May We Be Brought Back from the Mouth of Annihilation

After the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting my coworker at the Hebrew school admits she wishes we had less windows” by Joshua Elbaum

​​I bet birds wish the same thing.
That anyone would take the sky, crack it,
put its pieces where they don’t belong,
astonishes them. The birds fear our foolishness.
We who dare to choose between gifts
the sky offers: light without rain, heat
without hail, stars without the space between—   
I remember the stained glass of Sundays,
how it stained the light too, shape of Jacob,
Joseph, Miriam. Shape of a dove,
of an ox. Shape of a story our faith arrives
through, refracted. My mouth forming
the shape of someone else’s mother
tongue, the prayers too a window,
through which a song might pass
but not the meaning. We are to be ready
for what the children ask in the morning.
We are to be ready to barricade the doors.
Windows are most dangerous when they are so clean
you could mistake them for air.
When I tell my family about this job they laugh
because all I ever used to ask about at holidays
were the plot holes. These children ask nothing,
as if knowing they could slip away into American
suburbia if they had to. It is said Jews fear transcendent
relationship with G-d because it reminds us
of assimilation. There is a reason for every law,
like skin they keep the self inside the self.
A person should pray only in a house
with windows, as it is written.

The Orthodox draw a circle in the sand
saying everything to one side of this is holy.
The Mystics draw a circle around a circle
and erase little holes into the smaller one.
My grandparents kept glass cases
filled with children and birds,
a tiny fiddler, a goose with golden eggs.
Each case a window into a childhood
that might be bought back retroactively
from the mouth of annihilation,
from the night of too many stars,
the streets covered in little pieces of sky.
The body perishes because it is permeable.
To weather and disease and bullets.
If you want to be king of the world
make your world very small. Plug every plot hole.
Take the lightless box and pray in it.
The killer too sat at a dark window others
at other dark windows whispered through.
Windows are most dangerous when they are so clean
you could mistake them for a mirror.
There is a teaching that Moses at Mount Sinai
received no tablets, no commandments
not even a word, just one soundless letter
the noise of the larynx clicking into gear,
glottal seed to spool story around like pearl to grit,
plot hole that vacuums creation in around it.
On another stained Sunday I wonder why
any sound needs my mouth to make it at all.
When I open to ask, a pigeon flies down my throat.
I close my eyes and everything I can’t see is spared.
God whispers through the window of the sky at night
saying, the body perishes unless it is permeable.
A kid at work tells me my eyes look like the universe.
I thank him, and he corrects me: the universe is dead.
My eyes look like the dead universe. He is my favorite.
The sky is running out of birds to throw at us.
Soon there will be no wings to carry our prayers up.
I am trying to keep breathing. I am trying not to look away.
A miracle, that no matter how much we see,
there never seems to be any less light.

for Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax, and Irving Younger

…for all of my slaughtered brothers and sisters…

May their memories be for a blessing. May HaShem avenge their blood.