by Robert Pinsky
The moon-stirred volume of ocean sighed Coconut tanning-oil and frozen custard. Birch lions and dragons rode the merry-go-round. A splinter of the herringbone cedar boardwalk Might be teased from your finger with a steel Needle purged of germs by a match's flame. When the sliver was out they held it Up to your eyes, with bits of your flesh or blood Stuck to it. Some doctors believe it helps To see your tumor or gallbladder floating in a jar. If Nana sewed a button on my shirt while I Was wearing it, she made me chew a bit Of the same cotton thread to keep the stitches From piercing the precious tissues of my heart. On the Day of Atonement she sat upstairs. The shul was within the sound of the Atlantic. Across the street, Our Lady Star of the Sea With the rumored mutable crackers and wine Swathed in its shadows. Froth of Communion dresses. Three round medallions filled the rainbow arc Of our shul's jewel-colored Palladian Window three stories tall, with three images: The eight-branched lamp; the double tablets of law; The Star of David: — Study, Obedience and Pride? Or blessedness at Home, in Heaven and the World? Eight and Two and Six inscrutable As the narcotic English translation my eye Might swim to from the phonetic surf of Hebrew. Meaning secreted itself in the urgent uncomprehended Syllables the cantor sobbed, In the eight miniature gilded minarets, Terra cotta pilasters and three high double doors— In the velvet and silver fittings Of the Torah you kissed only by kissing the fringe Of your tallis, then reaching to press That fringe to the cloaked scroll. It flirted and hid itself in names, Sol Tepper, Manny Horn, Isador Moss. Iossel, the ever-smiling "simple" Concentration-camp survivor they treated like a child— Grinning, but his dark round eyes like pictures. Of the starved, the mutilated, orphans deprived of touch. The same men called to the bima to pray by secret Desert-names: Reuven ben Nachman, Moshe ben Yakov, Yisrael ben Avraham, in wingtip shoes and neckties. And with Nana upstairs Sophie Gorcey, Molly Joffe, Suzy Diamond looking down from the balcony. Nylons, hat feathers, double breasted suits. Prescribed times to rise or sit or when those recently Bereaved were supposed to leave the building Or remain, or enter again through the three doors Framed by four Ionic columns. The church the synagogue the boardwalk, all razed now Merry-go-round carted off: temporary as gestures, Icons expendable, less enduring than names. Made things like garments. Means. Conduits, Like the dark vaulted cylindrical tunnel that led under Ocean Avenue between the pool at Chelsea Baths And the beach, where people descended from the bright Stucco pavilions into the dark round mouth, Then padded out onto the beach broiling in the sun: Passageway of shadow from one blinding glare Into a greater one, walkway invisible under the traffic, Black damp burrow of the real, leading From incomprehensible brightness to brightness.