Tuesday, October 31, 2017

New York My City: A Dirge

New York My City 

By David Hartley Mark 

New York is in mourning 
Six lives are gone 
By a truck 
A delivery truck 
And a killer within 
Delivering death 

New York My City 
Down near Chambers Street 
Where I used to walk 
In the spring 
Flowers and leaves 
Squirrels and pigeons 

City Hall's quiet magnificence 
The Municipal Building's granite-built size, 
And shops 
And parks 
Where I visited the Horace Greeley statue 
(He always looked solemn, and tired) 

New York My City 
My City of walking 
Without looking at faces 
My City of wonder 
With sculptures and side streets 
My city of shops, 
Restaurants, museums 

Though I left long ago 
I have come back to visit 
Mourning the Trade Center 
Years ago 

We have new cause to mourn 

The Six might have been 
Any of us 
So all of us 

New York will rise 

And Civilization 
Must reign 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Vayeira: Supreme Archangel Metatron Reflects on Sodom and Gomorrah


by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

            My name is Metatron; perhaps you have heard of me, perhaps not. The mysteries of the Lord God’s heaven are not common knowledge. Know, Mortal Reader, that I am at once the most majestic and powerful of God’s angels; indeed, some Kabbalistic commentators place me secondary only to Him.

            One of my chief functions is to track, evaluate, and report on the missions which lesser angels undertake, by God’s command. Most angels can perform but one mission only; after that, they are annihilated, reduced to heavenly ether. This does not bother them, or me: it is the nature of being angelic that one must subjugate personal desires and objectives for the sake of the mission. Besides, we have no free will; we exist only to carry out God’s wishes.

            Still, I was perturbed recently about the Three Angels, those who visited Abraham and Sarah and enjoyed a meal at their hands. (I use “enjoyed” advisedly, since we all know that angels cannot eat.) Why three? One was sent to inform the elderly couple that they were to expect the imminent arrival of a child, a son, after waiting for so many years. The second angel’s mission was to visit Lote and his family in Sodom and Gomorrah, and to rescue them. Finally, Angel Three was to destroy the sinful cities.

            It was an angelic mission, no doubt about it. Orders came down to me from the Archangel Gabriel and the Supreme Angelic Council. I assembled the angels who were to carry it out—for the sake of security and confidentiality, call them One, Two, and Three:

            “Gentlespirits,” I said, when they were hovering before me, eager and ready to go, “these are your orders: inform Abraham and Sarah of their impending babe. Rescue the hapless Lote and his family. And finally, destroy the sinful cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, whose transgressions have pierced the skies and reached the ears of the Most High. Do you understand your orders as I have given them to you?”

            “Yes, Your Worship,” answered the three, in unison.

            “Then you have your orders. Depart, in God’s Name, and may your missions succeed!”

            “Sir!” they saluted me, and took flight.

            Even after they left, I was not done with them. Part of my responsibilities includes supervising all angels while they are in the midst of carrying out their divine orders. Since my vision transcends both time and space, it was no trouble for me to do this. Peering down to Earth,  I was pleased to observe the aged Abraham rushing to fetch veal and butter for his guests—though his seeming ignorance of the Laws of Kashrut gave me pause. Still, he and Sarah were overjoyed to learn that they were to be blessed with a child: well and good.

            Upon their arrival in Sodom, Lote greeted Angels Two and Three, and offered them shelter beneath his roof. This was right and proper, by the laws of hospitality—I noted that Sodom and Gomorrah’s impending doom resulted from their neglect of this simple, but basic law of society. The roiling mob of angry locals attempted to attack Lote, and my messengers smote them with temporary blindness: also an approved method of dealing with evildoers en masse.  

`           I had no quarrel with that, either, nor with Abraham’s attempt to bargain with God for the lives of the hapless citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah.

            When Angel Three caused lightning, fire, and brimstone to come hurtling down on the cities, however, it pierced my heavenly heart to hear the cries of the inhabitants. Why had God not given them a chance? Could not Abraham, or even Lote, his disciple, have played the part that Jonah was to perform, millennia later? Could not the people of the two cities have been taught to reform and mend their ways? Their relentless destruction brought me to tears, and archangels do not normally cry.

            I therefore sought an audience with the Most High—my exalted personal status gives me that privilege. Certainly, God was busy—there is always a plague or war to mitigate, or a baby’s arrival to supervise—but He has always looked kindly upon me, since I am highest of all His angelic servants, and we go back a ways, together.

            “Lord,” I said, in quiet but firm tones, “why did You destroy Sodom and Gomorrah outright? Despite Abraham’s failed bargaining with You, could You not have granted them a respite in which to repent?”

            A cloud darkened His usually kindly demeanor, and I saw the set of His celestial jaw. Thus he replied to me:

            “Be silent, Son of Heaven! Will you usurp My reign, which extends from Earth, through heaven, and encompasses the entire Universe?  Such is My will!”

            I inclined my head in obeisance, turned on my winged heel, and departed His Presence.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Lech-Lecha: Avram's Divine Madness

Lech-Lecha: Avram’s Divine Madness

By Rabbi David Hartley Mark

            I am Lote ben Haran. You may have heard of me—and, perhaps, not in a good way. Yes: that I fled Sodom and Gomorrah, lost my wife, and had an—unfortunate occurrence—with—um—family members. But that is not the way I would have chosen to be remembered throughout all time, in the Holy Books, in the Torah. No. Think of me, rather, as a founder—co-founder, at least—of Abraham’s Religion. Yes. That would be nice. Abie and I—we went through a lot, together.

