I insist on a seat on the aisle,
and don’t care how far back,
long as I can get up and waltz away
whenever I want, lay my prayer shawl neatly on the chair
and head to the Men’s,
or outside for air where I can check my phone–
that’s the kind of Jew I am,
tired of the old stand up, sit down,
stand up again, and assess all you must atone
just from the pain you feel in your knees.
I find a seat by the skylight window
almost behind the stairs
up to where the choir used to wail
when this was a church
and the music came from on high,
like a visitation, and here where the builder
needed to bend the place
a bit to the east and create an aisle
that, hardly anyone can get to, this,
the rush hour of the year.
And into this space comes the dancer.
She’s 10 or 11, not dressed for the holiday,
but neat enough–long t-shirt, yoga pants–
perfect for some serious praying, someone so young–
She hides her eyes for the Shema—
then folds her hands neatly into the Veyahavta
and moves them into fists over her chest–
loving God with all her heart;
some gentle pounding, then, for Al Khet.
Though she’s surely got nothing much to atone,
she willingly takes on man’s entire blight.
Then, cartwheels, as appropriate, to Avinu Malkenu,
using the wall as a barre to plié,
then leaping into scissors and landing in a split,
dramatic, but surely not showing off.
Suddenly, I don’t need so much to leave,
but watch from the corner of my eye,
as her mother keeps her eye out too–
she shouldn’t get hurt or carried away.
But she carries herself how I hope an angel might,
silently driving left, then right,
and right to the heart of the ancient chants.
What are my hollow prayers, compared to this,
this whirling, twirling, joyous atonement alive?
Alan Walowitz’s poems can be found on the web and off. He’s a contributing editor at Verse-Virtual, an online community journal of poetry, and teaches at Manhattanville College and St. John’s University. His chapbook, Exactly Like Love, was published by Osedax Press in 2016 and is now in its second printing. Alan’s poem, “The Story of the Milkman” was featured in an article in The New York Times on April 16, 2017. Visit alanwalowitz.com for more.
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