Steven Sher is the author of fourteen books including, most recently, Grazing on Stars: Selected Poems (Presa Press, 2012) and the forthcoming The House of Washing Hands (Pecan Grove Press). He moved from New York City to Jerusalem one year ago with his wife. Find more information about his writing at stevensher.net.
A Lesson in Extending Compliments
for Rabbi Yehoshua Safrin
I told him he looked well today and he responded
that the surface of a man can be deceptive
and one’s health is in the hands of Hashem .
So then I added that his looking fine on the outside
was because the inside was so pure
and what was good came shining through.
Here he didn’t dispute what I had said
but nodded as if I had handed him a gift
that he couldn’t possibly accept,
yet he let it stand as he tugged on his coat
and turned up the collar, then swung the scarf
around his neck, fixing it like a mask over his mouth
up to the bridge of his nose—perhaps to trap
the warmth each deep breath garnered
as much as to keep the cold from his weakened lungs.
When next he pulled his black fur hat
down around his ears, as much to guard against the wind
that would slap his face once he stepped outside
as to strengthen himself against the doubts
that test a man before the door where he dons his gloves,
his mind was wrestling with new questions—
heavenly messengers, unseen by me,
now sent to lift him by his arms if they should drop
and raise the ground to meet his step.
William Shumway’s Painting Of A Rose
*(this poem is only available in our first print anthology)