A Long Day at the Torah

By Lauren Camp

          For months, we’ve faced a long sustain of drought
as sun spreads on every ledge and lip
                  of charcoal land, each particle poised without water,
          but spirit and umber, salt-crusted and silent.
Since most days keel and bend
                  with heat and wind, we expect the sky to sparkle.
          Instead, today, I stay on the porch for an hour,
hearing the cadence of textured, appositive rain
                  delivered from clouds in Peñasco and Lamy.
          Rain dragging its old shoes behind it,
rain tinctured with mullein combusted with seed,
                  with the ginger and leather of sediment rock,
          its silt suddenly soaked. This is the shape I spoke
before I tasted the swift hit of iron earth,
                  before I appealed and devoted to desert.
          Here I am wrapped in the rapid logic of drops
and their focus, that they know where to fall,
                  their tacit articulations in timpanic tones,
          palpable and lucent, from sky-mouth to earth dent,
but I can hear the pitch and timbre of the liturgy
                  the old cantor taught me in ’79. Each week,
          he sorted descenders and skullcaps on Hebrew letters
into a full set of pauses and lifts with his silvery voice,
                  his thumb and forefinger pinching
          and stretching moist air as he hummed,
his voice turned to gleaming, unceasing. I watched his lips
                  touch the shoulders of sound,
          and memorized the large invocation
with my wide teenage mouth, my ambient, dandelion pitch,
                  so on that Saturday morning tuned to year’s end,
          the biblical text poured out with soul
and strength, like today’s virtuous rain. I needed little
                  my 13th year. Only a light tap
          below a red scroll and a pointer. Language came forth
that day in a torrent. My voice was sputter, banquet,
                  painted octaves; everyone in their seats in their hats
          in their faith must have heard
the evanescence, the rush and flood, my marrow flung.
                  The rain has ended. Sun flows through my windows.
          Cleansed air strikes my head, the light above arcing.

Lauren Camp is the author of five books of poems, including Took House (Tupelo Press, 2020). Her poems have appeared in The Los Angeles Review, Terrain.org, Witness, Poetry International, Image, and elsewhere, and her work has been translated into Mandarin, Turkish, Spanish, and Arabic. Winner of the Dorset Prize and finalist for the Arab American Book Award, the Housatonic Book Award, and the New Mexico–Arizona Book Award, Camp lives and teaches in New Mexico. www.laurencamp.com

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