Culture

Configurations of Worship

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Tikva Hecht

I

The poet sips her water; carries on. 
Of course, in my work, God is always a metaphor. 

A student interrupts.
For what?

What?

A metaphor for what?

The poet leans forward
as if to spit. 
For God. What else?

The student does not know. The poet carries on. 

II 

I am an anatomy of false gods and if you ask how anyone can be so stupid, I will ask back—what worship isn’t the worship of what can be made from dust and from flames, from muscling thoughts and long pleas? I will tell you every conception of god is a false god made in the image of god. Which is to say every conception of god is a conception of self. And every self the mirage of a god posing as a false god and so—you do the math. I am tired of this logic and its aesthetic. Please god, let me be rid of you. 

III

The student explains to his cat that what makes a poem good is its necessity. 

It must rid silence of what needs to be said.

The student explains to his poem that it is saying too much.

What makes a poem good is how closely it mouths what cannot be said. 

The student explains to the poet that he could not complete the assignment.

I’m not any good. 

IV

I have tried to be good. That is a lie. 
I have tried. I have tried. 

Go on.

V

The poet had asked the students
to write a prayer.

The poet had asked the students to name the prayer
after themselves.

The poet likes names.
The poet likes the idea of names.
They remind us of what is not 
interchangeable. 

The poet does not like her name.
The poet does not like the idea of her name 
incorporated. It seems a kind of embalmment. 

No, just a way to save on taxes,
says her accountant. 
The poet likes this accountant. 
This accountant’s name is Stu. 
The poet likes this name. 
It reminds her of nothing. 

VI

I don’t think I can write until I’ve read more. I’ve never read Hamlet.

Shakespeare never read Hamlet either, until he wrote it.

Is that a metaphor?

Go write a poem.

A metaphor for God?

Monday, your poem on my desk.

VII

I want to touch the damp earth and become of it. I want to weep an indecipherable language. I want with precise kisses for you to taste this language and speak of it. I want to bind our longing into sheaths and call it prayer and call it poetry and call god to give testimony on our behalves and together half listen. 

VIII

The poet thinks of Stu. 
The poet thinks of Stu
even when nothing reminds her of him. 
The poet thinks of Stu
because nothing reminds her of him.
He is like nothing, the poet thinks. 
The poet likes this. It seems
pure. But the poet would not use this word. 

Stu has a partner. 
Stu has three children. 
Stu likes poetry. 
Stu remembers liking poetry. In school.

IX

On Tuesday the student leaves his poem on the poet’s desk. 
The poem is a blank sheet of paper; blank, that is, except for the title: 
Go Figure

X

Me and god, we’re like two discarded skins, each mistaking the other for a body. 
My body and me, we’re like two discarded gods, each mistaking the other for a name.

XI

I liked your poem.

Did you get it?

I don’t need to get it. I liked it.

But did you get it?

I don’t think you understand how poetry works.

It’s a metaphor.

For what?

You didn’t get it?

I need to fail you. I said Monday.

But you liked it?

Yes. It’s a terrible poem. But I liked it. 

Good. I don’t care if I fail. 

XII

I have tried to care for your wisdom. I don’t
know what good it has done. I have tried to care 
for your creations. I don’t know
if I do. I have tried to create. 

Go on. 

Isn’t that enough? 

XIII

The poet shows Stu the student’s poem. 
He laughs and likes it. 
The poet asks him if he gets it. 
He doesn’t think there’s anything to get. 
The poet folds the page and puts it away.  

Don’t let him get away with that,
he’ll start thinking everything’s profound.

I really shouldn’t share student work.

Does it matter? I don’t know his name. 

His name is his work. 

Coda

Did you mean to leave us your delicate peels, spiraled figures 
on a tile floor, a film of sweet flesh barely left by the knife 
to line each curl? Traces rich with what they are not; the fruit 
grows in the air. Did you mean to leave us your likeness in yearning? 
Prints of it line the kitchen drawers, lie tucked below uneven table legs, 
wrap like fat around thighs around and around and around. I have a name for you 
my mouth does not know. It is like four fingers resting on the down of an arm
they do not touch. 

No, it is not like that at all. 

Tikva Hecht
Tikva Hech's writing can be found or is forthcoming in Grain, The Jewish Literary Journal, CV2, and Canadian Literature, among other publications. She has taught creative writing workshops for students of all ages in both formal and informal settings, and is the creator of DIY Talmud, a workshop on nonlinear and collaborative writing inspired by the Talmud Bavli. She developed this workshop for the 2019 National Havurah Committee institute, where she served as artist in residence. She holds an MFA in creative writing from UC, Riverside, an MA in philosophy from The New School for Social Research, and a BA in Judaic studies from Yeshiva University. She currently resides in Toronto, Canada and is a member of the marketing team at Aleph Beta.