Yo Maccabi + Serach – Kenneth Smith

Yo Maccabi

I hear it often enough, from old men,
thumbs up, from children, who also cheer,
from old comrades, wounded, retired,
I hear it from drunks and others
who most despise anyone
who bothers to care about anything,
And I hear it from Antiochus’ men,
who on their own won’t attack me,
and who, when together, each wait
for someone else to first lift his spear

One tradition states that Israel’s granddaughter Serach told him that Joseph was alive in Egypt. According to this tradition, in return for doing so, she was granted eternal life.

They returned at dusk, after a long absence,
my father Asher, his brothers,
the sons of Israel,
their caravan full of food,
but my father’s hair thick with dust,
his shoulders sagged and broken.

My father said, “Our brother Joseph
lives in Egypt, he gave us this food,
and asked we bring his father to him.”
Joseph, whom he never spoke of
except after too much wine.

And like a dam breaking he told me:
how they’d sold Joseph into slavery,
how they told Israel Joseph was dead.
“Now which of us,” he said, “shall tell our father?”

My father trembled slightly in the wind
of his grief and guilt, his eyes a river
flowing into a dark cavern
where no one could see.

“I will tell him,” I said, “I will speak.”
Their eyes softened upon me, they nodded,
they bent and washed my feet.
My mother and aunts dressed me in the silks
that Joseph had sent with my uncles..

They led me into Jacob’s tent, his presence,
I knelt before him, whispered, “Grandfather,
your sons have returned.”
He lifted his eyes and was glad.
“All my sons are welcome home,” he said,
“all my sons are welcome.”

“Grandfather,” I whispered, “your son Joseph,
whom you thought was dead,
Joseph lives in Egypt.”
He laid his hands upon my head,
his grief, his love, his blessing, raging fires,
swept through me.

My body shook, a frail bush in a storm,
I fainted at his feet,
woke in a fever, parents at my side,
grandfather at the foot of my bed,
for weeks I did not speak.
And only much later did my strength return,
far along the road to Egypt.

Since then, many generations have passed.
Each night I meet him in my dreams
where he mourns the lines of his sons
that have been lost.
Each night I whisper,
“Your children still live,
your children still live.”

Kenneth Durham Smith was raised mostly in rural Michigan. He graduated from Justin Morrill College at Michigan State University, having studied literature and philosophy. He lived in Seattle before moving to London, expecting to stay for 1 year, it has now been 20. In addition to writing poetry, he is a Morris dancer and trains in Aikido.

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