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PSALM 151

In recent years, the traditional custom of tashlich has gained currency in the Jewish New Year. In the ceremony, we toss bread into the water — symbolic of our griefs and grievances — and it’s fun to imagine this bread being tossed in odd corners of the country, from the muddy waters of the Mississippi in New Orleans to Live Oak Park in Berkeley, where poet Chana Bloch lives and directs the creative writing program at Mills College.

Born and raised in the Bronx, she lived in Jerusalem for five years, but since 1967 has made her home in the United States. She is known as a poet, translator (of Yehuda Amichai), scholar (of English poet George Herbert) and teacher. Her three books of poetry include the prize-winning “Mrs. Dumpty” (University of Wisconsin Press, 1998), an intimate portrait of a marriage dissolved. Her poems are stark, rueful and witty, as here in “Tashlich.” She choreographs the inner resolution and irresolution that come each year for us as we believe, or want to believe, that it is possible to change and renew our lives. Contemplating a relationship halfway between staying and leaving, the poet stands on a bridge and tosses her crumbs of hope and faith into the troubled water. But being a poet, she also notices — or at least imagines she notices — a cast-off snakeskin under the bridge. Is it a confirmation that we can change, that somehow the natural world rhymes with our inner desires? All poems and all rituals devoutly wish for such harmonies, a hint that somehow we are not alone in this world.

* * *|

Tashlich

On the first day of Rosh Hashana

we cast our bread upon the waters

from the wooden bridge in Live Oak Park.

We start the new year by emptying our pockets.

Another year of crumbs.

Old sticky rancors I feed on in secret,

wadded tissues, he said and I said,

snarled hair, lint:

let the water take it!

What a ragged ending we inhabit —

I with my swagger of This time I mean it,

all the while thinking Maybe

and other famous thoughts.

My right hand on the doorknob, resolute,

and the left

ready to warm itself in his pocket

till the end of days.

This time I mean it. As the bridge is my witness

and the water

under the bridge

and the snake with its body stocking

sloughed in the dirt,

gravel still clinging

to its castoff tight-woven

shiny story.

— Chana Bloch

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