Vox Populi

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Michael Simms: Tree of Life

When the young man wearing a yarmulke 
Asks Excuse me sir are you Jewish?
I want to say yes
I’ve studied history and know
Something about suffering
But that’s not what he means.
He’s trying to find ten men 
For a minyan 
At Rodef Shalom down the street
 
And when the young man carrying a bible
Asks Have you heard the Good News?
I want to say Yes! 
The cherry trees are blossoming!
And when he asks Have you been saved?
I want to say Yes! 
I’ve been saved by poetry 
From a childhood of abuse 
And humiliation --
That’s a kind of miracle
Isn’t it?
 
But I know 
He wants to know
Whether I’ve accepted Jesus 
Into my heart and there’s the rub
Because my heart is so small
And Jesus is so big
 
When I walk into a cathedral 
My heart sings, when I walk 
Into a forest the trees sing
And when I walk down the street
The homeless man on the sidewalk
Puts his whole heart into the ukulele
Oh Susanna we are saved
It is springtime in Pittsburgh
And in America
 
My friend Rashid is an atheist
Because his mother was killed by a bomb.
His father died unhappy and his sister
Has moved to Australia. Rashid blames
All his tragedies on religion 
And he may be right.
We all have our tragedies
And maybe God is to blame.
What do I know?
 
Well, I know this much:
Anyone who has grown a garden, raised a child
Or looked at the sky far from a city
Knows the truth. So, yes, I’m a believer
In the Big Dark, the Ur-unknown,
The sense that my little mind
Is part of the Big Mind
I’ll never know
 
But I have to say
God, like a lazy cop,
Never seems to be around 
When you need Him
 
Somewhere a soldier is beating a boy
For throwing stones. Somewhere
A priest is raping a child.
Somewhere a girl in a marketplace
Has a bomb strapped to her chest.
 
My friend and her mother
Were in the Tree of Life synagogue
When a man who hated immigrants
Pushed through the door of their faith 
With an automatic rifle.
You know the rest.
 
--
 
For Arlene Weiner and Philip Terman

Michael Simms is the founder and editor of Vox Populi. His latest collections of poems are American Ash and Nightjar both published by Ragged Sky.

Copyright 2020 Michael Simms. From American Ash by Michael Simms (Ragged Sky, 2020).
On October 27, 2018, at the Tree of Life – Or L’Simcha Congregation in Pittsburgh, the congregation was attacked during Shabbat morning services. The shooter killed eleven people and wounded six. It was the deadliest attack ever on the Jewish community in the United States.

From American Ash by Michael Simms (Ragged Sky, 2020).

23 comments on “Michael Simms: Tree of Life

  1. allisonfine
    October 29, 2021

    Thanks Michael. A beautiful poem.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Priyanka Garai
    October 28, 2021

    The romantic tree of life makes us wonder about our common ancestor shared with earthworms or beetles or fish or birds or dinosaurs!
    …………………………..
    Little did our microbial ancestors know that some of their number would end up evolving into mushrooms, while their brothers and sisters would end up as hydras or humans!
    …………………………..
    Evolutionary trial and error led to delicate ‘perfection’ within a single lineage, having nothing to do with universal culmination of survival traits!
    …………………………..
    Man isn’t the pinnacle of evolution!
    …………………………..
    Man is simply the last surviving twig on a vast but delicate branching bush!
    …………………………..
    Species are constantly spawned and thrown into the evolutionary battlefield only to become extinct, sooner or later!
    …………………………..
    Morphological, biochemical and genetic data place all life on Earth into a single, sublime evolutionary tree!
    …………………………..
    The tree of life represents the phylogeny!
    …………………………..
    Phylogeny is the history of organismal lineages as they evolve through time!
    …………………………..
    Phylogeny is the evolutionary relationship among earthly organisms in reference to lines of descent!
    …………………………..
    Phylogeny presupposes that plants or animals of different types descended from common ancestors!
    …………………………..
    The phylogenetic (evolutionary) tree of life is the result of organic descent from earlier ancestors!
    …………………………..
    In the phylogenetic (evolutionary) tree of life, a domain is the trunk and species are the thinnest twigs! Living organisms sit like fragile leaves at the tips of the branches!
    …………………………..
    A species is a population of organisms that can all interbreed with each other!
    …………………………..
    Evolutionarily speaking, life is cheap! Nature treats living and non-living molecules alike!
    Life is molecular replication driven by blind evolution!
    …………………………..
    More than 99 percent of all species that ever lived on Earth are extinct!
    …………………………..
    Over five billion species came and went into evolutionary oblivion!
    …………………………..
    About 15 million species live on earth now!
    …………………………..
    From the smallest microbe to the largest whale or the smartest man – all are linked by the passage of genes along the branches of a sublime phylogenetic (evolutionary) tree!
    https://naturesalltheres.blogspot.com/2021/10/ancestors.html

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Lisa Zimmerman
    October 27, 2021

    I love this poem. The silence of God is God.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      October 27, 2021

      Thanks, Lisa. What an interesting paradox you’ve stated!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Lisa Zimmerman
        October 28, 2021

        It’s from Carolyn Forché’s book _The Angel of History_ translated from the French: Le silence de Dieu est Dieu 🙌

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Kimberly Davis
    October 27, 2021

    Oof, Michael. Such big truth and tragedy here. “My heart is so small, and Jesus is so big.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      October 27, 2021

      Thanks, Kim. Yes, this was one of those poems that came quickly. Ten minutes and the first draft was done, only a few small revisions needed.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Rose Mary Boehm
    October 27, 2021

    O.M.G. Michael Simms, what a P O E M . Not only am I with you in what you’re telling us, but totally appreciated HOW you’re telling it. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      October 27, 2021

      Thanks, Rose Mary. My friend was shot in the arm and her mother was killed in the synagogue just a block from the college where I taught. America has gone crazy.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Barbara Huntington
    October 27, 2021

    Michael. Wow! Thank you. So much of what you write and post becomes the background for questions snd ruminations throughout my days.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      October 27, 2021

      Thanks, Barb. I value the fact you are listening to me and our other contributors.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Arlene Weiner
    October 27, 2021

    Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Gene Mariani
    October 27, 2021

    Thank you, Michael, for these words you’ve written. Once again they have given me thoughts for meditation and reflection.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. melpacker
    October 27, 2021

    “You know the rest.” Yes, we do. Which leaves hanging the question “What shall we do about it?” The rest of the rest is up to you, me, all of us.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Daniel Burston
    October 27, 2021

    Thanks you for this, Michael. Much appreciated.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. صالح الرزوق
    October 27, 2021

    i did not read such vivid and honest account for long time. it is the right time to dot our words, to add the necessary punctuations. Necessity governs our existence and God is expected to be helpful. He does not need our prayers nor physical rituals.

    Liked by 1 person

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