Poetica Magazine

Poetica Magazine


by Nancy Naomi Carlson


Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur: bookends 

for the ten days I join the aisle of believers, 

making amends for the past year’s sins— 

each one counted, fist to chest—though flawed 

as I am with having been stiff-necked, 

succumbing to grudges, weakness of will, 

I know I will never be able to remember— 

should I live as long as Sarah— 

all my transgressions, 

planted within my body,


dormant as cancer cells hopping rides 

on vessels of blood, maybe years before 

you ever feel the main tumor 

growing, like greed, close to the heart. 

Day five’s sundown: the precise midpoint 

for these days of atonement, days of awe, 

knowing nothing lasts long in the middle— 

a space that can’t be contained as it morphs 

from what was to what will be. 

The too-cold porridge, once too-hot,


may soon end up spooned down the drain. 

Mid-phase, mid-phrase, in media res 

dazzle with their chimeric truths. 

A midsummer’s eve gradually concedes 

to the equinox, the growing chill. 

There and here: bookends, say, for a season 

of blessings, but sometimes hard 

to know if you’re halfway between 

the beginning and end until you’re there, 

just as no one living right after the fall


of Rome could define that time 

as the Middle Ages—dark, perhaps, 

but you need to know light to know dark. 

Before the first night star appears 

and the gates close as the Neilah service ends, 

when the staccato teruah of the ram’s horn sounds— 

after the moan of the tekiah, I pray 

for loved ones hovering over me, 

and pray to be sealed in the Book of Life— 

the tekiah gedolah held as breath allows.

Feast of Tabernacles

by Nancy Naomi Carlson


Through the windswept din

in her head my mother hears

Piaf’s La Vie en Rose,

Indira Gandhi’s chitchat

sharing photos of grandchildren,

the Concorde’s next-to-last rattle,

but never Hebrew blessings,

not having learned to pray,

to keep kosher or take meals

in a tabernacle—temporary shelters

fragile as flesh—housing

our memories, fragile as faith itself.


My mother is caught in a sandstorm

swirl, eyes burning—

why are those bodies sprawled

across the desert?—calls for help

as dreams overtake her waking

and waking overtakes her dreams.

Gone the names for days and months,

but not my voice on the phone

as I call her to turn to the trees

and their yellowing leaves,

small tabs on this season

when my neighbors carouse

in huts strung makeshift with gourds

to remind them of sukkahs

our ancestors pitched to keep

the Sinai sun at bay.


Lost in the sands of her wandering

my mother’s soles burn

in the wilderness

now that fever has gripped her body,

forced her from her own bed

with purple and crimson yarn

to quarantine—white curtains limp

against white walls, dawns

skipping by like lambs.