Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2018  Vol. 17 No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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The Cantor

Every Sunday for three years, he spent digging.
A thing had happened in New York, and his job
was to coordinate how they moved the earth,
what fell on the earth, what happened to the earth

the glass the rubble the metal the bodies the soot

and how they moved it away. He did this on Sundays,
after Shabbat but before Monday mornings when business
of other kinds of building happened to his desk. He did this
for three years, as three children grew up in a two-bedroom

apartment in Queens, as his wife cleaned its kitchen, as his sister
moved away and married, as his mother grew old and slumped
in her chair, and as his father worried over her. Three years,
longer than he publicly grieved that father when he died.

Three Sukkots, three times Pesach. Yom Kippur again again again.

I have watched him at Friday night dinners, chiding
his children in one breath and laughing in the next,
and sighing and then looking away. I have watched
him after the children had gone to bed, when he reached

for his kippah, set it on the table, sat in the overstuffed
chair in the corner sighing again. We drank scotch, marveled
at how the world happened to us and how we had changed
and we grew older. Tomorrow he would go to synagogue

and sing, and the next day he would be moving earth again.
When he dies (I do not say this to be maudlin, only to say
that we all die eventually) they will mention the singing.
How he was godly and his voice rang out clear and true as if

that’s the way God intended. They will say it was the singing
that did that, but that’s a lie. It was the digging, the way labor
becomes prayer, the moving of the earth and what it raised
that wore at the edges, that all we build will be borne away.  

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