At 1:43 a.m. fragments of conversation
balloon in your mind’s open popping eye
constricting the lungs,
diaphragm heaving your body’s weight.
Even under blankets, quilts
frozen are your toes, muscles of legs
groaning for rest that never comes.
Heavy is the bowling ball of night. Heavier than the
investment binders, portfolios, non-mutual funds, all that
junk squatting in the spare room
kitty-cornered from where you
lie, fretting about how you will ever
move it all out before the
next tenant comes,
opening the locks of your doors
prying his furniture into your favorite places
questioning choice of color, the fire-cracker
red wall of the kitchen.
Time tilts forward, the annoying moon
under cozy cover of cloud sleeps more.
Vexing, it is, to be the only one awake,
wide-eyed wondering about—What was her name?
Xenia. The childhood friend who betrayed you,
yodeling secrets on the playground while the yellow
zebra striped butterflies floated away.
for Neil Gillman
Then came the Holy One and killed the Angel of Death who killed the shohet who killed the ox that drank the water that quenched the fire that burnt the stick that beat the dog that bit the cat that ate the kid my father bought for two zuzim.
Chad gadya, chad gadya.
--The Passover Haggadah
It doesn’t matter if the cat bit
the dog or the dog ate the kid.
We all get bit.
Whether the stick beat the water that quenched the fire
whether the kid cost the father a month’s wages
or a copper penny, we all are consumed
by hunger all bloodied by branches of trees
coming through windshields
burned by electrical fire
or drowned in the neighbor’s pool.
Every day I walk the thrum of hallways in the hospital on the hill
and they cling to life in a palace of broken bodies.
Scents of Clorox alcoholic sanitizer cling
to me on rounds, ID badge jangles the neckline.
Whether the cat scratched the mother who was bit by the spider
I come and go, placing palm on palm in psalm.
The old man Mr. Schechter opens clouded eye
to my voice calls me angel,
for that is what I am,
petitioning for pardon,
plying tissues into hands,
praying for release
from balloon pump and ventilator,
from burdens the size of an ox
sitting on their chest. He does not see
the sword I clasp.
They dream of youth, remember the whelping
warmth of puppies, kittens or kids curled in grass
bought by a father for two zuzim.
The memory burns.
So I wait for when I am no more,
rounding trauma bays, reaping tears
wondering when water will be stilled by fire
when the sword will drop
and the Holy One part
with my parting.
Sara O’Donnell Adler is a rabbi and hospital chaplain living in Ann Arbor, MI. Her poetry has appeared in Poetica Magazine, The Bear River Review, and the Journal for Jewish Spiritual Care.