A Body of Love & Light
Poems by Abraham Menashe
In 2005, after three decades of a uniquely fulfilling career in humanistic photography, I took a five-year sabbatical to court an impatient mistress—a madam named Poetry.
The sabbatical began when I placed an order for a dozen books whose titles contained “Light”. I did not know the authors or cared about how good the poems were—I just wanted to start my pilgrimage.
In response to a world overshadowed by dark news, I replaced my exposure to it by reading poetry. I sat at a table facing floor-to-ceiling windows at a nearby Whole Foods Market, bathed in light, and communed with 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 on our small planet, along with the charge each of us is given for being born, I limited social engagements; yet upon learning that the poet, Mary Oliver was scheduled to speak at a nearby church, I was compelled to attend.
When M. Oliver’s talk ended, she sat behind a small table greeting visitors. I chose to be last on line to convey my gratitude. When my turn came, I began to utter, “Your poems…”, when she unexpectedly stood up, peered into my eyes as if I was a long lost friend, raised her forefinger and placed it on my lips and whispered, “Say no more”. A transformative hallowed silence followed; she then seized my copy of her book, House of Light, and inscribed it, “For Abraham, my friend, Mary Oliver, Nov. 6, 2005.”
Growing up in Heliopolis—a rural suburb of Egypt, I was a boy full of mischief, yet my grandmother, Bella Sciamas, affectionately called me one of three nicknames in Arabic — “my kidney”, “my soul”, or “my little poet”. In 2017, my sister Mary, was diagnosed with dementia. When I visited her, she turned to the nurse and asked, “Who is this man who knows me?”. It quickly struck me how God’s unpredictable eraser, can at any moment, rub out a lifetime of memories. This brief and poignant moment impelled me to immediately make my unfinished poems public.
So here, for you beloved grandmother, Nonna Bella—for recognizing the poetic soul deep within my boyhood; and for you, Mary Oliver—my North Star—for being my gateway into poetry; and for you sister Mary—who unintentionally awakened me to share scribbles that were inspired by Light—I offer my unedited collection of first drafts, A Body of Love & Light.
New York City, December 2017