To a Kohen

Your blood runs high
with the blood of the sacrifices.
The ancient priesthood survives
encoded in your dark body,
a physical reality bridging
unutterable time.

You, son of a more enlightened age,
don't feel it, the holy incense
clouding the marrow of your bones.
You are not enthralled by
the vestigial duties of your birthright:
the call to take up the first place
at the chanting of the Torah;
the austere ceremony of delivering
the benediction, feet unshod, face veiled.
Your tribesmen let the water flow
over their hands, poured by their
lawful attendants; they ascend
the platform; they draw down
the presence of the Almighty
through their outstretched hands,
scalps tingling the way mine did
the first time I laid the tefillin over it,
crackling with an unknown energy.
You, on Shabbat morning, sleep
alone; you work, alone with
the fruit of your reasoning, quiet
sunlight streaming in over bare floors.

My marrow, too, bears traces
of the smoke from burnt-offerings,
my bones pulse with the rhythm of
primeval incantations, but they are
formed mostly of foreign soil. I had to be
readopted, brought to new birth amid
the living waters, to quicken it.
You, then, are forbidden to take me
to wife—to mingle your blood-memory
with the discordant flesh of alien races.

Beneath your surface, mystic shadow runs
parallel, helical, with cold daylight.
Lingering in the ancestral path, I am
divided from your consecrated lineage
by an inexorable curtain. Yet setting my feet
defiantly onto the hard, starkly lumined
concrete would wind me ever higher
into the deepest recesses of the concealed.
For if I chose, I could take your sacred flesh
into my bed, into my body. I could
draw that essence relentlessly forth
from your mouth, your pores, your
loins. I could force you gasping
to the brink of the eternal secret
as you spill the mystery of your seed.
I could contain it then, whole within
this strange vessel my body, unmediated,
inchoate spark of Divine revelation.

September 2, 1997
Rosh Chodesh Elul 5757


What's a kohen? What's the priestly blessing ("benediction")?

Copyright ©1997, 1999 by Erica Schultz Yakovetz. All rights reserved.
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