Culture

Hollow Land

SHARE
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Zohar Atkins

These selections are excerpted from a longer work of nine sections (one for each day leading up to the Ninth of Av). The poem’s form emulates a hyper-stimulated, non-linear mind in the age of information overload; or else that virtual mind we call a “news feed,” in which disparate texts and traditions—such as Eikhah Rabbah and Lady Gaga, John Ashbery and the Mishnah, Leonard Cohen and works of critical theory—can become entangled “threads,” sometimes harmonizing with each other, sometimes distracting from one another, but often simply co-existing in the ambiguity of juxtaposition, what our interpretive tradition calls “semikhut parshiyyot.” The polyvocal form, which ultimately obscures the line between statement and parenthetical, or thesis and tangent, de-centers the lyric “I” of the standard persona poem, simulating instead a consciousness that is at the mercy of its environment, a voice under assault, much as in the shifting perspective reflected in the Book of Lamentations. As in poetry, so in life: we cannot know which thoughts are our own, and which are reverse eavesdropped upon us through a steady stream of cultural gossip, socialization, and “memes.” We are imitative beings, beings not just created in the divine image, but beings who fashion our image in response to what we observe. Ours is an age of unprecedented data consumption (and production). It is only fitting, then, that a lament, or a kinnah, for all that has been destroyed, and all whose destruction is yet underway, should make use of and reflect this situation of data overload. Perhaps there is even a direct connection—as Plato posited—between our increased ability to store information and our spiritual condition of Exile, our forgetfulness of being and our alienation from what is holy.

Hollow Land

1.

Because reading is a form of mourning

(the sky has put on sackcloth)

Because God must summon the angels

 

(Hakol Hegel)

to teach him in the ways of man

(Hegel Hagelim)

 

Because each technique is borrowed

(crowd control, under armor)

from the unthinkable

 

(debt control, back the boycott)

body without organs

(we’re living in a sign economy)

 

Because anaphora’s a cloak

(the gematria of regret) 

in which space can feel like time

 

(daughter of a wave)

and time can feel like

(the gematria of shame)

 

Shekhinah’s broken wing

(I’m a peacemaker)

makes no sense

 

Because it’s easy to imagine the end of the world

(it is not our wickedness)

and impossible to care

 

(who by tanks?)

do it for the kids

(who by television?)

 

and the oceans

(who by righteousness?)

and survival

 

(who by sloganeering?)

Because hypocrisy cuts all ways

(who by double standards?)

 

my wounds are bigger than yours

(who by foreign aid?)

Because there’s no end to ending

 

(when baby seals are dying)

being is suffering

(how can you be so cerebral?)

 

and just as we rip our shirts

(ritual as a kind of theodicy)

so God, too, rips His shirt

 

(just look at a map)

Because theology is the most ingenious form of atheism

(shhh, don’t tell)

 

and atheism is the most ingenious form

(baby, I was born this way)

of mysticism

 

(our pretension is unconscious)

most rich people don’t identify as rich

(where’s your spine?)

 

Because each poem must conclude

(the page’s inadequacy)

with a call to arms

 

(you have nothing to lose but your hapless comfort)

wake up and smell the waste management of the Lord

(the hoax of authenticity)

 

7.

Now that you’re broke

(let Oprah be Oprah)

and your screen is frozen

 

(Duty Calls)

from Pocketing another scandal

(Scaramucci, will you do the Fandango?)

 

Now that the Masters are never wrong

(Information is the new oil)

and everyone is a master

 

(of their own demise)

of their own URL

(surface calleth unto surface)

 

our exit interview is double booked

(with the exit interview of angels)

say no more

 

(it’s not a bubble if everyone believes it)

Now that community is an HR bugaboo

(when will the Messiah check his privilege?)

 

Who knows One?

(don’t look at me)

One is the Iran Deal, one is the Iran Deal

 

(in heaven and on earth)

what’s the bottom line?

(Now that appeals to unity are ploys)

 

at enforcing uniformity

(Now that the status quo is still)

the status quo

 

(humans are amazing)

retweet if you dis/agree

(This livestream won’t be around forever)

 

Now that faith is a market

(and redemption is a product)

what will be its services?

 

There’s no R and D here

(in the land of the living)

only sales. 

 

9.

Take us back

(in your womb)

in your tomb

 

(before an angel touched us)

and we cried, “Me too”

(before we knew of MAGA)

 

Before we knew to suspect

(and Russian Bots)

any concept of the good old days

 

Take us back

(for we are your people)

and though you have thrown us

 

(under the bus of history)

and given us sovereignty

(four amot and some nukes)

 

Take us back

(for we are not satisfied with your wormwood)

to the days before Einstein prophesied

 

(God does not play dice with the universe)

forcing us to accept your testimony

(nor does God pigeon-race with quarks)

 

and disqualify ourselves

(out of fear of punishment or hope of gain)

Take us back

 

(as a squatter makes a hazakah)

and give us the AppleCare we need

(for if we are not priests, we are zealots)

 

Take us back

(for we are your Midrash, and you are ours)

Renew our gaze

 

(that we may be the Warby Parker of wisdom)

and our hearing

(that we may continue to say, “al tikre’u Elohim, ella mi eleh”*)

 

For in every generation you have stood against us

(and we have stood against you)

But you have saved us

 

(and we have saved you)

from ourselves

(from yourself)

 

so a covenant might be forged

(and understanding might begin)

and in so doing be undone


*“‘Don’t read ‘God,’ but rather, ‘Who are these?’”

SHARE
Zohar Atkins
Rabbi Dr. Zohar Atkins is the founder of Etz Hasadeh and a Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America. He holds a DPhil in Theology from Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and semikha from JTS. He is the author of An Ethical and Theological Appropriation of Heidegger’s Critique of Modernity (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018) and Nineveh (Carcanet, 2019).