PSALM 151

“Poetry is a fireplace in summer or a fan in winter.” So wrote Basho, the great 17th-century haiku master. The master meant that poetry need not be useful in any obvious sense. On the other hand, who needs a poem about snow in the middle of winter? Far better to have one now, when temperatures are heating up and summer is on its way. Standing in the “loose, ecclesiastical snow” in Jay Ladin’s poem brings some refreshment. I can imagine the poem set where he lives, in Amherst, Mass., home to Emily Dickinson, as well, who also felt adrift in the midst of the religious revival of the 1830s and found her spiritual resource in nature, not in organized religion. Dickinson’s poems were written in counterpoint to the hymns sung by her neighbors, and Ladin, too, speaks of “the unhymnable/fragility of heaven” that he finds in the drifts of snow. He, too, stands a little bit apart as a poet, and perhaps, too, as a Jewish poet. Yet in some ways, he recognizes that he is also “part of the parable,” and that the unhymnable snow paradoxically is the matter of his psalm.

Ladin holds the Ruth and David Gottesman Chair in English at Stern College for Women of Yeshiva University. His work has appeared in many literary magazines, and Sheep Meadow Press recently published his first book of poems, “Alternatives to History.” In 2002, he served as poet-in-residence at Tel Aviv University on a Fulbright scholarship.

Snow

Loose, ecclesiastical snow

Feet puncture

the light-filled

lungs

This drift preaches

the opposite

of redemption

the unhymnable

fragility of heaven

You are part

of this parable, too

surrounded by domes

and transcendent spires

trying not to move

— JAY LADIN

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PSALM 151

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