A giant eye, itself a swirling galaxy, studying a slide
to locate the single vector of infection,
a tremulous shepherd counting sheep obscured by snow,
a mother running frantic through the playground
in quest of her lost child—
“Where are you?” each calls, silently or aloud,
hoping for “Here I am!” in response—
but why would God need to ask? I used to wonder,
imagining an obdurate patriarch peering
from the sky, penetrating all places at once,
hearing my every thought and
judging my every deed.
178 times in the Torah the question is posed.
More uncertainty there
than is ever acknowledged; the creator
having lost track of his creatures
and doubting their devotion.
What if Abraham kept shtum, or Moses
clamped his jaw shut? What if they refused to be chosen
and detoured into ordinary life?
Sadie and Abe growing old together
as their flocks flourish and their grandkids
tumble at their feet. Moses
a prince of Egypt, his tongue unscathed by fire,
his eyes outlined in kohl.
Susan Glickman has written poetry, essays, novels, and a literary history.
Questions and Answers
As a published writer, what are your tips or words of motivation for the aspiring poet?
I have three tips: read, read, and read. Not just your contemporaries or classmates, but poetry from all periods. Not just English poetry but poetry in translation. Not just poetry you like and are familiar with but poetry that makes you uncomfortable or that you cannot understand at first reading or that is in a style or format you never use yourself. In other words, even if you prefer rhyme and metre, you should also read free verse; if you generally write prose poems, nonetheless read poems broken into lines; even if you only perform spoken word, have encounters with poems meant for the page.
No one ever became a competent artist in any medium without being a student of that medium because other artists are the best teachers. Take the time to study good poems and figure out how they are made: why that metaphor gave you shivers, what that odd combination of sounds contributes, when the rhythm becomes most important, how the line breaks work, and so on. And if you spend enough time thinking about other folks’ poetry has been made, it will help you immensely in your own craft.
What inspired or motivated you to write this poem?
In 2021, I participated in an online study group for the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, the celebration of the giving of the ten commandments at Mt Sinai. We spent some time talking about the spiritual readiness needed to do what is divinely required of us, as signalled by the many times in the Torah God asks, “Where are you?”, to which the proper response is “Hineni” (Here I am!) – a Hebrew contraction of two words: “hiney” meaning “here” and “ani” meaning “I.”