by Jena Schwartz
~ for the first day of Elul
Start here is what I hear,
the late-afternoon August light resting
on the green disks of oak leaves.
Where is the well? I ask, half-expecting
an answer, as if a map might fall from the branches
above me, as if directions will land in my lap
telling me which way to go, where to turn,
when to pause, where to watch for danger,
when to sit perfectly still, simply enjoying
the gentle breeze that doesn’t carry a hint
of ash or smoke or hatred.
Of course, no such answer comes,
no map materializes.
It is just me here on this chair, neighbors
chatting one house down, the hours passing,
the weeks, months, and years, too,
knowing that there are fires burning,
knowing there are so many suffering,
knowing that the well is never far
if sometimes empty.
And so what if it is empty?
Tell us about that emptiness, then,
tell me about the time you sat
with a stranger who was also somehow like an old friend,
high up in the trees, dipping into some deeper stream
of time than the one we can see, a shimmer
of golden light that runs like a hidden spring
beneath the places where we’ve covered over
and siphoned off, lost touch – running our hands
where that liquid flows, fingertips tracing
through water, through spirit.
Standing at the well, I find myself
peering, squinting, hoping something
becomes visible to me, reaching for rope,
calling down into the darkness
as if my own voice might be returned to me.