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POEM: Lag B’Omer

And at home
in these wasted paradises
after the invasion and the raising
of the flag and Cain
after the ousting of one dictator
and the installing of another
the carcasses will be gnawed white
    – Kwame Dawes

Thirty-three days after we left Egypt, the manna started dropping from heaven. It lay on the ground like snow. If we didn’t eat it we would starve to death. If we ate it we would essentially be declaring ourselves his slaves.

We were to purify ourselves.

We were to identify ourselves with the collective.

We needed an enemy.

We could never say that God was our enemy, treating us as a toy. We could say that Moses was our enemy. We could drive him to distraction.

The colors of the desert sweep clean the mind.

Stone, shrubbery, wind

Thistle and thorn

The dunes of morning

On Riverside Drive, the annual Aids Walk: massive crowds fill the promenade to the horizon both uptown and downtown of 97th St. And later, on Central Park West, a parade of Ecuadorans, threaded by Mexicans, drumming and dancing, shamans wearing wild black and silver demonic costumes and terrifying bird masks with big curved black beaks, and others in huge costumes covered in neon-dyed furs and sequins and images of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and headdresses like large flat bowls topped by immense plumes, and a large brown woman of fifty dancing in a festive bell-shaped blue and white peasant skirt, and…a float with a band, and…it stopped at 97th, where I was about to bike home, and all the folks in the parade were taking off their costumes and stowing them in trunks, and looked just like ordinary brown people. What a great thing to deck oneself in color for an afternoon. We white people should try it.

And then on 97th St between Columbus and Amsterdam was a big Lag b’Omer street party, courtesy of Chabad. Their costumes incline toward black, toward the subdued, and I heard no music. I saw earnest participation. Food. Storytelling. Pale children playing video games, Paradise hovering above their kippas.

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