Mailwoman, or: Policewoman

My response to d’Verse’s prompt for Haibun Monday:

‘Walk with me down Memory Lane’

I have poor long-term memory, but an amusing recollection came to me as I was perusing my limited memory banks for this exercise.

Between the ages of 1½- and 3-years-old, I lived in Columbus, OH, while my father was a visiting professor at Ohio State University. That was our first home in the USA after we’d left Israel. I hardly remember anything at all from that time, but, strangely, I do recall opening the door to our apartment to receive a letter or package from a mailwoman (I’m pretty sure it was a woman, but I could be wrong about that).

I knew that she was either a mailwoman or a policewoman because she was wearing a blue uniform, but I wanted to be sure so I asked her. She smiled and said, “What do you think?” which made my little self feel silly, as I scanned her and ascertained that she was delivering mail to our home. “A mailwoman,” I responded, feeling rather foolish. It is that feeling of childish foolishness that remains stuck in my mind.

that blue uniform...
woman delivering mail...
not from the police

The haibun above is my response to the d’Verse Haibun Monday prompt.

We were instructed to do a memory exercise BEFORE writing our haibuns:

Get a few pieces of blank paper, have pen in hand, close your eyes for a minute and go back as far as you can in time… to your first memories not triggered by a photograph or by family lore. Maybe it’s what your very first house looked like. Maybe you suddenly remember your dad teaching you to ride your first bike. Or what your yard looked like – or the inside of your very best childhood friend’s house. Now for your haibun, pick one memory you’ve written down and relay it to us.

Sea, or: Sky

Today marks the Jewish holiday of Purim, one major theme of which is the Hebrew phrase ‘nahafokh hu’ (נַהֲפוֹךְ הוּא), which, loosely translated, means ‘it was turned to the contrary’. This comes to us from a particular verse in the Book of Esther (9:1):

וּבִשְׁנֵים עָשָׂר חֹדֶשׁ הוּא-חֹדֶשׁ אֲדָר, בִּשְׁלוֹשָׁה עָשָׂר יוֹם בּוֹ, אֲשֶׁר הִגִּיעַ דְּבַר-הַמֶּלֶךְ וְדָתוֹ, לְהֵעָשׂוֹת: בַּיּוֹם, אֲשֶׁר שִׂבְּרוּ אֹיְבֵי הַיְּהוּדִים לִשְׁלוֹט בָּהֶם, וְנַהֲפוֹךְ הוּא, אֲשֶׁר יִשְׁלְטוּ הַיְּהוּדִים הֵמָּה בְּשֹׂנְאֵיהֶם. Now in the twelfth month, which is the month Adar, on the thirteenth day of the same, when the king’s commandment and his decree drew near to be put in execution, in the day that the enemies of the Jews hoped to have rule over them; whereas it was turned to the contrary, that the Jews had rule over them that hated them;

In short, the Persian king’s advisor Haman (the villain of the story) convinced him to establish a date (the 13th of Adar), upon which all who so wished could kill Jews with impunity, and the Jews would not be allowed to defend themselves.

Without getting into the story, suffice it to say that the king’s decree could not be repealed, for it had been issued with his seal. Rather, the decree was reversed such that the Jews would be allowed to defend themselves against their enemies, as we read on in the following verse in the Book of Esther (9:2):

נִקְהֲלוּ הַיְּהוּדִים בְּעָרֵיהֶם, בְּכָל-מְדִינוֹת הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ, לִשְׁלֹחַ יָד, בִּמְבַקְשֵׁי רָעָתָם; וְאִישׁ לֹא-עָמַד לִפְנֵיהֶם, כִּי-נָפַל פַּחְדָּם עַל-כָּל-הָעַמִּים. the Jews gathered themselves together in their cities throughout all the provinces of the king Ahasuerus, to lay hand on such as sought their hurt; and no man could withstand them; for the fear of them was fallen upon all the peoples.

Now, ‘nahafokh hu’ is somewhat more precisely translated: ‘it was turned over’, and Purim has come to be the topsy-turvy Jewish holiday of reversals, in which everything is not what it seems, but rather its opposite. Purim represents the impossible becoming miraculously possible.


The Jerusalem winter skies

In Israel, the winter season is rainy, and the Jerusalem skies fill with clouds, which, in turn, produce some majestic sunsets.

Several weeks ago, my six-year-old and I were returning home from the store in the early evening and Jerusalem’s creamy clouds caught our attention. Not much for photography, I nonetheless put down the groceries and pulled out my smartphone to capture the moment.

The most fantastic aspect of those particular clouds in that particular sunset for me was what they looked like upside down. With a bit of fiddling in Microsoft Paint, I managed to flip the photograph upside down and zoom in on the clouds between the building and lamp post. To my eye, the picture looked just like the setting sun reflecting off of a foamy sea.

sun sparkles on clouds
sea foam glistens overhead
one need only see

d’Verse

Middles & Turns

The d’Verse prompt was to look to our [poems’] middles and see if we can build in dramatic turns, open a new window, pick a sonnet or a haiku, write in blank verse or pentameter, just show us your best turns.

Eagle, or: Hoopoe

A haibun

My response to d’Verse’s prompt for Haibun Monday: ‘Eagle’

As an adult, I left the United States of America. but the United States of America never left me. I have a graduate degree in US public policy; and I lived and worked in Washington, DC for three years. To this day, I continue to follow current events in the United States of America closely from my faraway home in Jerusalem, Israel.

