Seventy-two Virgins


– an arrow in the heart of the Intifada –

“Fanatics have their dreams, wherewith they weave

a paradise for a sect….” 

Keats, “The Fall of Hyperion: A Dream”

When you complete your mission

and arrive in the place of Judgment,

you will be greeted

by seventy-two beautiful virgins

who won’t like you.

They’ll talk only to each other,

form hostile little cabals,

engage in whispering campaigns

to discuss your every earthly peccadillo,

and, most of all, mock your ambition

to be honored as a martyr.

No martyr, they will say, ever won his crown

by murdering innocent people

You lost your life in vain.

4th Day Chol HaMoed Pesach

20 Nisan, 5762/April 2, 2002


This poem won Third Place in the 18th Annual Reuben Rose Poetry Competition, 2007, and appears in Voices Israel 2008

Walking to the Kotel

   Panoramic photograph of the Western Wall and the Temple Mount, 1856, James Robertson, Scotland, 1813-1888, and Felix Beateaux, Britain, born in Venice, 1825-1903                                                        I have some rough edges.  I go down

to daven to smooth them out, sometimes

in the embrace of a minyan,

sometimes with the melting fires of a heart

open to G d.

The center of my heart

beats a steady pulse, but my mind races

this way and that, following after

every sensual and mental vagary.

I long for sanity, for peace, for inclusion;

I stir the embers of passion

and blow on the fires of controversy.

I am a counselor and a mediator,

yet I cannot govern myself completely.

Voices well up, demanding to be heard,

insisting on their right to direct.

I calm them with cautionary tales

and advice from scripture.  I sing to them

with a niggun from my rebbe.

I stand

in the Holy City, every stone a monument.

My own aspirations are linked

to their history, my destiny

to their future.  Since we are – or will become –

dust, what does it matter how we build today?

What we leave behind, we leave for others

to build on.  Let the foundations be strong!

And let the place where I stand to daven

support me well as I climb to the peak

of my soul and link her to the gracious G d,

who blesses me with her Holy Presence

and lifts me up to realms of being

I cannot reach alone.


27 Sivan, 5758

June 21, 1998

Awarded “Best Poem on a Spiritual Subject” by Poetica Magazine,

in its October 2004 issue

My Platoon

At Lafayette, we stood and marched in

formation on the Quad, carrying

M-1 rifles, wearing olive-drab

woolen jackets and trousers, spit-shined shoes,

cotton khaki shirts, bright brass medallions,

and visored army caps.

John Pearl stood

beside me, mouthing off, his collar loose,

his tie askew, bellowing, “YES SIR!”

so everyone would know what he thought

of the army.

Now I stand in Minyan,

also ten, instead of a lieutenant,

a shaliach tzibbur to lead us in prayer.

I’m with an orthopedic surgeon,

a real estate broker, a scrap metal dealer,

a kosher food inspector, a hairdresser,

three rabbis, and a couple of retired guys.

We’re not marching in lockstep, swiveling

smartly in unison; no, we’re chanting

the words in the siddur, speeding up

and slowing down, each person sort of

keeping pace, lagging behind, then running

to catch up; on tip-toes for Kedushah,

head bowed for Tachanun, strong

in the responses for Kaddish, strong

on the amens and boruch hooz.

We’re like a platoon, a unit in an army.

We besiege the fortress of heaven with prayer;

We open the gates of our hearts to sing praise.

January 14, 1998

Congregation Beth Jacob

Oakland, CA

This poem received a Commendation Award from the Chester H. Jones Foundation’s National Poetry Competition and appeared in its 1998 Anthology

For Michael’s Coming

Tim Leary“All creation groans together in torment.”

Hindu saying

Is Tim Leary a sadhu? And other unanswered questions,

like, do mountains move east to west

as people around a table do?

Or is “the extra man in the room” –

some of this is derived from other people –

analogous, indeed, identical to, many other…

to go back….

When you study the archaic Teutonic images

that have been preserved as we know them,

you connect the overworld and the underworld:

under the mountain, of dwarves, passageways,

what the mind perceives, believes, and the cosmos relives…

pause. And go back. The baker’s dozen is the wheel.

A spoke is a setting.

Flash on my images, people, they’re yours!

And don’t be afraid to hear what the water

is going to say to you. And if you shiver all day,

uncomfortably never forgetting the hole

and your chord in it, be a stringer, stay along,

and come out where we am in the end.

Don’t be surprised….

Whatever happens now, publisher, or

whoever deems me worthy in the end

of his decision-making process,

remember me learning here in this room,

running through some metaphysical assumptions

(to say nothing of the day, people you love

who have/haven’t gone away…).

All the things come out, you get to know.

This is a living poem, a group tone, as usual.

“I prefer sheer wrestling, not the spiral turning inward,

which it does anyway, so I go feet first, that’s all – ”

Didn’t you know? Speaking, thinking of speaking,

and dreaming (my own Platonic formula) –

noumena in the universe.

“How much for your garbage wagon?” Fair critic,

tenderize your function, because adepts of ardor,

inquisitors of hatred, are sincerely groping.

A hand frozen in the same posture,

forever seizing and holding and releasing

an object, the object of itself, the spirit,


Hudson River Valley

April 29-30, 1969

A Child’s Religion

A child’s religion is his baseball team.
At my brother’s challenge I rattled off
the Dodger lineup and the pitching staff;
watched Podres get Howard to ground out
in ’55, then wept my way to Hebrew School
– astonished by my joy – but spilled tears
toward a twisted mouth, betrayed, when Robinson
was traded to the Giants. And after
the last game we played against Durocher’s team
I ran on the field alone – no one else –
and then scooped up a Dixie cup of dirt.
While it was an empty shell, waiting
for the wrecker, I walked around Ebbets Field,
Bedford and Sullivan, McKeever and
Montague, then pried off a chip of blue paint
from the rotunda, and a pinkish piece
of sandstone from the peeling cornerstone.

– from Section V of “Between Two Cities,” composed in Syracuse, New York, January 1967