“Sweet Forgiveness” by Bonnie Proudfoot

Bonnie Proudfoot


All day in temple we listened to the rabbi intone
in Hebrew, his voice a dedicated monotone, broken
mostly by standing, sitting, then standing, each time
my father’s hand on my shoulder, his stomach grumbling
next to me, hopefully God wasn’t noticing me noticing
my dad’s bad breath, and the fact that he was just kind of
mumbling along, didn’t seem to know the actual words
to the prayers, and we were fasting to atone, intentionally
supposed to apologize to others we needed to seek forgiveness
from, and I knew sometimes I did not include my little brother,
(but come on), or I did not offer to set the table, get my nose
out of a book and get up and help out of my own accord,
think of my poor mother on her feet all day, and the cantor sang
so rich and deep, a voice that sounded like, well,
pot roast with gravy, and then the shofar rang out,
held us in a power so great it felt like dark giving way
to light. And finally home where the table had already been set
like an act of forgiveness, food with incantatory names,
kreplach, schmaltz herring, kishke, challah. None of this food,
like sweet forgiveness itself, could be ever be bought, it had to be
touched by the hands of those who cared for us, served when it
was most needed, waited for, earned.

from Poets Respond
September 19, 2021


Bonnie Proudfoot: “This poem sneaked up on me when I recalled fasting in shul with my father, a man who often remarked that if Sandy Koufax would not pitch, and went on to be the MVP of the World Series, it was a good enough reason for him to go to shul as well.” (web)

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