Shivah at a Stranger’s House + Youth (I’ll Be An Old Man Here) – Josh Orol

Shiva at a Stranger’s House
Lined notebook paper scotch taped on
reads come in close the door
we have cats

(my grandma’s answering machine
twelve years past Grandpa
still says we will call you back)

I came to help make minyan
but I find the living room packed.
Youngest in the room by half, the dead woman’s daughter
is much older than me,
her father says you all are gathered here because
you loved her.

I should’ve brought something,
fold out rickety card table is full of rugelah and babka
European Jews eat such sweet food
rabbi’s saying taste a bit of her
sweetness these cakes represent
I let myself out without a bite.

Youth (Ill Be an Old Man Here) 
The tale of the old man who planted a Carob tree
near a passerby who wanted to know why
the old man didn’t think he’d die before it bloomed
used to be about feeding future generations
but down South these days
it’s a parable about not moving to New York

or DC or LA or wherever it is
my Jewish friends are going after college
because up there they have cultured arts,
fermented arts with the carbonated taste of culture,
plus more Jews.

Like in the middle of Times Square they think
there’s this carob in eternal bloom,
red anemone stalks of miniscule spiraling flowers
growing into luscious plump spouses
in the rippled brown pouches weighing the branches
down, they can reach up from the shaded below,
crack a pea open and go on a date to the museum or opera.

In the story, the carob takes seventy years to bloom,
so in carob-years New York is just a kid,
the Colonies are barely in third grade,
human society hasn’t seen much
of the carob family tree.

It’s easy to overlook the sapling down here
poking up between hard oaks. We have a picture
of my 3rd grade youth group, ten kids
unable to hug all the way around
one of those old trees. It’s hard to remember
someone planted most of the oaks in downtown Raleigh,
invented the bluegrass chop and barbecue,
even the Torah starts before there were Jews.

Young families are moving into our synagogue
with middle school kids,
something beautiful in their awkward
elbows suddenly too far from their wrists
springing buoyant like new boughs in wind
dancing to Beyonce.
They all want a butt like hers,
though they don’t really know why they want it.

I’ll raise this bunch up and hope they’ll learn,
but chances are they’ll keep chasing
whatever it is they don’t know why they want,
ending up in New York looking for
shriveled brown pods, crackled husks
shucked aside on the sidewalks.

Josh Orol is a recent graduate of UNC Chapel Hill’s undergraduate poetry program. He lives in Raleigh, NC and works at a synagogue programming for Jews of all ages. He recently started planning workshops about using poetry as creative Jewish text-making, and has his first high school class coming up in October, and a class for 20s and 30s in the works.

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