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PSALM 151

The rueful, reflective mood of “Impasse,” by Myra Sklarew, reflects a Jewish sensibility, even before the reader pieces together what must be the occasion of this poem: some disaster, explosion — possibly a suicide bombing or terrorist attack, events too depressingly familiar — and the difficulty we have, the impasse, lifting ourselves “up above/ the bloodied streets.”

For Sklarew, Israel, the Holocaust and her Jewish ancestry in Lithuania have always been important, from her first collection “From the Backyard of the Diaspora” (Dryad, 1981) to “Lithuania: New & Selected Poems” (Azul, 2000) and “The Witness Trees: Lithuania” (Associated University Presses, 2000). She is also the author of a collection of writings, “Over the Rooftops of Time: Jewish Stories, Essays, Poems” (State University of New York Press, 2002).

In “Impasse,” a crow becomes a kind of rabbi, poring over the text of death — the body of a squirrel, its “entrails like holy words.” The personification is meant to jar, to juxtapose the Jewish love of text with the violence of streets that explode with human flesh. In the end, the crow — an outright scavenger and usually a symbol of death — is grateful to be “delivered off this contaminated earth.”

Impasse

Here a crow pores over the still

warm body of a squirrel as if over sacred

text. Plucks scraps of entrails like holy

words. What does it read in the long history

of prophecy? Perhaps the slick remains —

their iridescent bloodtrail like a map marking off

boundaries — still speak, saying: What more

did you expect?

This crow can lift up above

the bloodied streets, in a moment rise

into purifying blue, innocent as the sun,

delivered off this contaminated earth. Once

I swept up into the sky, bombs exploding

beneath me. I left your world of war

and blood on the stones and entered

the seed of unholy innocence.

— Myra Sklarew

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