Mark Halperin

ON THE STEPS OF TEMPLE SHALOM

 

Inside the old, gray stone house,
its eaves trimmed in the flat-board,
Midwest style of the neighborhood,
the children are learning Hebrew
and history and to be Jewish
as best they can where Jews are few.

Maybe they are learning to be rare
while old snow melts from the roof
and the sun, absent recently, proves
it can shine in the blue
and white sky. These are colors
the children would be sure to notice, who

are learning the flag of Israel
and their ties to all that history.
Recognize them? They’d rather be
screaming and chasing each other
under them like other children.
And they will soon, but must wait. More

than one of my uncles would have said
Jews can’t live in Yakima or
the town we drove from. One would be sure
we’d never be American
enough, another terrified
we just might, all of them come

too far not to understand
only the shadow of the past
grows, but thinner, more odorless.
The children sit in a room
waiting for their parents
to rescue them from Temple Shalom.

They are further away all the time,
as Temple Shalom is, under its blue
and white skullcap. It weathers the distance
carried even here, the Jew’s
childlike refusal whose name,
if there is one, like God’s, we must not use.

 

“On the Steps of Temple Shalom” is reprinted from Time as Distance (New Issues/Western Michigan U Press).

 

Mark Halperin’s fifth volume of poetry, Falling Through the Music, was published by University of Notre Dame Press (2007).  He is co-author of Accent on Meter (NCTE), and co-translator of A Million Premonitions, poems from the Russian of Victor Sosnora (Zephyr Press).  Halperin lives near Washington’s Yakima River and fishes avidly.


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