Jul 13, 2017

Today’s poem is "Equations" by Lee Sharkey from her book Walking Backwards, which recently appeared from Tupelo Press. Her earlier books are Calendars of Fire, A Darker, Sweeter String, and eight other poetry collections. She leads a creative writing workshop for adults recovering from mental illness and serves as Senior Editor of the Beloit Poetry Journal.

She writes: “I had been pondering the distance between self and other, between "us" and "them," that so bedevils the world, and how that distance might be bridged. In that context, I turned to the Jewish concept of covenant, which seems to me more importantly between one person or people and another than between a person or people and God. In "Equations," the "my/your" structure is a verbal bridge…between self and other, a tiny prayer. The image of the toad looking out from the snake's mouth arose suddenly in the process of writing the poem, an indelible memory from childhood.

by Lee Sharkey

My white cloth by candlelight is your white cloth by candlelight

I remember a meal the covenant once served me

My violin is your violin

the rain of the land in its season

Witness, set out

I rub the door post where the muzuzah held its prayer

A prayer is a tiny camera

My former rain is your latter rain

My latter rain is your former rain

My white breath is your white breath

So, our days may be multiplied

At childhood’s gate, a snake

In the act of swallowing

A toad, legs first

Transfixed, we watch until

The one looks out of the other’s mouth

Where we go the covenant follows

We begin to see it has intentions for us