COME, LET US REASON TOGETHER
Come, let us reason together:
though your sins are scarlet,
they shall be white as snow.
Your head is sick; your heart is sick. Bruised
from your sole to your crown,
you hide your devastation under your clothes
even though I’m right here,
replacing the poisons in your blood
with my oxygen.
I know what you’ve done, and haven’t,
where you like to be touched
and why you think you should be punished,
but don’t confuse me with conceptions of God
that sneak between your body and soul
and shame what I delight in.
I’m not a conception of God.
I’m a burning city, a moon full of blood,
a wound to be washed, soothed, protected.
You think I come to you for sex?
You’re an angel I make in the snow;
a prayer I offer; a trauma I bear
because you can’t live without me
and I want you to live.
Sometimes you see me in the mirror,
sometimes in your bed,
sometimes I’m a thread
you follow back to the pleasure
I take in the body, your body, I made
to be a festival and a feast,
a booth in a cucumber field
outside the structures of oppression
that hold you, rear you, put you to sleep,
rape you through your clothes.
Come, let us reason together.
Stop doing evil; start doing good;
learn to tell one from the other.
You are born to burn for justice
as a garden burns for water.
That’s why I come, night after night:
so you and I
can burn for justice
. . . the Lord, who is hiding his face . . .
Like me, you’re hidden
in skin, in time,
pinned, like me,
to a world you endure,
in which you hover,
holy and ordinary,
full of blood and suffering,
shoved to one side,
mouthed and named
in the language of shame
instead of your mother tongue—
the language of revelation.
Like me, you can’t escape
the world that’s inside you,
waiting to be healed, to be forgiven,
waiting for you
to be less like a victim,
less like a crime,
less like a body grabbed at dusk, less
like saying nothing
and more like the face
you think I’m hiding.
More like woods,
and wings, and water.
More like conceiving, and giving birth.
More like overflowing.
Comfort, comfort my people . . .
A voice says, “Your punishment has ended.”
You never listen to that voice. You really suck
at being comforted.
Another voice says, “Cry.”
That voice always gets your attention,
keeps you thinking
about withered flowers and withering grass
and all the ways you’re like them.
Hard to argue with that.
Death tramples you, an un-housebroken pet
trailing prints and broken stems,
pooping anxiety, PTSD, depression.
It’s better to be animal than vegetable
but best of all is to be spirit
flying first or maybe business class
with your emotional support animal, your body,
curled in your lap,
soaring with you
above the sense of loss you’ve mistaken
for the closest to God you can get.
You want to cry about something? Cry about that.
Who do you think created
the animals to which you turn for comfort,
dogs, miniature horses, monkeys, ferrets,
hungers you know how to feed,
fears you know how to quiet?
I form them, fur them,
it’s my warmth radiating from their bodies,
my love that answers
the love you lavish upon them.
Your deserts and desolations are highways I travel,
smoothing your broken places,
arranging stars and constellations
to light your wilderness.
Sometimes I play the shepherd;
sometimes I play the lamb;
sometimes I appear as death,
which makes it hard to remember
that I’m the one who assembles your atoms,
crowns your dust with consciousness.
I take you everywhere,
which is why, wherever you go,
keeping you hydrated, stroking your hair,
laughing when you chase your tail,
gathering you in
more tenderly than any mother.
I’m the reason
your valleys are being lifted up,
the source of your life laid bare.
Mine is the voice that decrees—
your anguish to end.
When you suffer, I suffer.
by being comforted.
-from Shekhina Speaks (selva oscura press, 2018), selected by Fall 2022 Guest Editor, Michael Walsh
Joy Ladin is the author of ten poetry collections: Shekhina Speaks (selva oscura press, 2018) The Future Is Trying to Tell Us Something: New and Selected Poems (Sheep Meadow Press, 2017), Fireworks in the Graveyard (2017), Impersonation (2015), The Definition of Joy (2012), Coming to Life (2010), Psalms (2010), Transmigration (2009), The Book of Anna (2006), and Alternatives to History (2003). She has also published a memoir, Through the Door of Life: a Jewish Journey Between Genders (2012); a critical study, Soldering the Abyss: Emily Dickinson and Modern American Poetry (2010); and a work of creative non-fiction, The Soul of the Stranger: Reading God and Torah from a Transgender Perspective (2018). She is a professor at Yeshiva University, where she holds the David and Ruth Gottesman Chair in English. She earned a BA from Sarah Lawrence College, an MFA in creative writing from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and a PhD at Princeton University. Ladin was awarded a 2016 National Endowment for the Arts Creative Non-Fiction Fellowship and a 2016 Hadassah Brandeis Research Fellowship. She was a finalist for the 2009 Lambda Literary Award. She has twice been honored with Forward Fives awards, has received an American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship and a Fulbright Scholarship. A nationally recognized speaker on gender and Jewish identity, Ladin has spoken around the country and has been featured on a number of NPR programs, including "On Being with Krista Tippett."