Saturday, January 29, 2005

The Plum Tree

The following is a poem that was written by me several years ago, and published in a Passover literary supplement of our national Jewish community newspaper. I'd originally started writing an essay about the 50th anniversary of my father's arrival in Canada in 1949, but as all writers know, literary intentions often take a road less traveled. Such was the tangent my writing took that day.

I am very proud of this poem, which was in print, and which I've also presented at two local poetry readings, one of them for a Holocaust-related arts presentation produced by the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Canadian division.

One day I hope/plan to convert this poem into a children's book for young or middle readers.



Young boy – a son and brother –
You are a mentor and protector
to so many.
Uprooted at an early age –
father deceased, mother struggling to raise
a young family.


The streets of your village
are awash with scholars
who study with the great rebbe –
Talmud, Mishnah, Chumash, Halacha.
You peer through the dusty cheder windows,
longing to join them.
You are too young yet.
And yet, you are too old…
The branch that your mother
and siblings cling to for support.
You must bear fruit for the others,
and labor to do so.


Nature can be merciless at times,
giving and then taking away,
wiping out traces of life and beauty.
In time, a dreadful storm comes,
wiping out that cheder, that village…
your dear ones.


But you, thank God,
have been able to root temporarily
in other places.
And slowly, slowly, you awaken
after that harsh, stormy winter.
Weakened, you are warmed by the sun;
your fragility begins to heal.
And you are replanted yet again.


A husband. A father.
A mentor and protector once more.
You move silently into your verdant garden and kneel,
shovel and soil beside you.
You recall Leviticus 19:23.
“And when you arrive in the land,
plant all manner of fruit trees…”


You are giving back to the earth,
Enriching it with new life. A plum tree.
Roots clinging to the cool earth, the tree grows,
flourishes…its branches strong.
Over time it bears fruit, and more fruit.
You harvest from its sweet gifts –
again and again,
repeating the cycle each year.

And you remember your roots…


“And he shall be like a tree planted by
the rivers of water,
that bringeth forth his fruit in his season;
his leaf also shall not wither;
and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.”

Psalms 1:3

Things That Make You Go "Hmmmm...."

In having a conversation today with my soon-to-be five-year-old, I was explaining family relationships, and that made me think back to my childhood.

Just like I have two boys and a girl, I am part of a similar equation. At some point in my early school years, it hit me: How come I can only say "I have two brothers" but my brothers could each say "I have one brother and one sister"? I thought something was wrong there -- I felt somewhat cheated; they had one of each! It's something that made me say, "Hmmmm...."

Another thing that I've always said "Hmmmm...." about has to do with the travel ad campaign for the Bahamas. IT'S BETTER IN THE BAHAMAS. Okay, I wondered. Better than what? Better than Mexico, better than ice cream, better than winning a lottery? Give me some clues here? But the Bahamas Tourist Office never did.

And when I was very young, I took things very literally. For example, I thought "horseback riding" meant riding backwards on a horse. Worse than that, I thought that an orchestra conductor raised his baton, and based on how he moved it around, is how the orchestra played. I never realized they had the music in front of them on stands. I also remember being young, staring up at the clouds in the sky and looking for Hashem's throne. I pictured him, perhaps like a mall Santa Claus, sitting way up high and looking down on the world. And to that end, when I was in the schoolyard, I'd look up and think: "How can Hashem be looking down on me here, while looking down on my parents at my house?"

I still often look at things, my head askew, with the natural curiosity of a young child -- but this child is forty-three these days! -- and say "Hmmmm....."