This is not a poem

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Yehiel Poupko


Editor’s Note: These are excerpted from R. Poupko’s soon-to-be-published work of poems, What Is Lost.


This is not a poem*
this is not a poem
nor a parable
it is a vision
from a sin master
to read
the list and liturgy
for we have sinned
is to report
and record
and then to add
and to reckon
and to balance
the accounts
and close the book
and cast to 
the cleansing river waters
but if the reading
flows to chant
and chant to singing
and singing to swaying
then guilt and pain
seek their same
in the embrace
of sin
she said
reclining on one arm
for life
is a breath
and sin
its net
as the holy
gives way
to the good

*See Avodah Zarah 17a. 


Starlings and pigeons
the other
shofar blast
and yom kippur fast
I saw
the starlings
and pigeons
the autumn
god grey
and fateful
to warm 
and godless
o that
i had wings


Kol Nidrei – All my vows
i am lost 
a wandering jew
in Yom Kippur 
land of violated promises
failed oaths
unkept vows
alien to me 
as Canaan 
to Abraham
sin’s topography 
sculpts all form 
of landscape 

and who shall 
scout the land 
for dangerous 
of rock and craggy sin 
soul faults 
quaking with offense 

wadis rushing
with sin
flooded Noah’s Ark
shattered on 
secret perfidies
sins and lives drowning

the angel recorder 
of sins 
faithful custodian 
of bones crushed 
in falling words 
echoing through desert 
and canyon 
none shall escape 
the day of the lord

as i 
read and recite 
recite and chant 
chant and read 
the list 
and litany 
and all 
of my  
and a few 
not yet 
and formed 
in fantasy 
and deed 
i wonder 
did you 
make me 
and create 
create and 
form and knead 
knead and breathe 
life and 
as i 
and recite 


When the goat escaped
when the goat 
escaped Temple’s altar 
climbing desert hills 
searching the barren 
for green and grass 
unwittingly bearing 
Israel’s sins 
red ribboned 
by a deftly priest
climbing the precipice 
the earth yawns 
surprises the grass 
munching goat 
and a sin or two 
bounces down 
the hill 
as goat’s brains spill 
on rock and crag 
all is forgiven

Yehiel E. Poupko is Rabbinic Scholar at the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, and author of Chana: A life in prayer.