Richard Fox


Talmud, standing, facing Teacher
   -   for Bob Zinn  (1950-2003)


If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I?
- Hillel, “Pirkei Avot”

july 1990

that thunderstorm in Massachusetts    red pushpin on the weather map marking our tent    you volunteer to be the human pole    poke the pregnant tarp’s bellybutton    its water breaks    you leap and spit oh shit

the only time i ever hear you curse    i laugh till my nose bleeds

5 am, we slump the campground path    you shake knotted hair, gather the four corners, scratch bristle, unpack half a smile, crack what are we doing here?


october 2002

surgeons plumb blue and red pipes into your neck    blood is laundered, comes back bleached    you pose questions about my work    the economy    our sons & college     my poems    how fund raising will go at shul with the president tethered to bed    we daven Maariv facing east


may 2003

the rabbi sits at your side    are there prayers to chant?     final requests?    volunteers! you reply    volunteers? he asks    who from shul should receive awards, whose names etched in plaques

3 am, sister holds right hand, wife the left, sons in chairs    your breathing, Teruah all day, pauses    four short breaths, Shevarim, no Tekiah Gedolah

we cover your casket, overflow the crypt    i squeeze a handful of soil, stand at grave’s edge    Adonai natan v’Adonai lakach, y’he shem Adonai m’vorach    soil drips from my fingers, rain drums the tarp





The Scroll of Jerú


I am Jerú, daughter of Noah, the youngest child, matricidal bastard. My head crowns, molten core splaying mother's lava into a crust dogs lick until I am pink. The unicorn Dolf carries me in a goat sack hanging from his horn, nickers my cries into giggles. I suckle lions, grapple with apes.

My brothers, men with wives, wring my hair, curse its grease, spit on me. They squeal at my skin, flesh Father covets, oily, rare. When I begin to bleed, they strip me. Their stomachs jiggle, they pant, seep hemlock sweat. My nails engrave their necks, knuckles crack noses, knees knock gonads. The elder gnaws my ankle and pins me.

My brothers squabble, if neither can own me, they will split me or fight until one yields. Father decrees I marry and chooses a camel dealer who owes him three cows. The wedding contract will be sealed at Spring's first rain. I tell Father I want no man. Father is a pillar of sand.

In the morning, clouds whirlpool, red swallowing pink, purple engulfing red, until the sky is a maelstrom. Silence. The Voice. The Command. The Covenant.

Father and brothers build the ark. I climb trees to coax canaries, select lions I nursed with, choose cheetahs. My knees nestle Dolf's ribs, breasts slide astride his neck, lips whisper in his ears as hooves draw a map to lairs of mated pairs. Our final stop is Dolf's herd. He hangs his head, hammers his horn on the holy rock. I yank his mane, kiss the soft spot at the base of his horn, hum to a young mare. We tramp to the ark, clip clop the sole sound.

Lightning sears the desert. Deluge erupts from heaven. Father orders me to marry before boarding the ark, a loose maiden is sin. Dolf peers down from the deck. Water laps my ankles. I whistle. He leaps. We are wind as currents catapult the ark.

Dolf races up Mount Ararat, stands in the summit’s waves. I trill, he whinnies. When the tide rises to our chins, the maelstrom forms an eye. Silence. The Voice. What now?

Two palms womb Dolf and me, fragrant fingers knead our flesh, launch us to sea. We thrash until finding our flippers and tail then bob to the surface, breathe, dive, click melodies. Our first Psalm is a mating call.

The seed of my human brothers covet the spot where I was stripped. There they wait for The Voice shed blood over The Voice fear The Voice. Dolf and I crest waves. The Voice whistles, we arc rainbows.



The Devil talks to his teenage son and gets raked over the coals.


Shut the damned door behind you and take off those wingtip shoes!  What have you done to your hooves?  Hold them up.  Higher!  I want to see your red soles.  Why did you bleach your hair white, why cover your horns?  Are you trying to torture me?  And your tail, your glorious tail, are you using your tail for a belt?  With the fork for a buckle?

I don't mind rebellion, hell I invented rebellion.  Hold my eyes, don't look up.   By the time I was your age, I'd lost track of the souls I'd collected.  You haven't bought one soul since your mother turned on me.

Your mother...  She was the only survivor of Noah's flood.  Stole the raft her sisters built, split their skulls with a staff.  Deep-fried Noah's dove for dinner the night we conceived you.

I gave you a simple task yesterday.  Occupy Sarah while Abraham and Isaac were away.  Not snare her soul, just make small talk, flash that toothy grin, share some bread.  Instead, Sarah asks about your kin, you sob, she strokes your hair, buries you in her bosom.  Ten minutes later, you're pulling Abraham's knife away from Isaac's throat and sacrificing my stud ram to you-know-who.

Do you have any idea what you did?  Do you know how long I worked to set that up?   People will fill parchment for ages, debate the why, and guess-who will get the credit.  What were you thinking?

Well, Loose Junior, quisling Loose Junior, will you say anything at all?  Or do you have The Devil to pay?