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PRAYER 


Approaching ninety, and still with a hope
That I could tell it, say it, blurt it out. 

If not before people, at least before You,
Who nourished me with honey and wormwood. 

I am ashamed, for I must believe you protected me,
As if I had for You some particular merit. 

I was like those in the gulags who fashioned a cross from twigs
And prayed to it at night in the barracks. 

I made a plea and You deigned to answer it,
So that I could see how unreasonable it was. 

But when out of pity for others I begged a miracle,
The sky and the earth were silent, as always. 

Morally suspect because of my belief in You,
I admired unbelievers for their simple persistence. 

What sort of adorer of Majesty am I,
If I consider religion good only for the weak like myself? 

The least-normal person in Father Chomski's class,
I had already fixed my sights on the swirling vortex of a destiny. 

Now You are closing down my five senses, slowly,
And I am an old man lying in darkness. 

Delivered to that thing which has oppressed me
So that I always ran forward, composing poems.


Liberate me from guilt, real and imagined.
Give me certainty that I toiled for Your glory. 

In the hour of the agony of death, help me with Your suffering
Which cannot save the world from pain.

LATE RIPENESS

Not soon, as late as the approach of my ninetieth year,
I felt a door opening in me and I entered
the clarity of early morning. 

One after another my former lives were departing,
like ships, together with their sorrow. 

And the countries, cities, gardens, the bays of seas
assigned to my brush came closer,
ready now to be described better than they were before. 

I was not separated from people,
grief and pity joined us.
We forget-I kept saying-that we are all children of the King. 

For where we come from there is no division
into Yes and No, into is, was, and will be. 

We were miserable, we used no more than a hundredth part
of the gift we received for our long journey. 

Moments from yesterday and from centuries ago-
a sword blow, the painting of eyelashes before a mirror
of polished metal, a lethal musket shot, a caravel
staving its hull against a reef-they dwell in us,
waiting for a fulfillment. 

I knew, always, that I would be a worker in the vineyard,
as are all men and women living at the same time,
whether they are aware of it or not. 



An Alcoholic Enters the Gates of Heaven

What kind of man I was to be you’ve known since the beginning,
since the beginning of every creature.

It must be horrible to be aware, simultaneously,
of what is, what was,
and what will be.

I began my life confident and happy,
certain that the Sun rose every day for me
and that flowers opened for me every morning.
I ran all day in an enchanted garden.

Not suspecting that you had picked me from the Book of Genes
for another experiment altogether.
As if there were not proof enough
that free will is useless against destiny.

Under your amused glance I suffered
like a caterpillar impaled on the spike of a blackthorn.
The terror of the world opened itself to me.

Could I have avoided escape into illusion?
Into a liquor which stopped the chattering of teeth
and melted the burning ball in my breast
and made me think I could live like others?

I realized I was wandering from hope to hope
and I asked you, All Knowing, why you torture me.
Is it a trial like Job’s, so that I call faith a phantom
and say: You are not, nor do your verdicts exist,
and the earth is ruled by accident?

Who can contemplate
simultaneous, a-billion-times-multiplied pain?

It seems to me that people who cannot believe in you
deserve your praise.

But perhaps because you were overwhelmed by pity,
you descended to the earth
to experience the condition of mortal creatures.

Bore the pain of crucifixion for a sin, but committed by whom?

I pray to you, for I do not know how not to pray.

Because my heart desires you,
though I do not believe you would cure me.

And so it must be, that those who suffer will continue to suffer,
praising your name.








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