A Body of Love & Light
Poems by Abraham Menashe
In 2005, after three decades of a uniquely fulfilling career in humanistic photography, I gifted myself with a five-year sabbatical to court another mistress; her name, madam 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 the pilgrimage.
In response to a world overshadowed by distressing news, I replaced my daily exposure to it by reading the offerings of poets. I sat at a table facing floor-to-ceiling windows that bathed me with light at a nearby Whole Foods Market, 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 this unrecognized Garden of Eden, along with the charge each of us is given for the miracle of being born, I pursued my work, limiting social engagements. Yet upon learning that the poet, Mary Oliver, who describes “prayer” as a “dipping of oneself towards the light“), was 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 started to utter “Your poems…”, and before I could finish, she unexpectedly stood up, peered into my eyes as if I was a long lost friend, raised her forefinger, placed it on my lips and whispered, “Say no more”. A transformative silence followed, which ended when she seized my copy of 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 gentle grandmother, Bella Sciamas, affectionately called me one of three nicknames in Arabic; depending on her mood: “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 charge nurse and asked, “Who is this man who knows about me?”. It 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 poems public.
So here, for you beloved grandmother, Nonna Bella, for recognizing the 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 the scribbles that were inspired by the Light that escorted me since birth, I offer my unedited drafts of A Body of Love & Light.
New York City, December 2017