Writing the Apocalypse: The Sins I Sinned

Tashlich (the symbolic casting off of sins), on South Street. | Photo by Puma Perl

“Writing the Apocalypse” is a weekly series featuring the poems, essays, and recollections of Puma Perl, with subject matter influenced by her experiences as a NYC resident during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Author’s Note: The following poem was written prior to the observance of Yom Kippur, 2018, and performed that year and the next with my friend Seaton Hancock (aka Raven), who learned to blow his saxophone like a shofar for the occasion. For Jewish people, no matter the level of observance, Yom Kippur is a day of both atonement and opportunities–forgiveness of self and others, the admissions of sins directly to God, letting go of the physical so the spirit allows you to feel for those who hunger all year long. This year, we strive to keep hope in our hearts along with the pain we have witnessed and suffered. For those who observe, I wish you an easy fast and to all, a sweeter and better year in 5781.

The Sins I Sinned | BY PUMA PERL

The week before Yom Kippur

I went to get my shoes

from the Russian guy

on Grand Street, the one

with stars on his hands

 

One shoe was missing

He said I must have lost the other one

and called me an anti-Semite

 

I’m a Jew, I said,

Go find my shoe

 

Get out of my store,

He shouted,

the stars on his hands

blackening with rage

 

You better atone, I told him

Go to the water on Friday

You nasty man

 

I walked to the water

on Saturday

where the bridge begins

and the sidewalk ends

 

Thought about my sins

Ancient transgressions

denying me God’s grace

Rain washed over me

 

Mornings, afternoons

I wake,

reasons to live

more compelling

than reasons to die

 

Lift

the shades

Raise the window

Remember

 

Remember

hungry days

Brilliant as the blue

dresses I wore

Riding the B6 bus

to my grandmother’s house

in Brownsville

 

Breaking fast,

Grapes bursting,

Lips stained

with sweetness

 

It was my twelfth

birthday

Old enough

To fast, too young

to atone

for the sins

I had not yet sinned

before you

 

Today we sit

behind curtains,

Close

Open

Reveal the ark

Close

 

Stand

Listen

to the longest

note since

the golden man’s

trumpet played

 

The sins, the sins

The sins I sinned

before you

 

Love

cuts deeper

than shame

 

The tattooed lady

sings on the corner

No ink, no leather

allowed on Stanton Street

 

Only the sins

We sinned before you

 

I close my eyes

Return to the bridge

Horns blare,

Cars crash as I climb

down the ramp

Follow the river

Up through the Bronx,

back down

to the east

 

I see your ripped flannel shirt

Glittering in ghetto sun

Your high-top

Converse feet

climbing tenement steps

built for our Russian ancestors

Our wild hair shining

on 10th Street rooftops

 

In the synagogue

We sit in the back

The men dance

and kiss the Torah

 

For our sins before God

We will be cleansed

For the sins we sinned

before you

 

I know who waits for me

For the sins I sinned before you

He waits, he waits

for holy words and pages

Bullets spent

Chambers empty

Roads high as winds

and me on the bridge

Following the river

I’ll find you

 

Cleansed

of the sins I sinned before you

 

The sins we sinned

 

I’ll find you.

 

puma perl, 09/14/18

Puma Perl is a poet and writer, with five solo collections in print. The most recent is Birthdays Before and After (Beyond Baroque Books, 2019.) She is the producer/creator of Puma’s Pandemonium, which brings spoken word together with rock and roll, and she performs regularly with her band Puma Perl and Friends. She’s received three New York Press Association awards in recognition of her journalism, and is the recipient of the 2016 Acker Award in the category of writing. Her most recent books can be found by clicking here.

From 2018: The writer and saxophonist Seaton Hancock (aka Raven), at Coney Island Baby, performing “The Sins I Sinned” as part of the Sandy Lieb and Joe Vincent-produced Rock Hashanah show.

 

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