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 how good the poems were—I just wanted to begin a pilgrimage.
In response to a world often overshadowed by distressing news, I chased the sublime by replacing my daily exposure to 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 our species is given for this momentary life, I limit my social calendar, 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 go. After all, it was she who inspired the title of this website, defining prayer—how I view my 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 to convey my gratitude, “Your poems…”, when she unexpectedly stood up, peered into my face, then lightly placed her forefinger on my lips and whispered, “Say no more”. After a brief transformative 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, depending on her mood: “my kidney”, “my soul”, or “my little poet”.
In 2017, my sister, Mary Kersten, was diagnosed with dementia. When I visited her soon after, she turned to the nurse and asked, “Who is this man who knows so much about me?”. It struck me then, how God’s eraser can at any moment rub out a lifetime of memories. This poignant experience impelled me to make my rough 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. the entire collection will be available to my readers.
New York City, December 2017