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—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 distressing daily news, I replaced my exposure to it by reading the offerings of poets. 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 say “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 silence followed, then she 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 full of mischief, yet my 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 nurse and asked, “Who is this man who knows about me?”. It quickly struck me how God’s unpredictable eraser can, at any moment, rub out a lifetime of memories. This very 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 Light—I offer my unedited first drafts of my collection, A Body of Love & Light.

Abraham Menashe

New York City, December 2017