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Ben Corvo


The five poems in this collection were written over several years yet all hinge on the turning of the year from Elul to Tishrei. Like the season’s formal observances, the weave of sound, word, and line in these poems at once evoke and create a kind of associative density—on the one hand, a blurring of divine and human interlocutors; on the other, a peculiarly braided quality of time. Sometimes the flow of time from Elul through Tishrei is full of riffles and hidden depths, cross-currents and back-currents. Sometimes we find ourselves in full flood. Old landmarks are made unfamiliar, and there indeed is no before and after.


Even in the wrong season,
the ground must be turned.

Even if I’ve made a late start,
even in the day’s heat and congestion,
even in my more-than-perennial distraction,
the ground must be turned.

The crows have taken shelter
wherever crows take shelter,
chameleons scuttle away
at the absolute last moment,
tiny grass snakes stretch themselves
full length in the leaf litter,
and the leaf litter itself
does not stir.

The ground breaks iron tools.
Weeds suck uselessly
at its paps, and tears
roll uselessly away.

Here are the tracks
they make in the dust,
a thin dark line at first
then a fossil groove
shallow but unmistakable.

In this late season, the ground
becomes a reliquary
of tiny marks, to be read blind,
with fingertips,
the way a cheek, yours, is caressed
in old age.

My hands know
the language of each
fold and furrow,
rehearse the ancients tracks
over hard-baked ground
turn skyward.

B’sha-ah tova,
the old women say. The rain
will come “in a good hour.”
Even now
in this late season
(say it!) the ground holds so much
and must be turned.

Kivnei Maron


The insistent question, the petulant question,
The question that, frankly speaking, gets under your skin
Just a little bit, the statement phrased as a question

With a little upglide pigtailed at the end,
The questions others ask or don’t ask but assume
An answer, somehow they know more about me than

I know myself, and really, what do I know,
The urgent question, the question I return to
Always, not expecting an answer but somehow

Hoping for one, the question demanding yes or no,
And the multitude of answers, all contingent,
Crowding on a puente internacional

Or at an airport, its gates, their open-and-shut,
We are there and not there, shut in, kept out.


From one day to the next, sometimes, or one moment
To the next, I find myself, suddenly, strangely
Unresponsive to the most elementary

Stimuli, looking, I see your hands on me
Without feeling anything, as if they were touching
Or holding another body, not my own, a body

Like mine, but whiter, a complete scarification
Has also left it cold to the touch, I know this
In the same way that I know the hovering

Of a soul above a deathbed, interested,
Perhaps a little regretful, or disoriented,
Maybe momentarily catching its breath,

You are patient, but patience does not last forever,
Soon I’ll feel your fists, demanding, Anyone in there?


I just returned from your coronation. Every year,
Expecting not to be moved, being moved despite myself.
You almost disappeared, again, under all that glitter,

I could only imagine the nocturnal
Hours under your robes, your body was trained for this,
In the same way it was trained for gentleness

And patience, in other seasons and hours, no less
Strange, really, than the rigors of the processional,
Your face hard, your eyes fixed in the far distance,

And your hands? I could see them nowhere
And felt them everywhere, which is perhaps why I wept
With such complete abandon, together

With the throngs assembled under the high transept,
And later, here, in my small apartment, joyful, bereft.

The Tide

       I. Fast of Gedaliah

The way two calendars can overlap but not
Coincide, the one marking the date of a wedding,
Late summer, lakeside, I can almost miss the slant

Of full light, hovering not-quite-perfect stillness,
The wind only barely ruffling the surface,
They also seem part of brittle choreographies,

A canoe cutting across the face of water,
Its bow wave, rise and fall of tiny yellow leaves,
Silver line of wake, even before it nears shore,

I can pick you out, bride and groom, fore and aft,
Paddling leisurely but straight-on-toward,
Your profiles razor-sharp against so much grief,

It never quite pulls us under, does it, the other calendar
Marking, even now, blood spilling across a stone floor.

       II. Jeremiah

That relentless chronicler of catastrophe
Would have approved, I think, of a wedding on the cusp
Of catastrophe, and all the later syncopes,

Births, gatherings, anniversaries, interrupting,
However momentarily, the huge green-black wave,
Its slow build behind rooftops, treetops, which we notice

Only when it finally breaks or doesn’t quite break
And we lose each other or hold on to each other
The best we can, having (please God) found or made

Shelter of a kind, the remains of a room, this, here,
I don’t know how long it will hold, I don’t know when
We will be scattered, again, across the water—

Yet the immense flood cancels, even now, nothing.
How bravely, even now, your tiny vessel shines.

Kol Nidrei

Try to imagine my vantage point, a stone
In an upland boulder field, it is evening
The sun cuts over the ruined outbuildings

Of the old leper hospital into the pines,
Two hoopoes are taking a dust bath, ecstatic,
Raising dust-clouds with their wings, which the late sun

Disaggregates into a million distinct
Gilded motes, gilds too their crown feathers and the dust
Clinging to them, and the men and women

In white, passing on the road below or cutting
Diagonals across the field, you too are here,
Somehow, taking in my taking this in,

A peace, proof against the calamitous shifts in weather,
An evening in which we find ourselves, somehow, together.


Since you are half a planet away
You will have to imagine yourself
At the table, make yourself a place

As a book makes a place for itself
In the gap between its companions
When a hand pulls it from the shelf

To be read, culled, or simply mulled upon
For the touch of other hands that last
Placed it there, unopened or opened

At random. Imagine, too, the guests,
Random snatches of conversation,
Another syncope before bless-

-sing and breaking of bread, and then
Resumed talk like snowfall or leaf-fall,
Slow, silent drift of attention.

Can you hear them? Young boys keeping a ball
Aloft, clean limbs flashing in last summer
Sunlight, so too voices catching a small

Feather of talk, lofting it skyward
Again so it turns and dances in the room’s
High reaches and lamplight. Elsewhere, air

Full of late summer dust and goldenrod bloom
So the boys seem to swim in rich delight,
Here another trick of substance sweeping down

From low passes, Mediterranean light
Over our mountaintop city, or when
Desert winds blow from the east, the bright

Air scoured clean of absolutely everything
But harsh electricity. We shelter
In closer air from the kitchen,

At the table, facing each other,
Let our voices’ deft in-and-out stitch
A patterned tent where we dwell together—

—Imagine this glittering fabric, a hitch
Every now and then as the wind blows through,
The circled guests’ intelligent rich

Repartee pausing, just slightly askew,
Half a planet away, suddenly you.

Ed. note: “Elul” first appeared in Salmagundi Magazine and is republished here with permission; “Kivnei Maron” was previously published together with a brief introductory essay in The Lehrhaus.

Ben Corvo recently served as virtual poet-in-residence at MERGEMERGE, and his work has appeared in Salmagundi, Magma, and other publications. He lives, learns, and writes in Jerusalem.