Ancestors

How they wandered in the desert,
how they bowed their heads to pray,
how they bowed their heads to blend in,
how, robbed of their rings, they sang
and drummed upon their own skin,
until their skin was taken away,

how they lived in shelters of bark,
lived in buildings with chickens and knife fights,
endorsed heaven and enclosed themselves with a wire*,
and made with the wire a province of inside,
wheels inside wheels, water in water,
fish inside men, lakes inside women,

how they pulled the wire taut around all they cherished,
all in accord with the scalding judgment of their god,
babies and medicines, canes and keys,
the laws and their songs, all saved
by the strength of the wire.

*The wire in this poem refers to an eruv, an urban area enclosed by a wire boundary which symbolically extends the private domain of Jewish households into public areas, permitting activities within it that are normally forbidden in public on the Sabbath.