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Painting of neon whale with man in rowboat

Two Poems by Leah Falk

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In Plague Season I Think of Jonah

If I ever get out of this whale, I’ll plant a sapling
in a square of tender earth. My love and I

will wake and sleep on the same
solid ground. The only waves will be

of our own making, our own salt.
I’ll wake to watch gradations of the atmosphere

that thin like a singer’s scale until
they break into mystery.

Beneath me, straightening my spine,
only the cold certainty

of a ground that loves me back,
that like a mother’s milk invents

medicine for the long shriek
coursing through my body.

That by its gravity chases out
the coward taking refuge there.

Jonah who I’ve swallowed every season:
you satisfy no hunger,

you are never really born.
Stay with me, you’ll see: in an empty lot

set for a sheriff’s sale, I’ll cradle
the young root ball, grip the still-

brittle trunk, watch the leaves
blush neon in a reluctant spring.

I’ll hold you there, tight to this slim
chance, while the climate blusters,

while around our voyage garbage undulates
like a flock of starlings, threatening the dusk.

 

 

Tabernacles

Reviews describe the food of the only 

Japanese-American woman making kaiseki

as ego-less, as though nobody slit 

the tuna’s belly, toasted kombu over fire, 

boiled spaghetti until it surrendered 

its bite. Yes, of course, she told the reporter, 

she bent to the old form’s creases, 

heard history and myth crowd her kitchen 

with instruction. Like the flourishes God 

demanded for a portable sanctuary 

as the Israelites wandered the desert, having fled 

someone else’s ideal shape: build it  

of acacia and gold. Bring ram and dolphin skin.  

Isn’t it always hovering like a cloud 

about to break: the one impossible 

way to build a holy thing.  

In a Philadelphia rowhome, 

progressive rabbinical students argue 

impossible must be relative. We 

are a diaspora people: who among us 

has seen ram-skin? who would know acacia? 

The floors we stand on recently refinished 

in pale oak, the copper fixtures new. 

Whoever rattled in these rooms before—

dragged a cloth along baseboards, put weight 

on a groaning stair—the house has shed 

like chitin as the El trembled past. Mornings 

in the city’s tunnels, I pass the remains 

of tabernacles: crumpled bedsheets, 

cardboard, single shoes. Overlay it

with pure gold. This, too, I tell my students, 

has a form: Twitter rant, flood beyond 

the levee, thread spiraling blindly

from its spool, these unrhymed

raining days. This too: years

of wandering, waiting for heaven 

to fall to earth. Even if to build it,

you must bend in the wind

of your own loneliness, as even 

the last train to New Jersey leaves you. 

In the commentaries’ margins, rabbis sketched 

the mishkan’s heavenly design,

desperate to imagine

the shape of their fathers’ survival. 

So that in the mouth of nothing, 

when the body was an empty 

bolt of cloth, they still could finger 

the skin of holiness, let silk lisp along

the tongue. In her gray apron, the chef 

emerges nightly from behind

the shoji curtain, revealing her pale daub

of femaleness. Diners gape: in her hands 

and so in their mouths, even strictness 

glows radical. The unbroken line of ink 

they have swallowed starts

to quaver, dissolve. But she 

is steady: she adjusts acidity, she listens

until sea vegetables hum her the song of themselves, 

the one that goes: in the house where we argue, 

years before we learned the tradition, 

someone drifted dust-like from room

to room, settling into the one where light 

dappled the breakfast table, the one

with the chair that forgave the body.

And said to whomever 

could hear: you who have made me  

a sanctuary, I will dwell among you.  

 

 

 

Leah FalkLeah Falk is the author of To Look After and Use (Finishing Line Press, 2019) and Other Customs and Practices (Glass Lyre Press, 2023). Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Kenyon Review, FIELD, Electric Literature, Gulf Coast, and elsewhere. She lives in Philadelphia with her family.

Header image by Tithi Luadthong, courtesy Shutterstock. Photo of Leah Falk by Sam Reed.

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