I don't often commit acts of poetry, and the last time I inflicted a poem on the public was 1987, with a relapse in 2016, republishing the poem in a blog. On these rare occasions, though, something in my head has something to say, some concern to work through, which the prose part of my thinking can't handle.
The occasion of this occasion was my thinking about upcoming Kol Nidre (the start of Yom Kippur, 18 September 2018) and thinking of an oath I'd taken at least twice, and maybe several times: possibly for Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC), definitely, and in writing, to teach in the U.S. States of Illinois and Ohio. The people administering the oath (or affirmation — this is America, after all, and one cannot be forced to swear an oath) — the people administering the oath weren't all that serious, but I take my word very seriously. And I wondered if in old age, I'd finally be challenged to keep my word.
We would've kept it for the tune,
Or that's what many think, or guess
And the memory —
Remembering is big this time of year —
Memories of hidden Jews in places made less judenrein than
The early purifiers sought and thought.
The lyrics of Kol Nidre though, the words as meaning
With all the charm of a car-rental contract,
And in need of a note
That only vows to God, by God get voided
Yom Kippur or ever.
Those made I to you and we to us,
Those vows to humans hold.
All our oaths and affirmations,
Promises we make to one another …
And to the Republic?
The one of the ideal, the Republic of the Promise,
The Constitution of the Dream?
Are we still sworn to that?
Sworn to preserve, affirming we'll protect,
Still dedicated to defend,
A Republic ours if we can keep it,
Ours only if we can keep it?
Defending against all enemies —
Did I swear that part?
ROTC — registration freshman year,
Getting Army shoes, and that great greatcoat
We wore against regs on rainy days —
And at one station on the line did we swear
(Or affirm) defense
Against all enemies, foreign
Did we all (there or elsewhere, other whens) swear, affirm, and
Vow kol nidre,all our vows —
All of us who talk of "rule of law" and decency and
Putting all that is our selves against the latest enemies,
Foreign and domestic?
And is now the time of testing?