Poet's Choice: 'Temple Beth Israel' by Gabrielle Calvocoressi

By Gabrielle Calvocoressi
Sunday, January 3, 2010

In the spring of my 13th year, my mother took her life. It's not an unusual story, though that seems unusual to say. She had been ill my whole life and was, in some ways, a ghost the entire time I knew her. Now I can use terms like "borderline personality disorder." Back then there was just a mother who was sometimes home drinking TAB but more often gone, in some nameless hospital.

What was it she wanted that I wanted too? Often the answer was: for God to hear me. My mother wanted that, and as she got sicker, it seemed to be all she wanted. Sometimes she thought God did hear her, and sometimes his absence made her home feel so full of nothingness that I can't remember what happened. After she died, I tried to stop believing. It wasn't until I was asked on a radio show what I did instead of keeping a journal and said, "Pray" that I realized I'd never stopped speaking into and with that deep silence.

My collection of poems "Apocalyptic Swing" contains faith and violence and all manner of music. One of those poems, "Temple Beth Israel," takes its name from a synagogue that was bombed in the 1960s. It considers faith and doubt co-existing in a world that does not welcome all of us. It is a letter about learning and risking joy in the face of tremendous loss. A love letter to a world in which faith and hope are unconquerable because they are boundless.

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Temple Beth Israel

I thought I would write to you about the bombings

Of all those churches and temples in the South.


But instead I took a corner and there

Like the sun I wake to in this distant city


A boy resplendent in his yarmulke and Lakers

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