This evening we began with the text study of Isaiah Chapter 56. Isaiah was thought of as the defender of the outsiders….eunuchs, foreigners, sexual outsiders….Isaiah was their champion. This passage, photographed below, is read twice per year…on the Fast of Gedalia and on Tishe B’Av. This passage is considered to be nourishment for the soul.
Rabbi Steinberger chanted this as Haftorah. It was chilling and magical.
In Verses 5 to 7 above, portions of this are posted on a plaque at Yad v’Shem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. Meaning that one has a name and a place — a soul needs a place to call home.
Souls that are wandering — they are outsiders. A soul needs a place to land. A field, a flower, a windowsill.
Souls that are unsettled often feel on the outside of life. Depression can cause this as well. Depression — the unsettling of the soul. Andrew Solomon wrote a book entitled “Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity” — which is very interesting and could pertain here. Andrew Solomon also wrote “The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression” which is also recommended to us to read.
Now Allen Ginsburg, writer, born in 1926, was a man who cared for his mother who suffered from Schizophrenia. When he was twelve years old, he left her in a sanitarium. He wanted people to say of him “He is gifted with poetry, he has seen the face of the creator”.
He wrote a poem which was a string of aphorisms, born of his experience growing up…with his mother. It is called Sunflower Sutra. Read it BELOW:
I walked on the banks of the tincan banana dock and sat down under the huge shade of a Southern Pacific locomotive to look at the sunset over the box house hills and cry.
Jack Kerouac sat beside me on a busted rusty iron pole, companion, we thought the same thoughts of the soul, bleak and blue and sad-eyed, surrounded by the gnarled steel roots of trees of machinery.
The oily water on the river mirrored the red sky, sun sank on top of final Frisco peaks, no fish in that stream, no hermit in those mounts, just ourselves rheumy-eyed and hung-over like old bums on the riverbank, tired and wily.
Look at the Sunflower, he said, there was a dead gray shadow against the sky, big as a man, sitting dry on top of a pile of ancient sawdust—
—I rushed up enchanted—it was my first sunflower, memories of Blake—my visions—Harlem
and Hells of the Eastern rivers, bridges clanking Joes Greasy Sandwiches, dead baby carriages, black treadless tires forgotten and unretreaded, the poem of the riverbank, condoms & pots, steel knives, nothing stainless, only the dank muck and the razor-sharp artifacts passing into the past—
and the gray Sunflower poised against the sunset, crackly bleak and dusty with the smut and smog and smoke of olden locomotives in its eye—
corolla of bleary spikes pushed down and broken like a battered crown, seeds fallen out of its face, soon-to-be-toothless mouth of sunny air, sunrays obliterated on its hairy head like a dried wire spiderweb,
leaves stuck out like arms out of the stem, gestures from the sawdust root, broke pieces of plaster fallen out of the black twigs, a dead fly in its ear,
Unholy battered old thing you were, my sunflower O my soul, I loved you then!
The grime was no man’s grime but death and human locomotives,
all that dress of dust, that veil of darkened railroad skin, that smog of cheek, that eyelid of black mis’ry, that sooty hand or phallus or protuberance of artificial worse-than-dirt—industrial—modern—all that civilization spotting your crazy golden crown—
and those blear thoughts of death and dusty loveless eyes and ends and withered roots below, in the home-pile of sand and sawdust, rubber dollar bills, skin of machinery, the guts and innards of the weeping coughing car, the empty lonely tincans with their rusty tongues alack, what more could I name, the smoked ashes of some cock cigar, the cunts of wheelbarrows and the milky breasts of cars, wornout asses out of chairs & sphincters of dynamos—all these
entangled in your mummied roots—and you there standing before me in the sunset, all your glory in your form!
A perfect beauty of a sunflower! a perfect excellent lovely sunflower existence! a sweet natural eye to the new hip moon, woke up alive and excited grasping in the sunset shadow sunrise golden monthly breeze!
