Symbolism Crumbles Under The Weight Of Disillusionment

Symbolism crumbles
under the weight
of disillusionment
when a long black coat
becomes a garment
becomes a relic
becomes a memory
gathering dust
in the closet.

Let me tell you,
the rabbi says,
about your son.

He’s not special.

He’s not one of those
students I’ve had
over the years
who stand out.
I can count them
on one hand
and your son
isn’t one of them.

Other men
wearing black hats
and long black coats
look on, hanging on
every word.

I know them.
I love them.

But right now
I hate them.

You should be aware,
he says and pauses
to pinch a piece of herring,
suck it into his mouth,
and briefly kiss the flesh
of his blazing fingertips.

You should be more careful,
he says as he loads a cracker
with olive dip,
about how you talk
in front of him
about others.

He was overheard,
the rabbi says,
saying things
he shouldn’t know.

Like what?

He was overheard,
the rabbi says,
telling other students
they shouldn’t be surprised
by the behavior
of another student
and – the rabbi leans forward –
this is where we know
he has heard from someone
else’s mouth,
because, your son told them,
this child’s house
isn’t filled with love.

He pops the dip-topped
cracker into the gape
of his mouth, chews,
grabs a napkin,
wipes his hands,
says, crumbs on his lips,
Your son didn’t
come up with that
on his own.
Who are you,
the rabbi says,
to judge how
others love?

He picks up his cup,
says, L’chaim,
and walks away,
out of the social hall
into the afternoon sun,

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the space between us
filling with light.

Someone starts a niggun.
Around the table,
nothing out of the ordinary
seems to have occurred.

I never sit there again.

much later,
at another table,
with another rabbi,
and other men
wearing black hats
but no long coats,
singing another niggun
in a different melody,
I remember
the light
most of all.

How there can be such fire
that shows you the way
out the door
and into another
without burning you
without scarring you

for life.

When I see that rabbi again,
his beard whiter,
his visage softened
in the interim,
he asks after my son first,
beams a smile
to hear of his
accomplishments and goals.
Psychology, he says,
that’s wonderful!

And hugs me
before we part.





Cover image from Flickr.