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Sara O'Donnell Adler, two poems


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.

Of Death

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.

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