How many flies buzzed round you innocent of your grime, while you cursed the heavens of the railroad and your flower soul?
Poor dead flower? when did you forget you were a flower? when did you look at your skin and decide you were an impotent dirty old locomotive? the ghost of a locomotive? the specter and shade of a once powerful mad American locomotive?
You were never no locomotive, Sunflower, you were a sunflower!
And you Locomotive, you are a locomotive, forget me not!
So I grabbed up the skeleton thick sunflower and stuck it at my side like a scepter,
and deliver my sermon to my soul, and Jack’s soul too, and anyone who’ll listen,
—We’re not our skin of grime, we’re not dread bleak dusty imageless locomotives, we’re golden sunflowers inside, blessed by our own seed & hairy naked accomplishment-bodies growing into mad black formal sunflowers in the sunset, spied on by our own eyes under the shadow of the mad locomotive riverbank sunset Frisco hilly tincan evening sitdown vision.
I have made the third stanza from the bottom into bold type — to make a point. Ginsberg is challenging the flower — who is feeling used up and grimy…to try to remember when it was young and fresh and beautiful….it is a flower. A glorious sunflower. A warning to all of us to not forget who we really are…
So…Ginsberg’s mother died in the sanitarium — and after she died, he found a letter which she had written to him: “The key is in the window. The key is in the bars in the sunlight in the window. Get married.”
Perhaps he saw this as the yellow sunlight, for him, for his mother, was a divine image….it was a vision of the face of the Creator.
He became suicidal. He read Blake’s poetry. He could hear Blake’s voice reading “Ah, Sunflower….” To Ginsberg, to his mother — everything outside the window looked beautiful and — and like G-d.
Then we had a change of activity and a treat — Sabrina Ross brought a portion of her play, Shalom Bayit, for us to read a chapter.
With Sabrina’s permission, here is a portion of the script:
She doesn’t like rugelach?! Vey is mir. You are a goy’s daughter aren’t you?
He’s converting you know.
Batya’s been telling me that for years.
He studies hard, Zayde. He reads the Torah. He even knows some Kabbalah. Do you know Kabbalah?
Shah, child. Why do you defend him? Being Jewish is more than knowing the stuff. It’s a matter of blood. And you don’t like kugel, you don’t like rugelach… you must not have enough Jewish blood in you.
I really don’t think that’s how it works, Zayde.
It’s a way of life, Rachie! Your father does not live like a Jew!
He keeps Kosher. He doesn’t work on Shabbat. He even yelled at me once for eating bread on Passover.
It takes more than that-
Even his clients thought he was a Jew!
It takes pain Rachel! It’s a burden!
His own sister called him a kike.
Rachel! Do not use that word in my home!
Oh Rachel. Don’t repeat such a word! It hurts me so to hear it.
ZAYDE puts his head in his hands.
I’ve spent so long forgetting the horrible, horrible pain that came with that word. You say it and it makes me remember. But I can’t let myself remember. It will kill me. It will kill me.
ZAYDE wipes his eyes and looks up.
Your Aunt Faith, I don’t know about her. I remember the day she said that word. It was the last day we saw her. I was so surprised, because she was always sweet to me.
Why did she call him that?
She said she saw him do a horrible thing.
What was it?
I will not repeat it to you. No good will come of it. Your mother said it was a disgusting lie to try and break up your family.
ZAYDE puts his hand over his mouth and looks away.
But now I don’t know. I just don’t know, after what your father just tried to do.
You don’t even know what happened that night.
Of course I do. Your mother told me.
But she wasn’t even there. I was the one who found him. She just called the police after.
She wasn’t even going to call them before I made her. She didn’t want people to see the siren lights in front of our house! Meanwhile my knuckles were bleeding from punching through the bathroom door to find dad passed out with a backpack full of-
Rachel! Did I ask to hear this? No. I cannot.
NOTE: Rachel’s play, Shalom Bayit, will be done in a stage reading on Thursday evening, May 4, 2017 in Madison, Wisconsin. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for details.