Only a fragment of my soul remains in the United States of America, but I can navigate its society more readily than any other. I remain intimately familiar with the history, culture, and symbols of the United States of America in a way that transcends my mind. I know the names of the faces that appear on US currency. I know the meaning behind the stars and stripes of the flag. I know the dates of the American national holidays. I know the national anthem. I know the national motto. I know the national tree and the national mammal… and, of course, I know the national bird and the national seal that it graces.

America, for all its many challenges, remains the world’s superpower; and the [bald] eagle, its national bird, is considered to be the leader of the avian world, symbolizing strength, courage, immortality, and far-sightedness. This mighty bird of prey also enjoys connections with the Greek god Zeus and the Roman god Jupiter; and it flies higher than any other bird – alone – never in a flock.

Accipitridae -
More than 200 species.
Upupidae? One.

The haibun above is my response to the d’Verse Haibun Monday prompt.

Poets were directed to write haibuns that reference the Eagle, in whatever context they conceive. For those new to haibun, the form consists of one to a few paragraphs of prose (usually written in the present tense), which evoke an experience and are often non-fictional and/or autobiographical. They may be preceded or followed by one or more haiku—nature-based, using a seasonal image— that complement without directly repeating what the prose stated.

I did not strictly follow the prompt because I did not include a seasonal image. My mind meandered elsewhere.

Fairies, or: Favors

On Friday, our six-year-old lost her 7th and 8th baby teeth within the span of a few hours. The first had been noticeably wobbling so we weren’t surprised at the event when she bit down into a crunchy cookie, but the second one came out unexpectedly, while we were having Shabbat dinner. We were both shocked when our daughter suddenly exclaimed, “Another tooth just fell out! Does that mean the tooth fairy will give me two presents?”

After the excitement had died down, she followed up by asking us the classic children’s question about the existence of the tooth fairy. She’s no dummy, and she’d heard some of her preschool classmates, as well as one of her teachers from last year, speaking about the tooth fairy as nothing more than mere fantasy. Now, personally, I’m not one to encourage anyone’s belief in fictional characters of any sort; but my wife likes the idea of encouraging a child’s sense of wonder and expresses disappointment whenever I suggest the possibility of their non-existence. That’s why I carefully stayed quiet. “I don’t know much about the tooth fairy,” I said, “You’ll have to ask Mama’chka. She knows more about it.”

Cleverly, my wife managed to circumvent the question with a discussion of whether or not a child should receive two gifts for two teeth that fall out on the same day, and our daughter forgot about her question. On Shabbat morning, after waking up during the night in excitement and anticipation to check for favors beneath her pillow, our little girl awoke early to find two separate little gifts waiting for her – and neither of the two teeth she’d lost.

Fallen leaf headrest
Shifted gingerly by fae
Reveals dawning joy

The above is my second attempt at a classic haibun (here is my first one), which includes a traditional haiku, entailing the following:

  • haibun includes 1 to 3 prose paragraphs that must be a true accounting, not fiction,
    followed by a traditional haiku which MUST:
    • be nature based
    • be three lines (5 – 7 – 5 syllables OR short-long-short)
    • have a direct or subtle relationship to your prose paragraphs: enrich the prose without condensing or summarizing it
    • include a KIGO (word or phrase associated with a particular season).
    • although only 3 lines in length, it must have two parts including a shift, an added insight. Japanese poets include a KIREJI (cutting word).
      • BUT there’s no linguistic equivalent in the English language therefore punctuation creates the cut: we can use a dash, comma, an ellipsis, an exclamation point. Sometimes it’s simply felt in the pacing or reading.

Orphaned, or: Reborn

In the summer of 2018 I was unexpectedly reborn as an orphan. Shabbat ended with the setting of the Jerusalem sun on July 7th, and after a brief closing ceremony at home I turned on my computer to learn that my Papa was lying intubated at a hospital in America. Shortly afterwards, his heart stopped.

Jewish tradition holds that we are to recite a special doxology called the mourner’s kaddish upon a parent’s death every single day for the duration of one year on the Hebrew calendar. For other loved ones, we are to recite the mourner’s kaddish for only 30 days. Much ink has been spilled over why our parents receive the greatest honor.

Part of an answer can be found in the original Hebrew, as the term “mourner’s kaddish” is actually a mistranslation. The correct translation of “kaddish yatom” (קדיש יתום) is “orphan’s kaddish”. You see, this version of the doxology was originally intended to be recited in honor of either of one’s parents after they died. It was only a later development that mourners were also permitted to recite it for their spouses, siblings, and children, and even then only for a duration of 30 days. According to Jewish tradition, therefore, one takes the status of an orphan upon the death of either parent, even if the other is still alive.

Rainbow veiled by night
Arching across creation;
Painting soul anew

The above haibun is my take on d’Verse’s ‘Happy New Year!’ prompt. We were to write about some new beginning that we’ve experienced. Obviously, I took this in an unexpected direction, but, well… it’s real, and I was thinking about Papa because yesterday was his birthday.

We were directed to write a classic haibun, including a traditional haiku, which entails the following:

  • A haibun includes 1 to 3 prose paragraphs that must be a true accounting, not fiction,
    followed by a traditional haiku which MUST:
    • be nature based
    • be three lines (5 – 7 – 5 syllables OR short-long-short)
    • have a direct or subtle relationship to your prose paragraphs: enrich the prose without condensing or summarizing it
    • include a KIGO (word or phrase associated with a particular season).
    • although only 3 lines in length, it must have two parts including a shift, an added insight. Japanese poets include a KIREJI (cutting word).
      • BUT there’s no linguistic equivalent in the English language therefore punctuation creates the cut: we can use a dash, comma, an ellipsis, an exclamation point. Sometimes it’s simply felt in the pacing or reading.