Saturday, April 14, 2012

She. A "She" in Kabbalah, thanks to Kay Ryan.

What began as a random read-and-run, a poem grabbed for a dip into the lovely before I started my day, transformed into a redefinition of my place in a history dominated by men (oh that sounds so cliched). (The domination of male scholars and male mystics remains but Madonna has indulged in, partaken of, some pop version of Kabbalah, so, sure there's that.)

Please note that in the eighties, before the questionable craze swept the pop-er-ati, I chose to explore Kabbalah. By which I mean I read Gersholm Scholem's Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism and Sabbati Sevi: The Mystical Messiah. I took a class to get an overview--not a college course but through a community center, and learned of and read or tried to read Abraham Abulafia, Isaac Luria, parts of the Zohar, some books about the mystical geography of Safed, and more.

Except for the Scholem, that was tough reading. I sincerely doubt the neo-kabbalists of Hollywood have read these volumes of ancient and complicated mysticism, but what do I know.

I know this. I didn't read anything Kabbalah-related that was written by any woman. Which brings me to this poem and pleasant surprise.  Imagine me, all unawares but focused on the work at hand while I slurp coffee, seeing "She" two lines after reading "kabbalist." You have, I hope, imagined a pleasant sensation, golden warmth easing through my limbs. Good title, too, because it takes some work to render meaning from those old texts which extrapolate the Talmud and Torah, extrapolate, reduce to numbers, juggle in the night air among the stars. 


The working kabbalist
resists the lure of
the personal. She
suspends interest
in the biblical list
of interdicted shellfish,
say, in order to
read the text another way.
It might seem to some
superficial to convert
letters to numerals
or in general to refuse plot
in favor of dots or half circles,
it might easily seem
comical, how she
ignores an obviously
erotic tale except for
every third word,
rising for her like braille
for something vivid
as only the impersonal
can be--a crescent
bright as the moon,
a glimpse of a symmetry,
a message so vast
in its passage that
she must be utterly open
to an alien idea of person.
Kay Ryan, from Flamingo Watching, from the anthology The Best of It (Grove)


  1. Kabbalah and Kay Ryan. Surprising, yet after "seeing" her read in Hartford last week, not so surprising after all from this language explorer poet. Thanks for this wonderful posting, Sarah.

  2. You saw her? That's great. I know she'll be in town soon at the 92nd St. Y. Intricacies invite intricacies (in reference to Ryan & Kabbalah). Thanks for stopping by and commenting. S.

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