An End to Suffering
This wave, with teeth
like lace, eats the land.
It disappears in the sand
which swallows its selvage.
And the tide pulls its unselving
breaker back into the sea.
It came from farther back
than anything I can tell—this
wave rolled through the ocean, hidden
among billows, part of the unformed
billions of other waves, until
its distance neared
the shore, and it reared up, and it poured
through the little aperture
in creation that took shape
as my mother, on the border
of the non-human
world that surrounds and
permeates us, my heart opens
in gratitude to her after all
the wretchedness of our merely personal relation.
Before falling asleep, I hear it
heaving far off—a voice that's not
a voice giving life to what vanishes,
an endless genesis that draws
a shroud of unremembered night
over the beginningless time that went
into my formation. On the beachhead
of each morning, I wake up trembling
for the oceanic heartbeat that I lost
at birth, and chaos comes again.
Now I stand at the edge
of my days, wanting to drown
the soughing of this distance
in the nearness of prayerful speech.
Yet I go on observing one wave
followed by another, and I cease being
broken by my need to be saved.
Soon to be zero, I open to the unfathomable
life that passes through the little
aperture in creation that I am.
A new resolve: against the lure
of the body's burning to be immersed
in hot body-parts that I consume
with my eyes, look away
and say shomer negiah: words
in the holy tongue break
the spell of immediate submission
at the meeting of boundless thirst
and the promise of wetness.
Intone shomer negiah to put up
the ritual fence the ancestors
placed between flesh and fantasy.
The strenuous law that prohibited
of one sex and another
is useful in the emergency
you face as you ride under
the river between central
Brooklyn and mid-Manhattan.
Recite shomer negiah to call up
an observing self that's undone
by the blinding focus of lust;
insert it between the legs
you must never touch
and your tongue; whisper shomer
negiah to make a separation
between head and crotch,
between top and bottom.
Bring shomer negiah with you
to keep watch over your body
in the narrow places
where you walk in danger.
Turn away from your torment,
find a path through the crowded
subway car. In the midst of longing,
silently sing shomer negiah.
Making this intention your own
will change the scene from helpless
pursuit of what I will never have
to becoming a man chaining myself
to the ancestors, chanting
to free my gaze from the legs I worship
as I stumble through my days
in a mad toddler's body.
My life and writing are informed by Jewish and Buddhist spiritual practices, and by a healing practice that links psychotherapy with mindfulness meditation. Raised in a secular Yiddish-speaking community that reverenced Old World traditions, I engage in learning Torah, in incantation of charged words and in singing wordless Hasidic melodies. In the set-apart spaces I create, I sit with patients; I enter the silence of my daily Vipassana practice; and I leave my labors and experience the Sabbath.
Marc Kaminsky is a poet and psychotherapist in private practice in Brooklyn. He is the author of eight books of poetry, including A Cleft in the Rock (Dos Madres Press), The Road from Hiroshima (Simon & Schuster), and Daily Bread (University of Illinois Press). His poems, essays and fiction have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, including The Manhattan Review, The American Scholar, Natural Bridge, The Oxford Book of Aging and Voices within the Ark: The Modern Jewish Poets.