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