Two poems I wrote in the 1970s and 1980s about falling in love with Hebrew (also found in Before Our Very Eyes: Readings for a Journey Through Israel)

Hebrew

I’ll tell you how much I love Hebrew:
Read me anything –
xxxGenesis
xxxor an ad in an Israeli paper
and watch my face.
I will make half-sounds of ecstasy
and my smile will be so enormously sweet
you would think some angels were singing Psalms
xxxor God Himself was reciting to me.
I am crazy for her Holiness
xxxand each restaurant’s menu in Yerushalayim
xxxor Bialik poem
gives me peace no Dante or Milton or Goethe
could give.
I have heard Iliads of poetry,
Omar Khayyam in Farsi,
and Virgil sung as if the poet himself
were coaching the reader.
And they move me –
but not like
the train schedule from Haifa to Tel Aviv
or a choppy unsyntaxed note
from a student who got half the grammar I taught him
xxxall wrong
but remembered to write
with Alephs and Zayins and Shins.
That’s the way I am.
I’d rather hear the weather report
on Kol Yisrael
than all the rhythms and music of Shakespeare.

There are Many Roads to the Holiness of Hebrew

The day I discovered
Aryeh’s dog
understood more Hebrew
than all the phrases
I had memorized
through years of Hebrew school –
that day I bought
the books and records
I would need to read, speak,
understand, and write
everything my heart desired
in the words of Moses.
That day I began
with Aleph in the dictionary
through the Fall to Mem,
and finally in June to Tav.
One lexicon in the john,
one on the bedstead, and
one in the kitchen, and
five thousand scattered notecards
in my dresser, desk, and pockets.
All because of Kushi the Kelev,
late of Jerusalem.