after the painting of the same name by Thomas Cole, 1828
And every night my father sang to me:
blessed are you, Adonai our God, ruler
of the Universe, someone to keep
me safe from the crawling
shadows, from the spiders on the ceiling.
Blessed are you, God. I thought it too
until I realized it wasn’t God
keeping me safe but the number of times
I washed my hands, the way I aligned
my grey slippers at the foot of the bed.
Then the rabbit died, and then the cat,
and I learned at summer camp
that not even the sun would last
forever, this knowledge an animal—
me between its teeth.
And then there was nothing
keeping me safe: not the lists I kept,
not my sister’s notes under the door
or our secret bedtime handshake,
not even the voice of my own father
singing to me night after night
shema yisrael adonai elohenu—
Listen, he said, listen and I tried
but all I heard was the silence
where the cat used to purr.