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

Posted in: Poems.
Last Modified: August 24, 2009