by Rachel Barenblat

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When first I lower my body
hot water scalds my skin.

Once my glasses have fogged
I scuff my feet into stolen slippers

and wrench the glass door open.
The sky is pricked with lights

around the red alien moon.
Blink, but it doesn’t change back.

The air bites me all over
dry and thin and still.

I drift into the heavens
like a Mylar balloon

murmuring a blessing
no one’s ever said before.



A perpetual fire shall be kept burning on the altar, not to go out.
—Lev. 6:6

First you dress in linen
then scoop out the ashes.
Stop and wash with water,
then you change your garments

and scoop out the ashes.
Lather, rinse, repeat;
then you change your garments.
No one said it was easy.

Lather, rinse, repeat;
out here in the wilderness
no one said it was easy
to keep the fire burning.

Out here in the wilderness
there’s little wood to scavenge
to keep the fire burning
all night until morning.

There’s little wood to scavenge
and you want perpetual motion
all night until morning—
that’s the ritual of the offering.

You want perpetual motion
but fires don’t burn forever
and the ritual of the offering
is this lesson from the waters.

Fires don’t burn forever
(except for that holy pillar)
so take a lesson from the waters
and the reeds you sludged across.

Remember that holy pillar
like a beacon in the darkness
and the reeds you sludged across
each shaky step toward freedom.

Like a beacon in the darkness
God’s instructions on this are clear:
each shaky step toward freedom
keeps the fire burning.

God’s instructions on this are clear.
Stop and wash with water.
Keep the fire burning.
First you dress in linen.

Rachel Barenblat holds an MFA from Bennington College. A student in the ALEPH rabbinic program, and author of three chapbooks (most recently chaplainbook, laupe house 2006), she blogs as the Velveteen Rabbi.

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