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Marly Youmans

The Poet and the Golem

Rabbi Solomon ibn Gabirol (1021-1056)

When the letters and the holy
Names swirled around him in the light,
He plucked the symbols from the stream,
Fixed them to lengths of fragrant wood,
The holy words and letters like pins
Of gold that nailed themselves to grain
As smooth as love and sand could make.
A thousand years ago he wrote
Verses sung in the village streets,
But he was versed in other things
And knew to fill his lady's mouth
With gold, the very name of God,
Knew to scribe a word for truth
On her forehead and bind it there.
He whirled around her seven times
Before she glowed and came to life
And did all that he bid her do.
Bending by the fire, the golem
Stirred the pot of lamb and lentils;
She picked and pickled, wove him cloth,
Washed clothes on stones at river's edge.
In time (not much), the neighbors talked,
For she was lovely as a poem,
And in her mouth, gold was a bloom
That made her an unceasing prayer;
She was the poem and the muse,
She was the quick and wood at once,
She was impossible yet his.
The neighbors dreamed her nakedness,
The flower hidden between legs,
The poet tumbling in pollen.
They made him rub away the truth
That glimmered on her polished face,
They made him take away the name
Of God that gleamed like a gold coin
Behind the whittled smile and teeth.
Who can count the lies of gossips?
Like stars, they sizzle in the night.
And who can tell what it might mean
To lie with poem and with prayer?
It was so long ago when once
The poem and the muse were one.

—Marly Youmans

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