October 26, 2021

Richard Westheimer


The entire universe must … be regarded as a single indivisible unit …
an undivided wholeness of flowing motion.
—David Bohm

… the metaverse presence is this feeling that you’re really there …
—Mark Zuckerberg

The moon-illusion looms large tonight,
is red and extended—rising
full in the east. It chases Jupiter,
with its string-of-pearl moons,

along the ecliptic, and I can’t help
but note my standing on this spinning sphere,
here, slung around a yellow star spiraling
in a mandala of a hundred thousand

million other stars. I double-helix
my way through space, on this small small
place swept up in this small small part
of a universe I can only grasp with my eyes

closed. I go inside where it is too bright to see anything
but things. There I find the kitchen table—on it, a vase
of late-cut daisies, a scattering of fall-tinged maple leaves
brought in from the yard, a pot of greens haloing steam

up to an incandescent bulb humming its sixty-hertz aum.
Deb sits across, with that green flannel shirt
so soft to touch, unbuttoned two-down at the top.
She peers up, her eyes flash like candle light,

and we set to our meal. We eat to the clink of fork
and bowl and sighs and a few satisfied words and turn—
to our screens, entranced by pixels plentiful as stars,
and gaze into the metaverse, an infinite rabbit warren

of Cheshire Cats and Mad Hatted murderers of time
where it’s always High Tea so long as I get my order in by 9.
I am Alice knocked about by algorithm, locked into lines of code,
processed and stored in a database for future use.

There’s no way to shake loose, to get back to the world
of being—with those savory greens, that unbuttoned blouse,
and a moon fully rising into a wholeness of everything,
which might, if I keep scrolling, show up in my feed.

from Poets Respond
October 26, 2021


Richard Westheimer: “The person who brought us Facebook is, it turns out, not content with redefining social relationships. He is now determined to dominate what is called the ‘metaverse,’ a virtual reality where ordinary experiences are replaced with computer mediated ones. To make this move, Mark Zukerberg plans to change the name of his company to something, perhaps, more “meta.” I am one of the many who struggles to draw hard lines between my love of the corporeal and my near addiction to the digitally enabled. As I conclude in the poem, I’ve not yet escaped the latter. Perhaps I never will as ‘meta’ supplants ‘uni.’” (web)

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June 1, 2021

Richard Westheimer


Four-year-old Sarah of Gaza can’t feel her legs. Her brother
can’t forget the roof falling. Their father, Zahir
can’t find a way to help either of them and I can’t stop
crying—anymore than I can stop being a Jew, anymore
than I can forget the hunger that claws at my gut on a fast day,
anymore than I can stop a building from collapsing
on a child in Gaza.

Out my window, I see a red-winged blackbird harrying
a vulture who can’t stop being a vulture set upon by a blackbird
who can’t help being a blackbird harassing a vulture
who can’t stop eying the mamma-bird’s
gape-mouthed nestlings.

I am neither vulture nor red-wing. Nor am I a Jew
at least according to Genesis 1:26 which says on the sixth day
G-d created humans—nothing about Palestinians and Jews—
and line 21 didn’t say on the fifth day G-d created
blackbirds and buzzards—just nonspecific winged things.
Yet I see in the trees outside my window–
one Biblically unspecified species that can’t resist
tormenting another.

Making sense of the never-ending contest among
our tribes by counting dead Gazans and Israelis
is like trying to understand the Bible
by counting its words then dividing
by the pieces of shrapnel lodged in little Sarah’s spine
or the tally of rockets that rained on Israel last week
or the count of families fearing eviction from Sheikh Jarrah
or the sum of all Arabs driven from their homes
or Jews from theirs or the two fingers, blackened and scarred,
Sarah raises, smiling as she says to the reporter,
“I am strong.”

But here we are, smile and shrapnel, blackbird and buzzard,
the fifth day and the sixth—and then the seventh when G-d said:
fuck it, you guys figure it out.
We didn’t.

Which is ironic because my tribe worked out a lot of shit—like
“welcome the stranger” and “love thy neighbor” and don’t covet
or murder or lie about anyone. We did just fine except
for the times it felt like every goddamn person in the world
wanted to burn us or drive us away. Yet,
as soon as we found refuge in a land already inhabited,
built that place in our own image, we turned into
a covetous sort.

Tonight at Shabbat, my four-year-old grandson Jude, dressed in lavender,
twirls and tumbles about the room, sparks like stars in the candlelight.
I recall a video of Sarah from the day before the bombs fell.
She shows off her pink Eid dress, her eyes smile deep chocolate brown
like Jude’s. I turn away and dream of a future:
At a feast, I am arm-in-arm with Zahir
as our two dancers swirl in a blur of scarves,
purple and pink.

from Poets Respond
June 1, 2021


Richard Westheimer: “I am shocked, again, by the news from the Middle East—from the pending evictions of Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah to the raids on the al-Aqsa mosque to the Hamas rockets cascading indiscriminately on Israeli cities to the massive reprisals—resulting in incalculable suffering—launched against Gaza. Like many American Jews I am torn between my desire to see a secure Israeli/Jewish state and the horror of seeing my fellow Jews forsake fundamentally Jewish values. Writing this poem was a less-than-successful attempt to reconcile these conflicting principles.”

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April 11, 2021

Richard Westheimer


I’m very excited. I feel like this tiny wobble may shake the foundations of what we thought we knew.
—Marcela Carena, head of theoretical physics at Fermilab

At the beginning, when the universe was hot,
tiny ripples in the fabric of time became
all that we see and even the emptiness we don’t.

Love and sorrow popped into existence
long enough to matter to me, thirteen
billion years later—a teen possessed by atoms,

charged by building blocks he couldn’t
fathom, a boy branded as aberrant because
stars seemed to matter more to him than girls

even though, when he lay back on the dew soaked grass
on one of those clear nights when the wash of stars obscured
the great blankness, he longed for someone soft and luminous

to lie next to him—to absorb with him the multitudes
of elementary particles cascading at light speed,
invisible, running through the two of them, through

the ground and rock beneath until those little bits met
their own annihilation, ceased to be, deep beneath us,
me, the boy, and the soft one next to me—

whose hand I’d clasp, sweetly, me wobbly as I emerged
into being with her.
If she was only there.

I, like muons, responded to unknown forces,
was not really alone, merely (they said of me, too)
sensitive, hiding attraction for some unknown other.

I, like muons, crashed through those that mattered
around me, not noticed. I thought that if I winked out,
some soft one might finally notice me, then wish

she’d looked more closely before my demise.
She would have seen how she moved me as I flew by.
I survived that uncertainty (unlike muons) long enough

to crash into another without being swallowed up, long enough
to be seen and (unlike muons) to fall fast into an orbit, each
of us around the other, both soft to the touch.

from Poets Respond
April 11, 2021


Richard Westheimer: “When I read this week of the discovery that muons wobble in such a way to show that they are encountering some heretofore unknown force, I noted how the reporter resorted to poetic language to describe the phenomena—as if ordinary language was not up to the task. I concluded that muons themselves were metaphors for more commonplace, observable phenomena—and sensed if I wrote a poem about them, I would discover what that metaphor was. I did.”


Join us this morning for Poets Respond Live! Click here to watch …

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