ALAS!–EICHAH!–You Sit Alone (An Elegy for Tishah b’Av)

Alone you sit
In a field of stones
Asking why
You deserved this solitary confinement
Instead of the infinite expanse
Of oceans and air

Born you were
In a desert of poverty and fear
Yet over the years grew
Into the peerless teacher
You became
Of the world’s children

Ceaselessly you loved birds and whales
Flowers and gardens
Fishes and spiders
In your magnanimity
Breathing in quietude
Equally with city noise

Directly overhead the constellations,
Moon, comets, and meteors
Spread over your head like a halo
Emanated from the upper worlds
Covering the lower worlds
Like a translucent net of kindness

Earth is empty now that you are gone
Leaving us bereft
Alone to wander in exile
Unsure where to draw nourishment
Afraid of the dark
Aware only of the intractable march toward the end


All around the world is exploding in death
Body parts fly everywhere
Illuminating the night
Darkening the day
From the tip of Africa
To the peaks of Kashmir

But you who spent your life
Teaching children peace
Who drew together a coterie
Of peacemakers
To drive the chariot of the world
Toward the pure land of harmony

Certain of success: Where are you now?
Your friends too are dead or dying.
Your children have grown up
And even if they spread your message
They are too few
To stop the bloodshed flooding the beach of innocence

Drenching every corner of the unhappy earth
Tears flow in unending rivers
Nowhere are eyes dry
Except in the fortresses of the wicked and cruel
Where the rich and heartless hide
From terrors launched in God’s name in their false

Eden. And therein lies the crux:
Much of this is done in your name.
How can you allow this? How
Can you allow your name to be ground
Into a powder of bones, hatred, blood, and death?
You who gave life to these same bones?


Are you telling me the mother of the world
Cannot overcome the intensity
Of destruction? It overwhelms her
As it overwhelms us all. She
Is not the savior we await, certainly not
The savior some think already has come or is here,

Because I have lived in darkness
Since she left this world.
My days are like sleepless nights
Infested with nightmares
So that I feel awake when asleep
And asleep when awake,

Cannot pray, cannot find
My center. The center
Does not hold. Around me
In the midst of the flames of grief:
Can you not relieve me
Of my grief and suffering?

Dead, I feel lost. My guts ache,
My head, my teeth. I
Have forgotten happiness
And sit or stand or walk
In continuous agitation: There is
No peace.

Even friends cannot console me,
Nor doctors heal me. Food
Is tasteless, music discordant.
Everything provokes me to tears
But catatonia and despair. My words
Ring hollow and do not rhyme.


Argentum and gold everywhere appear dull.
This is not your fault, nothing
You did, nor the result
Of any sins you created
During your long life, nor
Anything you can repair now.

But we wish you were still here
Or could come back, for even
A faint ghost of your goodness
Would inject into this sad life
A glimmer of hope, an anchor
To which the drowning could grasp.

Crazy we are not, and know it’s too late. Yes,
We mourn for you, stagger about
Thinking you will just reappear
As if you had stepped away for just a moment,
But in our heart of hearts know
This is not to be.

Dull we are not, but saddest, hardest to grasp
Is that although we know you will not return
To save us from ourselves, provide us
With that tiny spark of hope,
We continue to think you will
And cannot leave the idea alone.

Empty we languish
By the edge of the sea
Unable to decide where to go next,
Where to turn for support: Even from those
Who might lend support
We can ask nothing.


As you remember, mother
Of the world, of all life,
Do not forget us, whom
You raised, who sat
By your feet soaking in
Your ancient and original wisdom

Because we are orphans
And must now care for ourselves.
We have learned from you
But are in danger of forgetting
In the barrage
Of negativity splattering the dimensions of our sight.

Crazy, maybe, we are hungry and will become
Hungrier as we strive to remember
How you taught us
To sustain ourselves in a hostile
Environment. Wicked forces
Ravish the forests, oceans, and watershed.

Do give us strength
To remember what you taught us
About withstanding
The tsunami of hatred and duplicity,
The avalanche of despair and sadism
That have engulfed the planet.

Earnestly some would pray for you
To take us with you, to abandon
The terrible world we live in,
But this is not your way, just as we cannot
Though we might want to
Renew our days as of old.


And she is like a city
Built in the ancient mists of time
By unknown hands,
Growing through the years
Through the lives of her citizens
And the inheritances of her children

Beautiful in her influence
Radiant in her dimensions
Permeated by an accumulation of wisdom
Gained through lifetimes
Of listening and dreaming
As if a bride awaiting her bridegroom. Yet

Coldness has descended also
On a black ray from You
Emanated from Your infinite Self
Clouding, then darkening, finally occluding
Her radiant glory in a shower of empty husks
Silent, surrounded by the ongoing party of life

Death is no beautiful embrace, no
Divine kiss, no prophet of anything real. No.
It is final. You have in your mysterious omniscience
Snapped the invisible thread connecting her life
To Yours riding the cosmic chariot
Across the universal sky

Elevating her perhaps
To the highest of levels yet leaving us
Bereft, without the one who gave us life,
Who guided us to this point in our lives,
Who now is but a ghost
Wandering her own eponymous city

(Tishah b’Av 5773)

© 2015 Henry Rasof

Here is a kinah–a liturgical dirge or elegy–I wrote for Tishah b’Av, the Day of Lamentation, which this year is observed beginning the evening of 25 July. For more information on this solemn occasion and on this type of poetry, see my July 12 post on the Boulder Jewish News Web Site.

About Henry Rasof z"l

I have been writing poetry for over fifty years. During this time, I have worked as a musician, chef, book acquisitions editor, and creative-writing instructor.

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