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 miracleIsn’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 TermanMichael 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).