Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Chana Bloch: The Messiah of Harvard Square

Every year some students would claim to be the Messiah,

It was the rabbi who had to deal with them.

He had jumped, years ago, from a moving boxcar

on the way to a death camp. That leap

left him ready for anything.

 

This year at Pesach, a Jewish student proclaimed

Armageddon. “Burn the books! Burn the textbooks!”

he shouted to a cheerful crowd,

sang Hebrew songs to confuse the Gentiles,

dressed for the end like Belshazzar.

People stopped to whisper and laugh.

 

“I have a noble task,” the boy explained.

“I must prepare myself to endure

the laughter of fools.”

 

The rabbi was a skeptic.

Years ago he’d been taught, If you’re planting a tree

and someone cries out, The Messiah has come!

finish planting the tree. Then

go see if it’s true.

 

Still, he took the boy into his study

and questioned him slowly, meticulously,

as if the poor soul before him might be,

God help us, the Messiah.


 

Copyright 2017 Chana Bloch. From Swimming in the Rain: New and Selected Poems (1980-2015). Reprinted with permission of Autumn House Press.

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Chana Bloch (1940-2017), the author of award-winning books of poetry, translation, and scholarship, taught for over thirty years at Mills College where she directed the Creative Writing Program. She is co-translator of The Song of Songs, and of the poetry of Yehuda Amichai and Dahlia Ravikovitch.  Autumn House Press published three collections of her original poetry: The Moon is Almost FullSwimming in the Rain: New and Selected Poems 1980-2015, and Blood Honey. (Photo: Margaretta K. Mitchell)

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