The Cartography Of Heaven

The Cartography Of Heaven/
ונתנ תוקף (Untane Tokef)
(After David Sacks)

Death is
the unending melody
composed

from the moment
our bespoke,
pink and newborn lungs
expanded in silence and
contracted in pressed bellowing.

Death is the gaping whale’s maw
we Jonah our sweet selves into.

Death is the stark relief
each breath is thrown against.

Not one fleeting iota of a nanosecond
is etched in bedrock.

Not one heartbeat is owed us.

Our every step is tenuous, at best,
as we skitter-creep through the arid desert
of our minefield-lives.

Death is our only definitive,
the truest equality,
the singular guarantee
in the vast expanse
of this
roughshod reality.

Any soothing of this primal truth
is a wooing built of cheap platitudes,
a numbing concoction,
a cocktail made
of bootleg anesthesia.

Who among us can be faulted
for wanting to take the edge off?

Best to be wary of backdoor apothecaries
robed in the clothing of holy men.

Not one of us has the definitive answer,
not one of us can fully inhabit
any understanding
of the what-comes-after.

Take angels:
easy for them to sing,
easy for them to open-throat
their Hallelujahs into outer space,
blow like Gabriel,
praise the infinity
from which they issued.

Is it even a leap of faith
if you know you can’t help but
land softly?

Imagine expansive palaces.
Now, imagine expanses of massive palaces,
each palace a respective entry point
to the ever-after,
where the theoretical
has nothing to offer us.

The palace of return
(with its revolving door
circle dance) is eternal,
will welcome us back
into its sacred fold
whenever we are ready,

and yet again,
every time we dis-
then re-connect.

The soul-crushing
knowledge of our own mortality,
the humility of a human body,
the way it can fail us,

be crumpled like
paper prayers under our own feet,

be unzipped
and spill guts
with the greatest of ease,

betray us;
the devastating abasement,
the limitations of our weak-sensed perception,

well,
anyone could be forgiven
for giving in,
for losing their appetite
for Hoshanahs,
for wanting to swan-dive
off the cliff
and get the suspense over with.

Don’t deny
the holy chutzpah
it takes to bring
your tambourine,
ready to sing.

You’re still standing.

***

This piece was inspired by the teachings of David Sacks. Specifically, during a recent shiur, he used the phrase “the cartography of heaven,” paused, and said someone should use it for a title. Ever motivated by his words, I followed his encouragement.

***

Photo of the Pillars of Creation from the Eagle Nebula (detail) by Stuart Rankin