There are always two stories:
That of the body, that of the soul.
In this case, twenty-two stories.
There are always two questions
(which can also read as statements):
How was this allowed to happen?
How holy are these souls?

There are always two stories,
plus the story of Cousin Reva,
who, arriving late that morning,
was instructed by an officer to wait things out
at the nearby public library.
I feel guilty about not dying with my friends,
she said the next day.


It is October 27, 1988. My friend Robert
plays whiffle ball in his backyard
abutting Tree of Life Synagogue.
It is October 27, 2018. A stranger passes through
unlocked double doors.
In lockdown, over sirens, just blocks from the bullets,
unaware of exactly what’s unfolding, Robert’s son
begins his Bar Mitzvah portion:
Abraham inviting angels, wayfarers,
into his open tent.

Perhaps, Robert postulates,
the soul of my recently deceased father interceded
on high, causing the news to be hidden
until his grandson had closed the Torah scroll

And in the afternoon, the scroll is reopened,
and we read:
And Abraham came to eulogize over Sarah
and to cry for her
And according to the hidden story—
the one the mystics tell—
Abraham represents the soul,
and Sarah the body.


Now it is night. Half a block from the apartment
where, seventeen years earlier, my wife and I
lived when first wed, Jews of Pittsburgh
stand in the rain, holding candles. Eleven souls continue
their endless ascent into the region of mystery
then swoop back down to hover,
incandescently, over their former lives.

Away from the cameras and fanfare,
eleven bodies are ushered through
burial rituals—
pottery shards placed over twenty-two eyes,
eleven mouths.
Water poured to purify physical forms
that had, until recently, housed souls
whose last act on Earth was to whisper a prayer.

There is only one story:
Jews serving G‑d to the best of their ability—
with whatever Torah they know,
whatever strength they can muster,
and then some.

There is only one story, says the Zohar:
The souls of the Jewish people
throughout Jewish history
form one larger body.

The body bears more wounds
than we want to recall. It limps forward.
No one can explain how
it has not faltered.

Originally published on Poetry International.