Rodger Kamenetz’s work in poetry began with The Missing Jew (1979) and includes as well The Lowercase Jew (2003). His most recent books of poetry are Yonder (2018) and Dream Logic (2019). His poems have appeared recently in The Southern Review and Image and in dozens of anthologies. His website is www.kamenetz.com.
Rodger Kamenetz, The Lowercase Jew, pp. 67-70.
Happy is the one who … does not sit with scorners.
Just like a tree that standing by the water
we shall not be moved.
-Civil Rights anthem
happy is the one who does not sit
on the crooked stool,
who stands, satisfied with
one bag of sugar, of tea,
one slice of lemon,
white china, Formica countertop,
the clock with its black hands.
Happy is the one who does not sit
on the rusty seat by the broken mirror,
but closer to the register, taking in
the aroma of fresh grease and the ketchup squeezer.
Happy is the old man with the daily news
murmuring quietly to himself day and night.
The headlines jump up and down their fonts,
but his voice is steady as he shakes his head.
Happy is the old woman quietly studying the crosswords
and filling in the blanks with pen & capitals.
Happy is the student who studies at night
with black coffee and the sugar shaker
like a white tower in the sky.
Happy is the one who slides on life
and does not stick to the griddle.
Happy is the check, added correctly,
with the smiley face and the “Thanks!”
Happy is the name of the waitress
printed on a badge
and the customer secret in his own wallet
who pulls an extra bill and lays it on the table.
Happy is the short-order cook
who forgets time and space
with a spatula and an apron.
Happy is the world outside
balanced on the appetites
that enter through the door
with the hydraulic hinge
and exit later, full and satisfied.
Happy is the air in the room buzzing
from ear to nose to mouth, tasting,
looking, inhaled, and swallowed.
Happy is the hamburger bun
with tiny flowers of wheat
like wheels and gears turning.
Unhappy is the meat,
the slaughtered cow,
Happy is one who does not mock with the mochers,
who lives in the apartment down the street from the diner
and dwells in solitude
that’s open 24 hours a day.
Happy is the one rooted like a tree in the great life,
who draws from the porous earth
sap, leaf, juice, and fruit.
Happy the bug that eats the fruit,
the fly that lurches on the flower.
Happy the radiation flying from the petal,
invisible to the eye of man.
Happy the invisible which can’t be seen,
the splash of bright color and disappearing air,
the ancient webwork of filaments
under the ground, and the mushroom heads
that pop in the spring rain.
Blessed all life unknown, the burning
filament of desire that lights the hallway,
air around the subway sign.
Happy is the dust mote blowing past the door
in the breeze that makes rails in the air.
Happy is the chaff that loved the wheat
and left it without pity or sadness,
the wheat bear in the arms of the harvester.
Happy are the wicked
singing at the top of their lungs.
Happy the neurotic in the endless technicality
of their unhappiness.
Happy the quiet man in his deep meditation
disturbed by the bass of his neighbor’s speakers.
When the clear image comes to him at last,
it will gather every blunt and broken noise
at the bottom of sleep
and he will see the roots of wisdom tap
the source of life, cold and stinging fresh.
Happy is the night and the path unlit in the dark.
Happy the stumbling, the falling down.
Happy the snow on the freezing body
and the last hat and muffler.
Happy the umbrella switched to a new owner
in the afterlife of umbrellas.
Happy matter and anti-matter
and the bit more of right than left
that makes corners scorn scorning
and the wicked turn from wickedness.
As in the motion of particles,
the motion of the creek over the rocks,
the happy disappear into the unhappy
and the unhappy recirculate into the happy
and the leaves fall into soil
and rise again as leaves:
happy, happy, and happy.