A Body of Love & Light
Poems by Abraham Menashe
After three decades of a uniquely fulfilling career in humanistic photography, I took a five-year sabbatical in 2005 to court another mistress. Her name, Poetry.
The sabbatical began with an online order for a dozen books whose titles contained the word “Light”. I did not care how good the poems were—I just wanted to begin the pilgrimage.
In response to a world too often overshadowed by distressing news, I chased the sublime by replacing my daily exposure to The New York Times with the offerings of remarkable poets. I would sit at various tables facing floor-to-ceiling windows—shimmering with light, at a nearby Whole Foods Market, and commune with the work of Kim Adonizio, Yehuda Amichai, Wendell Berry, Sujata Bhatt, Elizabeth Bishop, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Lucille Clifton, John of the Cross, Lorna Crozier, Emily Dickinson, Jack Gilbert, Louise Gluck, Hafez, Tony Hoagland, Kabir, Ono No Komachi, Dorianne Laux, Thomas Lux, Pablo Neruda, Naomi Shihab Nye, Alicia Ostriker, Rainer Maria Rilke, Rumi, Theodore Roethke, May Sarton, William Stafford, James Tate, Dylan Thomas, Derek Walcott, Walt Whitman, James Wright, and Wislawa Szymborska.
In between readings, I penned rough drafts of my own.
In light of how brief our days are, along with the charge each one of us is given for this fleeting life, I limit my social calendar, yet upon learning that the poet dipping of oneself towards the light‘.
When Mary Oliver’s presentation ended, she sat at a table to greet visitors. I waited for the line to end to convey my gratitude. I began by saying, “Your poems…”, when she unexpectedly stood up, peered into my face as if I was a long lost friend, raised her forefinger to my lips and whispered, “Say no more”. A transformative silence followed, and ended when she took my copy of House of Light, and inscribed it “For Abraham, my friend, Mary Oliver, Nov. 6, 2005.”
I was a mischievous boy growing up in rural Egypt, yet my grandmother, Bella Sciamas, affectionately called me (in Arabic) one of three names depending on her mood: “my kidney”, “my soul”, or “my little poet”.
In 2017, my sister, Mary Kersten, was diagnosed with dementia. When I visited her soon after, she turned to the nurse and asked, “Who is this man who knows so much about me?”. It quickly struck me, how God’s eraser can, at any moment, rub out a lifetime of memories. This poignant moment impelled me to make my rough drafts public.
So here, for you beloved grandmother Nonna Bella, for recognizing something deep within my boyhood, and for you Mary Oliver, my North Star, and for you Mary Kersten, who pointed me to this moment. Guided by the Light that escorted me since birth, is a first batch. In the coming months. the entire collection will become available to my readers.
New York City, December 2017