The introspective humdrum life of an eccentric hexagenarian.

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Monday, January 5, 2009

The Women's Gallery of the Shul

As soon as I was old enough to speak, I invited myself along to the churches, secret meditation spots, or on the spiritual adventures of friends, neighbors, and even strangers. Most of them were flattered by the request, if not amused.

I was escorted to Kingdom Hall, Presbyterian buffets, Baptist "dinner on the grounds," fundamentalist snake-handler revivals,Catholic funerals, Buddhist sesshins, and Wiccan solstice celebrations. Some of my hosts tried to convert me to their "truth" but I remained the same within, the solitary daughter of an Agnostic who embraced the transcendent spirit without the need to name it.

The last of my forays into religious adventures was by far the most unsettling and ultimately the most fruitful in raising my heart from the dead. A Chosen One took me to his shul for a Resurrection.

The Women's Gallery of the Shul

where wives and children are sequestered witnesses
behind a door that groans each time it opens
to the second floor above male voices rising up incensed
and swirling round the rustling of long black
Sephardic Orthodox dresses with wigged tresses
bending to caresses of chanted Hebrew words.

In a charcoal ember skirt, the likes of which
I have not worn in thirty years, I contemplate
in quiet stillness and in reverent tears the primal
imprinting brand of the voice of man upon a woman.

Drawn to the railing of a sea of kippas and prayer shawls
below the wailing of the cantor orchestrates
the moments of harmony, the rhythmic movements of awe
in a controlled chaotic rendering of the Shema prayer
to "love with all your heart, all your might, all your soul."

In a slice of silence all women rise and bend as one
as they lean into the yearning to hear with discerning
that one voice rise above the others, standing out
in a whispered intimacy they've known since before
they were born. Their bashert and destiny.

I am torn between traditions, not of God
or burning bushes "as above, so below," but of man and woman
and the wishes of love so rarely spoken of and only known
by the separation of concessions made by the women
who will never hear that one voice and by their choice
are left to walk the second floor gallery railing of the shul
with nervous fingers and idle chatter that is so loud

I cannot hear the tenor bravissimo voice I strain to hear and know
who asked me to reveal the secret of women on a lake
moored where two loons floated round the point of his youth
spent in a summer home of adolescent discovery
and a lifetime of recovery from love now locked up tight
just beyond "no trespassing signs."

By design we are meant to love "with all our heart, all our might,
all our soul," but in a boat on the sea his kippa is no match
for the starboard breeze that lulls and rocks us to toasted
Carmel Kosher wine and I cannot define what is meant to be
for him, for me, or the ancient smile on a matron's face,
who as with me, strained to hear that one voice meant
just for her. Her bashert, her destiny.

By her choice in fantasy she scaled the railing
of the gallery ledge that is precisely a wedge the width
of a young woman's slender foot. She did a pirouette
and twirled on point. She danced the dance of seven veils,
let down her curls no longer gray but auburn now and full of lights

and when she stopped in front of me to bow the mirrors
of her Moroccan prayer cap reflected a sun warmed lake,
the echo of a gentle breeze, promises broken, promises made
while below in a sea of kippas and knotted prayer shawls
the Torah, Magic now unlocked was carried in love by men
with adoration while above two loons rose and took to wing,
banked and turned, and in their shimmering Shema prayer
rounded the point again.

~ Pardes 2006 ~
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