According to the Rabbis (Harvey Shapiro)

June 29, 2009

According to the rabbis,
when God asks Adam, where are you?
He’s not looking for information.
He wants Adam to consider where he is
     in his life,
where he is NOW and where he intends to be.
I could say that I’m on a bus, headed for New York,
but that would be frivolous. I could say
that I’m in the middle of a dark wood,
that I’m always in the middle of a dark wood.
But that would be despair.


The ancient texts and traditions are full of despairing questions, God’s to Adam among the elite! The poet here eludes the question by describing how not to answer it. Such responses–frivolity on the one hand, oversimplification on the other–are too easy. Shapiro, in another poem called “Where I Am Now,” gives a more direct if painful response:

     I seem to be withdrawing from my life slowly
     Like pulling out from an alcoholic fuck.
     Savoring it but glad that it’s over.
     Tired and not knowing what to do next.

I like Shapiro because he says things–essential things–with clarity and precision. His poems avoid the frivolity of mere description on the one hand, and lyrical seduction on the other.

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