Archive for the ‘Making Sense’ Category


September 30, 2007 1 comment

“Morning Star,” by Rachel Barenblat

The alarm at 5am is obnoxiously loud, breaking the stillness of night, and it’s all I can do not to curse as I fumble for it in the dark of my unfamiliar room. My heart is racing by the time I manage to silence it.

I shower, murmuring the blessing for God Who revives the dead, and then I walk slowly through the retreat center, stopping every few feet to tip my head back and gawk at the stars.

As people arrive at the gazebo, Rabbi Jill Hammer starts us singing “Let the way of the heart shine through.” We don’t all know the song, and our voices are shaky. Slowly they gain strength.

According to Jewish tradition, Adam and Eve were the first to notice and mark the solstices and equinoxes. They saw the sun slowly disappearing, and feared the world was ending. But when it became clear that it was not, they said, “ah — this is the way of the world,” and rejoiced. The autumn equinox is our chance to celebrate the shift toward darkness, into the dream-time. In the coming days we’ll read the opening portion of the Torah, cycling back to the start of our narrative again. This is the season to hear our oldest stories.

The chant we sing as we walk outside names all of us as holy. Holy is the darkness and holy is the light. The darkness is palpable; the air feels as thick as water. We kneel and place our foreheads on the dewy grass, touching the earth who sustains us, who spins and orbits, whose gravity holds us close. My feet are wet and cold, and my knees, and my face. My fingers tangle in the earth’s wet hair.

We light a pair of braided candles, flashes of light in the darkness. One of them refuses to ignite, and as someone struggles with the lighter we sing about earth and heavens, fire and water. As the sky begins to lighten and the stars to vanish, a long shofar blast rings out over the lake, echoing across the mountains. The moment of equinox, sun crossing the equator on the day when light and dark are perfectly balanced.

Pomegranates, Reb Jill says in the dark dusk, are ripe now in the land of Israel. We eat them on Rosh Hashanah, wishing each other that our creativity and our blessings be as plentiful as their seeds. Of course, the pomegranate is also the fruit from which Persephone ate when she descended into the dark mysteries of the underworld. And how do we know when one is ripe? Because when it is ready to be eaten, it bursts. We are standing around in the darkness waiting for something to burst. I almost giggle.

We make havdalah, a ritual of separation between one thing and the next. We bless the sweet spice of rosepetals, the fire of our candles, and the very work of creation. One by one we process beneath the prayer shawl held aloft, like a wedding canopy: our border into autumn. We blow out the candles, and I realize we can see each others’ faces now without the flame. The colors of the world are returning — our tradeoff for losing access to the night stars.

One last shofar blast and we are done. We hug and thank one another. People walk away in clusters, talking, heading for cups of coffee or morning meditation. As I sit silently and watch the sky begin to pink, a flock of wild Canada geese takes flight, their calliope chorus of honks like a dozen shofarot ringing out into the pregnant air of dawn.

by Rachel Barenblat

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September 27, 2007 Comments off

You can hear them screaming from here. In the dark
their voices are fins suddenly plunging upwards
from the walled garden. These are the rewards
of childhood and first darkness. Here is the bark
of the tree that scratches you. Here is the dead
lane with its berries and the cloud’s mussed head.

Here is the steep, the boiling and the loss
of memory. Most noises are lost in the pitch
of the moment, the yawl of light an ordinary switch
plunges to oblivion. Far off, voices cross
like beams. Someone shudders on the lawn,
retching and rising. They’ll sober up at dawn.

by George Szirtes

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September 21, 2007 7 comments

Blue sky goes down behind the buildings
all the way to the shining river.
Buses are rumbling
over Waterloo Bridge;
my sandals vibrate.
Not a moment’s rest —
I feel every semibreve
in belly, chest, throat.
I look towards Blackfriars
as particles of road dirt
are drawn silently
to the walls of the National Theatre,
and voices rise like birds
over the pale dome of Saint Paul’s.

The city’s electric hum
laps at my skin
as I lie in the dark
wearing only earplugs.
I don’t hear the street cleansing team
emerge from the depot;
the roar of the squat vehicle
with revolving brushes,
the clang of empty litterbins
hurtling back into place.
I don’t hear the clubbers arguing,
the purr of rickshaws,
the inline skaters rattling past.
I sleep in silence, twitching.

by Polly Blackley

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September 19, 2007 Comments off
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The A55 to North Wales

September 17, 2007 3 comments

To you it was a road, a thin red line
in an atlas, junctions to be noted,
their numbers told.

My knees were spread with maps,
my eyes were counting exits.
But my mind was charting

startling openings of sea,
mountain shoulders shrugging off
great clouds of white, silvered

by the western light,
and in their thousands, ox-eye daisies,
in drifts like snow on verges,

spikes of purple orchid sudden
in between. And I have learned to

recognise terrain by living things,
steer by the seasons and the light.

by Gill McEvoy

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Editors’ Note: Making Sense

September 5, 2007 Comments off

We’re back, with a new blog-host and several new features. More about that in a moment. But first, we’re pleased to announce our September-October theme, Making Sense. Here’s how the guest editors describe it:

Writers often lean on what they see. But for this issue, we challenge you to build up a world in scent, taste, touch, sound, or any combination of these. We are not outlawing imagery, not at all. We value a clear, active connection with the world. As Wislawa Szymborska said in “Conversation with a Stone”: “Even sight heightened to become all-seeing/ will do you no good without a sense of taking part.” To have a full and concrete awareness of space, physical detail, and emotion, you do not need sight. Take your impetus from another sense, or let material from another sense define or guide the piece.

Please limit text contributions to 1000 words or fewer. Contributions from visual artists are also encouraged.

Send your submissions as soon as you can. They’ll be considered until October 15, for publication throughout September and October. Please note a major change in the submissions procedure: we are no longer encouraging attachments in Microsoft Word. Instead, text submissions should be submitted through the Contact form, or as inline text in an email (qarrtsiluni at gmail dot com).

The editors for this issue are both past contributors to qarrtsiluni. Katherine Abbott just completed an MFA in fiction from the University of New Hampshire, and has placed stories, poems and essays in a number of magazines. She blogs at Spring Farm almanac. Rob Mackenzie is a Scottish poet; see the sidebar of his blog Surroundings for links to his chapbook, The Clown of Natural Sorrow, and to the more than 30 poems he’s published in online journals.


In other news, we’ve just completed a big move. Qarrtsiluni returned from its summer vacation (prompted by Dave’s six-week loss of high-speed internet access) with a brand-new site at We’ve kept the same domain, and also preserved the URL structure so that old links to individual posts at qarrtsiluni should all still work. Even the RSS feed from the old location seems to still work, though we urge readers to subscribe to the new feed just to make sure. We also now offer email subscriptions. Additions to the site include a comprehensive Index of Contributors and a new mission statement on our About page. We welcome feedback from our readers on any or all of these changes.

–Dave Bonta and Beth Adams

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