Merrill Leffler

Three Poems

Beginnings and Ends

Here is the word
That divides the dark
And here is the word
That is filled with light

Here is the word
That severs the sea
And separates sky
And uncovers the earth

Here is the word
That revels in breath
And here is the word
That cleaves your soul

And here is the word
For singing your love
And here is another
For singing your grief

Here are the words
That will blind your eyes
That will freeze your tongue
That will strike you deaf

And here is the word
To open the dark
And here is another
To empty the light
And here is the last
To carry you home

Barbara Frank, “Lone Goat, Hidden Blood,” acrylic on canvas, 54″ x 66″, 2014.


What I know of Rabbi Weiss of Bilke,
though it would not fill a shot glass, is this:
to study Talmud into the night, he’d stick his feet
in ice water and keep them there, it was said,
to ward off sleep from spreading through his body.
I have it on no authority, of course, but I would like to think
it was his way to not forget his body while his soul
set forth into the thick wilderness of God’s law.

O! Rabbi Weiss of Bilke, not even a smudge in my memory
not a pinprick in the history of the dead,
I can imagine you at Matisse’s table, the light
holding you in place, dining on the sweet breath of life,
Old men wringing from each hour the honey that flows like fire
in the blood.
Rabbi Weiss of Bilke, for god’s sake
who knows how you might have forsaken your wife for study,
or for that matter how you came to her in dark passion,
your appetite for wisdom, like Solomon’s, so full
you met each other with gratitude and love.

O! Rabbi Weiss of Bilke, I drink to the memory of your
feet — may they live in incandescence to light
even the darkest way.



“Isaac Luria did not differentiate between organic and inorganic life but insisted that souls were present everywhere and that intercourse with them was possible.” —Gershom Scholem

Thank you say the shoes
you have placed under the bed.
And thank you says the quilt
for the warmth of your skin.
Thank you says the window
for lifting my sash.
And thank you says the broom
for the grip of your hands.
Thank you says the shirt
for buttoning my sleeves.
And thank you says the pond
for throwing me stones.
Thank you says the bulb
for my planting in earth.
And thank you says the pen
for writing these lines.
Thank you says the book
for turning my page.
And thank you says the mirror
for your face each day.
And thank you says Delmore
for remembering my poems.
Thank you says the Torah
for chanting the Shema.
And thank you says my father
for the gift of your life
and my mother says likewise
from the grave in my heart.
And thank you I reply
In my exit from here —
Wherever I travel
you go with me there.




Merrill Leffler is the author of three books of poems: Mark the Music (2012), Take Hold (1997), and Partly Pandemonium, Partly Love (1984). The publisher of Dryad Press, which has been publishing literary books since 1975, he has also guest edited issues of such literary journals as Poet Lore, Shirim, and Beltway Poetry Quarterly. One of the founders of The Writer's Center in Bethesda, Leffler taught literature at the University of Maryland and the U.S. Naval Academy until the early 1980s, and for more than 20 years was a science writer at the University of Maryland Sea Grant Program, which focuses on issues related to the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. He lives with his wife Ann Slayton in Takoma Park, Maryland, where he served as Poet Laureate, 2011-2018. To read more by this author: Merrill Leffler:Winter 2000 Merrill Leffler's Introduction to "The Distinguishing Voice" Issue, Fall 2000 Merrill Leffler on O.B. Hardison, Jr.: Memorial Issue Three DC Editors: Richard Peabody on Merrill Leffler: Profiles Issue Merrill Leffler on Gabrielle Edgcomb: Profiles Issue