Ha Lachma Anya, A Poem for Passover

Each day, just for the exercise, I do this walk:

a half-hour of Richmond and its quiet everything.

I don’t look at it. I read my book, glancing up

only enough to be sure there are no cars coming.

There are no cars coming. I’m reading Jane Kenyon,

have been reading Kenyon and reading me as well,

and thinking that both of us need some leavening.

Jane, I’ve been thinking about the way you rhyme,

only toward the poems’ ends, and hidden, like a deer

with its vulnerable head nosing between the trees.

Still – there’s a feint toward order in that universe.

My nose, of course, is stuck in your poetry,

and so while men sit smoking outside the factory

and two people unload their old station wagon,

while a long ladder rides up a telephone pole,

I have my own world. You’re in it, Jane, and me—

I’m thinking of Passover, how by the second night

my guts were already in the Taskmaster’s fist,

as though they were filled with mortar

and sharp corners, as though I’d had a double portion

of that bread of affliction for many months or years.

I sat at the shortened table of the second seder

and ate only what matzah was required of me—

a k’zayit, a fragment of hard flour the size of an olive—

while the kids around us complained about everything

like full-grown experts. One of the greatest problems

concerning the Passover holiday is keeping kosher,

says a Jewish website. But I was talking about poetry.

Poetry and how despite that creeping rhyme,

your next poem always falls into entropy again.

If you were walking through Richmond, Indiana,

you’d be missing your birches and your dark pines.

It’s been weeks since Passover and still I often flinch

when I turn my thoughts toward the next meal:

can I eat that? They say chametz, leavening, is evil,

you know, and then let us eat it most of the year.

But I’ve been reading my own stuff, too, Jane,

and I think I’ve been steering too clear of that evil.

Say I did look up at the liquor store by the bridge—

what would I see there? Generations of townies

fallen further into the glass, a dirty white sign

advertising what we already know is on the shelves.

Where is the rising in me, that rising vision?

Everything around us might expand, might split

open to reveal some truth that isn’t exactly hidden.

But if you are unleavened, can you be leavened?

I keep up my walk, eyes cast down onto your pages,

my gut ready to clench with the next affront.

You write about a pear with a secret rotting inside.

Meanwhile, the bridge spans high over some small wet,

and so, unchanged, I cross the water without parting it.

David Ebenbach is the author of Autogeography, a chapbook of poetry (Finishing Line Press), two collections of short stories—Between Camelots (University of Pittsburgh Press), which won the Drue Heinz Literature Prize and the GLCA New Writer’s Award, and Into the Wilderness (Washington Writers’ Publishing House), which won the WWPH Fiction Prize—as well as The Artist’s Torah (Cascade Books), a guide to the creative process. Ebenbach has a PhD in Psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. He teaches creative writing at Georgetown University. www.davidebenbach.com