            And am I not mentioned there, in the opening verses of this week’s Torah portion? No? Well, I am, at least, listed at the end of Noah, the preceding story: there! “Terach took his son Avram, his grandson Lote ben Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Avram, and they went together from the City of the Chaldeans to journey to the Land of Canaan” (Genesis 11: 31).

            So, you see, I was with Uncle Abe from the beginning—though he never liked me to call him by that name. No: for him, it was always, “Avraham Avinu,” “Abraham, Our Father,” like some lofty idol himself, which is ironic, for he was a man who made his mark on the world by fighting against idol-worship. Well, that’s all done. There are no idol-worshipers, anymore. Or are there? I cannot say….

Uncle Abe was a shepherd and a tradesman, through and through. Even when he got older and could easily have passed the business on to me, he still came to the office every morning, back there in Ur of the Chaldees—we would call it, “The City”—which is what Ur means, after all. I would be sitting there with Eliezer—good fellow, Eli; he was our Chief Shepherd, and so devoted to the Boss—I mean, Uncle Abe—he would have died for him. I myself was Chief Financial Officer, which is no small thing, when your finances depend upon goats, sheep, cows, and donkeys. Still, I preferred the company of quadrupeds to that of  human beings, as I learned when I lived in Sodom and Gomorrah.

On that particular morning, Eli and I were going over the papyrus records of the week’s receipts. I was thinking of switching over to clay tablets; the Phoenicians to the North had done so, and it was the latest technological advancement in the record-keeping field. When you’re dealing in livestock, quickly shipping your fleece, cheese, milk and meat to the customer is your Number One priority….

Anyway, Uncle Abe came abruptly into the office-tent, and couldn’t seem to settle down on his usual corner mat, facing the door; he just stood there, chewing at a straw, but we could tell something was bothering him. He looked odd: his hair and beard were all disheveled, as if he hadn’t slept properly, and he was pacing back-and-forth like a caged animal, mumbling in that absent-minded way that Aunty Sarai had warned us about.

From time to time, he would get up, and sweep his massive grey Bedouin’s-cloak behind him, as if ready to leap onto a camel or donkey, and ride off Quixotically. Then, he would tip-toe to the tent-flap, peel it back ever-so-slightly, and peer out at the desert, far beyond the City’s walled-and-gated boundaries. It was making us nervous.

“Agorah-coin for your thoughts, Uncle?” I ventured, in as innocent a tone as I could.

“Journey far—He wants me—all of us, I mean—to journey to the Far Land,” Avram would whisper, through his cracked lips—Aunty Sarai was always after him to smear some olive-oil-balm on ‘em, but he, old fellow that he was, could never remember. And he wasn’t eating properly, either; I could make out the cheekbones in his lean and narrow face.

He was beginning to resemble a hawk of the desert, he was. Eli and I stole a glance at each other; I could tell the boy was worried: was the Boss losing his mind?

“Journey where, Lord Avram?” I asked, switching to the formal address that I knew he preferred, as the Head Sheikh of our little family desert tribe.

He turned, as if hearing my speech for the first time, and gave me a look to freeze my soul.

“What matters it to you, Lote ben Haran?” he answered, in a voice both sad and almost sneering, “for your final destiny is not with me. You will die in a cave, off somewhere, forgotten.”

“My fate is with you, Milord,” I continued, switching from the familiar Hebrew to the more high-flown tones he was using, “Are we to enter the Desert, and what do we seek there?”

“Only my God—the Mysterious One—can answer that, and He will send me to—to—a Place, far-off from here,” my uncle replied, “Beyond that, He is silent.”

“What is there for you to find in the desert?” I asked, “What can you possibly lack here, in the City of the Chaldeans, here in the farthest-advanced Metropolis on the face of this earth, gifted to us by the sky-god Marduk and the earth-goddess Tiamat?”

Before my eyes, Avram began to tremble.

“Those idols do not live in my House!” he shouted, “For we worship only the Invisible God, the One True God! And I swear to you, Lote, Son of Haran, my nephew, that my God will, by my sword and my faith, one day, rule this entire world!”—he paused, breathing heavily; Eliezer ran to offer him water, but Avram waved him off, gasping for breath; he was no youngster, after all. He continued: “I must go out now, to tell Sarai my wife to pack. We will leave tonight, guided by my God and the stars—I will find what my God has in store for me, and for all humanity; yes, for the Egyptians in the South, and for all the World, from the Phoenicians in the North, and all the undiscovered lands beyond—I must go—“

He pushed back the tent-flap, and was gone. Eliezer and I were left alone, shaking our heads.

“The Old Man has lost his mind, for certain,” said Eliezer, clicking his tongue.

“That makes no difference to you or me, Eli,” I answered, “We are responsible to him, to Aunty Sarai, and to the business. If the Boss-man says we must wander through the desert, we do not question; we just close the office, pack up the records, and ready the flock to move. You and I must gather the Boys, and see to it. Is Tsuribaal, the Assistant Chief Shepherd, back from his day off?”

Eliezer nodded. We both sighed, picked our heavy leather duffle trail- bags out of the office corners, and went home to pack….

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Not Saluting but Drowning: A Hommage to Stevie Smith

Not Saluting But Drowning
(For Stevie Smith)

By David Hartley Mark

Nobody heard us, us Americans,
Although we lay groaning:
We were much deeper in the muck than we realized,
Not saluting but drowning.

Poor people, we mocked and decried our Democracy,
And now it is trampled
The White House containing a fascist buffoon,
All said.

Oh damn damn damn, we all will be decimated,
(As Washington and Lincoln lie moaning)
We have sold our birthright for a mess of Trump,
Not saluting but drowning.