Written by Andrew Ramer. Andrew Ramer, a first-time Jewrotica writer, is an ordained maggid (sacred storyteller) and the author of numerous books and articles including Queering the Text: Biblical, Medieval, and Modern Jewish Stories. He has just completed a lyrical, apocalyptic story-cycle, When People Still Lived on the Earth, about how we destroyed this lovely planet, and what happened to us afterwards, in heaven.
(Editor’s Note: Andrew’s poem was designed to be graphically laid out like a page of Talmud. The main body of the poem can be found in the center, with the commentaries and explanations encircling the text for interactive study and reading. Click on the graphic to enlarge the image and read the poem as it is meant to be presented.)
two o eight
not mystical numbers
just height, weight
with shoulders like a lumberjack
and, since April
on the far side of forty, a Taurus
stands in a low-cut
beefy calf length
his size thirteens
clutching the hardwood floor
thick wavy black hair
shot with gray
four days unshaven
that grows south
into forest of black fur
curling up and around
his tight fitting dress
in the Mission
flexing his pecs
not to show off
but from anxiety
this his first time in drag
“You’re a natural,”
of Holocaust survivors
now downstairs in the men’s room
taking a leak
before services begin
José, raised Orthodox
this Buck’s first time
since his bar mitzvah
still then short and thin
Reform suburban Chicago
Grandma Sophie still kvelling
and the tiny glass beads
sewn by hand around the neckline
catch the light
as Buck shifts in the doorway
this Purim night
also the beginning of Shabbat
waiting for Jose
“How the hell
did I ever let him talk me into this?”
to what’s going on
checks the front
of his white tuxedo pants
to make sure he’s zipped
then slips his arm
up though Buck’s
and leads him into the sanctuary
just as everyone stands
and turns toward the door
and the lights
catch rhinestone tiara in
Baruch Abramowitz’s wavy black hair
shot with gray
and bounce off the beads
sewn by hand
by Carmela Rodriguez
fifty years before
when she made this dress
at her sister Estrellita’s wedding
Notes for: Lecha Dodi by Andrew Ramer
Place: at the doors to the sanctuary of Congregation Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco.
Time: Purim, the festival that celebrates the survival of the Jews in ancient Persia, story told in the Bible in the book of Esther.
Lecha Dodi, means, “Come my beloved.” This prayer is said on Friday evening to welcome in the Sabbath. It’s the newest major addition to the Jewish liturgy, only dating back to the Safed Kabbalists of 16th century, who would go out in the fields in white robes to welcome in the Sabbath Queen with the words, “Come, O Bride.”
Buck – think of buck naked, think of “stately plump Buck Mulligan” in Joyce’s Ulysses, Jewish Leopold Bloom’s friend. Also a reference to the horned animals, stags and gazelles, that are used as symbols of male sexuality in “Song of Songs” and other Jewish erotic poems, chiefly those to same-sex lovers written by medieval Spanish rabbis.
Abramowitz – means Son of Abraham, in Jewish Russian, Anglicized.
lumberjack – think of trees and the Tree of Life when you read this word, and think about the sacred posts dedicated to the goddess Asherah, that the Torah so frowns upon.
a Taurus – the astrological sign of the bull, perhaps an allusion to the golden calf.
strapless black velvet evening gown – cross-dressing is forbidden in the Torah, but on Purim, when this poem takes places, one is encouraged to drink to excess, and there is some flexibility about what’s prohibited and what’s permitted.
barefoot – like Moses at the burning bush.
forest of black fur – again, think trees and wild animals, sex, love, “Song of Songs.”
the Mission – the San Francisco neighborhood, but also Buck’s literal “mission” as a gay man, to live a sacred life in community
José – Joseph, Yosef in Hebrew, means, “He shall add,” just as he and Buck are adding to our tradition. We are told in the Torah that Joseph was beautiful.
Rosenbaum – from the roses (probably better translated as lilies or lotuses) in “Song of Songs,” rose tree, again the Tree of Life.
Grandma Sophie – from “Sophia,” the goddess of Wisdom in Gnostic texts and Jewish Wisdom literature, mentioned in the book of Proverbs.
kvelling – Yiddish, “bursting with pride,” usually it’s parents and grandparents who kvell, over the accomplishments of their offspring.
white tuxedo pants – Buck is in black, Jose is in white. Think marriage, think yin and yang, union of male and female, with the ambiguity of big butch Buck in drag and shorter Jose in a white tuxedo. We know he’s short because he slips his arm up through Buck’s.
zipped – or maybe not. Think of his genitals, think of his sexuality, think of his love for Buck in his tight black dress that Jose had to alter so that Buck could fit in it.
stands and turns toward the door – this is what the congregation does when they sing the last verse of Lecha Dodi.
rhinestone tiara – the high priest’s miter, maybe Moses’s mistranslated “horns.”
Baruch – Buck’s Hebrew name, Baruch, means “Blessed,” and also refers to the blessing that comes from his and Jose’s relationship. His American name is probably Barry.
Carmela – from the word for a garden in Hebrew. Think of Mount Carmel and Elijah the prophet.
Estrellita – a Spanish form of Esther, the savior of her people and the hero of Purim, her name comes from the Babylonian goddess of love, Ishtar. And think of weddings, unions, sacred marriages, of two men, of God and the Sabbath. Two sisters, two men.