Rosh Chodesh by Julia Knobloch

On the new moon of the month of happiness
you died on a calm and inconspicuous
three-way junction in the city of your dreams.
Police said death was instantaneous.

Somewhere, a seagull faltered and fell into the ocean.

On Shabbat Zachor, one week after
your life ended in fast-motion,
they held a mass for you,
on Normandie and Wilshire.
I watched a white robed priest sprinkle water on your coffin
and, with grand routine, diffuse a heavy smell.
In Temple times, the Kohanim burned frankincense as well.

We have long let go of this tradition.

Yet, by this Pacific Daylight hour,
most Jews around the world
had been reminded: Do not forget!
I could not help but think that I
for twenty years was stuck
in memories of one summer
over there,
where the land ends and the sea begins.
I could not help but imagine that when
flames consumed your lifeless shell,
Jews in Hawai’i opened the Book of Vayikra,
and read about the korban olah,
the ascending offering,
whose fragrance pleased the Lord,
while your friends released balloons into the California sky
to bid your soul farewell.
I could not help but remember
that no hair grew yet on your suntanned chest
when I first rested my cheek against it, when
I was twenty-two, and you were twenty.

Jewish law forbids the cremation of the body.

I felt the urge to cleanse myself. On the full moon,
I duly fastened, listened, booed and hissed, sent gifts
—I didn’t feel like drinking.
The world was upside down already, and you—
or what was left of you—
in transit.

Further attempts of purification on Shabbat Parah.
All I could think of was a tavern in the Lapa,
where, your blue eyes gleaming, you spoke
to me about the ancient bull rites in
your village, close to the border.
You said: The difference is
that we don’t kill the bull to please the audience.

I believe it was the night of our first kiss.

When the moon had gone full circle and come back,
they held another mass for you,
your ashes,
before they buried them
over there,
in your native earth,
in that archaic landscape of arid soil,
where women always dress in black
and for centuries, secret signs scratched in stone
have shown the way to hidden Jewish sanctuaries.

The sages would not have approved.
But all I could do that day
was say Kaddish for you,
on the new moon of the month of freedom.

julia-knobloch
Julia Knobloch is a journalist and translator turned project manager and executive assistant. Before moving to New York from Berlin, she worked 10+ years as a writer and producer for TV documentaries and radio features. Her essays and reportage have been published in print and online publications in Germany, Argentina, and the US (openDemocracy, Brooklyn Rail, Reality Sandwich), and she occasionally blogs for ReformJudaism.org. An emerging poet, she recently was awarded the Poem of the Year prize from Brooklyn Poets for her poem Daylight Saving Time.
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