Some statues were given a niche in the entry arch
Obvious to all visitors, and some a perch high up
Visible to any monk in the choir
Willing to crane his neck or to any angel
Pausing among the the rafters to rest
Before darting away on another mission.
from Ranking the Wishes (Penguin, 1997)