Each Thursday, The Arty Semite features excerpts and reviews of the best contemporary Jewish poetry. This week, Rodger Kamenetz introduces “Third Temple,” by Richard Chess. This piece originally appeared on January 5, 2001, as part of the Forward’s Psalm 151 series. It is being published here online for the first time.
Richard Chess is a widely anthologized poet who lives and teaches in Asheville, N.C., where he directs the Jewish studies program for the University of North Carolina. Mr. Chess’s first book, “Tekia,” was published in 1994 by the University of Georgia Press. His second collection, “Chair in the Desert,” published by the University of Tampa Press, is a powerful book in which Mr. Chess touches the magnetic poles of his experience — man and woman, Israel and Diaspora, religion and sex — and sets off great sparks of soul.
Mr. Chess’s poetry is engaged — obsessed — with Judaism and alive to the ironies and strange juxtapositions of carrying a Jewish consciousness into the Piggly Wiggly, or, in a poem from the new book, “I and Thou, Baby,” wrestling with Martin Buber while sorting out the memories of a love affair.
In “Third Temple,” Mr. Chess’s satire exposes the distance between daily life as we live it with our beloved dogs and cats and the end of Jewish time, when some imagine we will return to animal sacrifices, in a way that manages simultaneously to point out the absurdity of the proposition, while also bringing us much closer to understanding the meaning of sacrifice. The final image of the poem is powerful, indelible.