Back to Issue Thirty-Four

Go Inward



It was for a friend’s wedding that I found myself
back in temple with a lapsed hippie rabbi
who, in honor of the 50th anniversary
of his bar mitzvah, had decided to swap the traditional
prayers for songs from Broadway shows.
The capacity crowd shook noisemakers
& sang “Good Morning Starshine”
with a joy that surprised, then overtook me—
like a stadium wave when the home team scores—
second only to Rabbi Jonathan himself
explaining how in God’s command to Abraham
to go forth & found a nation he noticed
the verb also means go inward, as in receiving
a stillness or sitting softly with oneself.
I thought of my father drowsy from chemo,
how we both needed this kind of attention,
a close reading, as would the country
a week later when at a synagogue in Pittsburgh
a man opened fire & thousands of Jews
& non-Jews returned to temple, in whatever
the opposite of an exodus is. When I was young,
I remember feeling faith privately, a direct
line to God, which the world or adulthood only
diluted. Three times a year I’d sing along
with the cantor, not knowing what the words meant.
That Saturday morning in temple, the leaves
changed & a congregation belted out Sondheim,
the country prepared to grieve, my father
coughed under covers, & I found in strangers
as much as in any book or prayer no promises
but, like hearing a rustle in deep woods & turning
to locate its source, the chance for something rare.



Jardin du Luxembourg



In the Jardin du Luxembourg I sat at the edge of a small,
peripheral garden. People pulled their chairs close
hoping to catch the sun, & two gardeners shoveled the earth
around a statue of a man. One wore blue gloves
& one pink, they spoke casually in a language
I didn’t understand. One dug, one softened the soil
with a forked hoe. All around me people thought
their thoughts, like I loved you, but not in the way I wanted.
When the gardeners paused to study their work,
a third man turned to admire the men covered in light,
one older, one young, who threw their shovels into the truck
& picked up shears. They started to trim the grass
around the statue then, so that it made a perfect circle,
the statue of Paul Verlaine, that destitute,
searching poet. I don’t know more about him.
The admiring man stretched, the trees dropped their leaves,
the denseness of the breeze was not unlike a collection
of hard feelings. Soon I would have to get up
& walk back into my life, where my jeans were too tight
& no one looked at me the way she did, once,
while the gardeners with their instruments went on
trying to make the earth around Paul Verlaine
beautiful & the admiring man pedaled his bike away.


Jen Levitt is the author of The Off-Season (Four Way Books, 2016). She received her MFA from NYU, and her poems have been published in Boston Review, The Literary Review, Sixth Finch, Tin House and elsewhere. She lives in New York City and teaches high school students.

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