A Body of Love & Light
Poems by Abraham Menashe
After three decades of a uniquely fulfilling career in humanistic photography, I took a five-year sabbatical in 2005, to court another mistress. Her name, Poetry.
The sabbatical began with an online order I placed for a dozen random books whose titles contained the word “Light”. I did not care who the poets were or how good the poems were—I just wanted to begin the pilgrimage.
I deliberately substituted reading The New York Times, with the offerings of prevailing poets. I would sit at various tables facing floor-to-ceiling windows—shimmering with light, at a nearby Whole Foods Market, and communed with the work of Kim Adonizio, Yehuda Amichai, Wendell Berry, Sujata Bhatt, Elizabeth Bishop, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Lucille Clifton, John of the Cross, Lorna Crozier, Emily Dickinson, Jack Gilbert, Louise Gluck, Hafez, Tony Hoagland, Kabir, Ono No Komachi, Dorianne Laux, Thomas Lux, Pablo Neruda, Naomi Shihab Nye, Alicia Ostriker, Rainer Maria Rilke, Rumi, Theodore Roethke, May Sarton, William Stafford, James Tate, Dylan Thomas, Derek Walcott, Walt Whitman, James Wright, and Wislawa Szymborska.
In between readings, I penned rough drafts of my own.
In light of how brief our days are, along with the charge we are given with what to do while we are here, my days have few social events, yet upon learning that the poet Mary Oliver was scheduled to speak at a nearby church on “Preserving Our Sacred Earth”, I was obliged to attend. After all, it was she who inspired the name of this website, defining prayer (how I view work), as a ‘dipping of oneself towards the light‘.
When Mary Oliver’s presentation ended, she sat at a table greeting visitors. I waited for the line to end, went up to her to convey my gratitude, “Your poems…”, when she stood up, peered into my face, then placed a finger on my lips and whispered, “Say no more”. After a brief silence, she took my copy of House of Light, and inscribed it “For Abraham, my friend, Mary Oliver, Nov. 6, 2005.”
Even though I was a mischievous boy growing up in rural Egypt, my grandmother, Bella Sciamas, affectionately called me (in Arabic) one of three names: “my kidney”, “my soul”, or “my little poet”.
In 2017, my sister, Mary Kersten, was diagnosed with dementia. When I went to see her shortly after, she turned to her nurse and asked, “Who is this gentleman who knows so much about me?”. It then struck me how God’s eraser, can at anytime rub out a lifetime of memories, and without hesitation I was impelled to make my first-drafts public.
So here, for you beloved grandmother Nonna Bella (who died shortly after my family emigrated to America when I was ten), and for you Mary Oliver, and for you Mary Kersten, guided by the Light that escorted me since birth, is a first batch. In the coming months. I will be making the entire collection available to readers.
New York City, November 2017