The Boogeyman Of Belonging

The boogeyman of belonging grins
as I sing for the Sabbath angels
on Friday nights.
He dips his used spoon in the soup pot,
bites bread and puts it back in the basket,
and snores on the sofa.

We go back a long time.

He was there twenty years ago
when the shul rabbi said,
I hear my son walked you home
from class the other night.
I said. Wasn’t that nice of him?
I’d thought it was only his upbringing,
to be kind to strangers.

I learned only later
what the rabbi had meant:
Stay away from my son;
he is not for you.

He was there fifteen years ago
when my friend’s husband,
a rabbi much my senior, asked
as we rode to a meeting
on the seventh floor:
Ever have an affair in an elevator?
I froze, shrinking down
into my winter coat.
The rabbi mumbled an apology
and never spoke to me again.

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The boogeyman of belonging
sat next to me at the community seder,
crowding my seat in the synagogue basement,
the square, pushed-together tables
covered in blue sheeting
and set with plastic
under fluorescent lights,
the food somewhere
between hospital and wedding hall.
When the introductions
went around the room, he smirked
as I looked for a place to hide.

The God of the Temple fed on the savor of sacrifice
and promised protection.
The boogeyman of belonging
sucks the breath of solitude,
and none can drive him away.

The boogeyman of belonging
drinks from my wine cup
on Friday nights
before I finish singing.
At the last note
he plucks out my voice,
tucking it deep into the right front pocket
of his stained and threadbare linen shirt.

The writer is a middle-aged single woman living in a Jewish community.