Tree of Life

by    /  September 29, 2020  / Comments Off on Tree of Life

For Arlene Weiner and Philip Terman
by Michael Simms

When the young man wearing a yarmulke
Asks Excuse me sir are you Jewish?
I want to say yes
I’ve studied history and know
Something about suffering,
But that’s not what he means.
He’s trying to find ten men
For a minyan
At Rodef Shalom down the street

And when the young man carrying a bible
Asks Have you heard the Good News?
I want to say Yes!
The cherry trees are blossoming!
And when he asks Have you been saved?
I want to say Yes!
I’ve been saved by poetry
From a childhood of abuse
And humiliation —
That’s a kind of miracle
Isn’t it?

But I know
He wants to know
Whether I’ve accepted Jesus
Into my heart and there’s the rub
Because my heart is so small
And Jesus is so big

When I walk into a cathedral
My heart sings, when I walk
Into a forest the trees sing
And when I walk down the street
The homeless man on the sidewalk
Puts his whole heart into the ukulele
Oh Susanna we are saved
It is springtime in Pittsburgh
And in America

My friend Rashid is an atheist
Because his mother was killed by a bomb.
His father died unhappy and his sister
Has moved to Australia. Rashid blames
All his tragedies on religion
And he may be right.
We all have our tragedies
And maybe God is to blame.
What do I know?

Well, I know this much:
Anyone who has grown a garden, raised a child
Or looked at the sky far from a city
Knows the truth. So, yes, I’m a believer
In the Big Dark, the Ur-unknown,
The sense that my little mind
Is part of the Big Mind
I’ll never know

But I have to say
God, like a lazy cop,
Never seems to be around
When you need Him

Somewhere a soldier is beating a boy
For throwing stones. Somewhere
A priest is raping a child.
Somewhere a girl in a marketplace
Has a bomb strapped to her chest.

My friend and her mother
Were in the Tree of Life synagogue
When a man who hated immigrants
Pushed through the door of their faith
With an automatic rifle.
You know the rest.


Michael Simms is the founding editor of Vox Populi and Autumn House Press. His 6th collection of poems American Ash was published in 2020 by Ragged Sky Press. He lives in the Mount Washington neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

City of Asylum believes that All Pittsburghers are Poets. With the Poem of the Week series, we seek to increase the readership and appreciation of poetry locally by publishing poems written by residents of Allegheny County of all ages and levels of experience. In partnership with the Poetry Editors at Sampsonia Way Magazine, City of Asylum advances our mission to defend, celebrate, and build on creative freedom of expression. This project received a RADical ImPAct Grant from the Allegheny Regional Asset District (RAD).



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