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Story Archives

Atonement

Robin Becker

By Robin Becker

 

I’ve expanded like the swollen door in summer

           to fit my own dimension. Your loneliness

 

is a letter I read and put away, a daily reminder

           in the cry of the magpie that I am

 

still capable of inflicting pain

           at this distance.

 

Like a painting, our talk is dense with description,

           half-truths, landscapes, phrases layered

 

with a patina over time. When she came into my life

           I didn’t hesitate.

 

Or is that only how it seems now, looking back?

           Or is that only how you accuse me, looking back?

 

Long ago, this desert was an inland sea. In the mountains

           you can still find shells.

 

It’s these strange divagations I’ve come to love: midday sun

           on pink escarpments; dusk on gray sandstone;

 

toe-and-finger holes along the three hundred and fifty-seven foot

           climb to Acoma Pueblo, where the spirit

 

of the dead hovers about its earthly home

           four days, before the prayer sticks drive it away.

 

Today all good Jews collect their crimes like old clothes

           to be washed and given to the poor.

 

I remember how my father held his father around the shoulders

           as they walked to the old synagogue in Philadelphia.

[“Yom Kippur, Taos, New Mexico” from All-American Girl]

 

What is one thing I can do to nurture my relationships this year?

 

Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, begins at sunset this Tuesday.
 

 

Robin Becker is an American poet, critic, feminist, and professor.