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 when I placed 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 my pilgrimage.
In response to a world too often overshadowed by distressing news, I chased the sublime by replacing my exposure to daily news with the offerings of poets. I would sit at various tables facing floor-to-ceiling windows that would bathe me with light at a nearby Whole Foods Market, communing 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 was inspired to pen rough drafts of my own.
In light of how brief our days are on this earth, along with the charge each one of us is given from birth for this fleeting life, I limit social engagements. Yet upon learning that the poet, Mary Oliver (my first entry into poetry), who describes “prayer” as a “dipping of oneself towards the light‘, was to give a reading at a nearby church, I was inspired to go.
When M. Oliver’s presentation ended, she seated herself at a small table to greet visitors. I waited on line to convey my gratitude. When my turn came, I started 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 timeless transformative silence followed, which ended when she took hold of 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 in Egypt, I was a boy full of mischief, 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, was diagnosed with dementia. When I visited her soon after, she turned to the nurse and asked, “Who is this man who knows about me?”. It quickly struck me, how God’s eraser can, at any moment, rub out a lifetime of memories. This brief and poignant moment impelled me to make my rough drafts of poems 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, who awakened me to share my scribbles, guided by the Light that escorted me since birth, is my starter collection.
New York City, December 2017