Poinsettias and Christmas Trees

Poinsettias and Christmas Trees

Jews are often Adamant about
Christmas Trees. My friend Jeany
daughter of Survivors
grew up in Ohio she said
No Tree Ever. Shelly at lunch
Orthodox Caregiver she has two sets
of dishes she takes care
of our friend Henry she used to be
New Jersey Mob Wife she says that
the women on Jersey Shore are
her friends she said No Jew Would Ever
Buy a Poinsetta. Poinsettas she declared
with Large Adamance are
definitely not Jewish.
We often define ourselves by otherness.
Who we are and who we aren’t.
What we’d never do.
We like Us and Them Holidays
Never We
where Judah and the Maccabees
defeat Large Evil Troops.
My family of Origin
where I was born they were
a little like that We Don’t Do This
Because We’re Jews.
It took me years to realize
that it is possible to do
whatever we want Because We’re Jews.
Or just Because We are Human Beings
that want a Tree or a Poinsetta
or Anything.

Armenian Christmas

(Dear EVERYONE If you haven’t looked at Matthew’s and my Chanukah postcards, they are
on the ON BEING blog EVERY DAY for a few more days. A Chanukah Miracle)

For eighty five years
Peter’s family meets once a year
in someone’s home a different someone
to see one another
and celebrate Christmas.
Children and grandchildren
of the Turkish genocide they are
his mother Arshalous’s family.

The first time I went thirty two years ago
it was at his Cousin Gracie’s.
I’d never been to a party like theirs.
Shouting and laughing and eating
and dancing for hours. The first year I actually
didn’t say a word. But I ate.

This year we left early and drove
with Noah and Chesray
to Alexandria Virginia
home of Victoria, David
and their two children.
Victoria has always been
one of my favorites
even though she is a Republican.
I think she’s a Republican
because of the South and maybe her family
I’ve never understood why anyone
would be a Republican. About half
of Peter’s family are Republicans.

She married an identical triplet
a literary triplet who writes poems.
Peter’s family is warm and unexpectedly
loud and generous. Everyone cooks.
Everyone eats. We all have a good time.
Many relatives have endured
unspeakable tragedies. When they talk
about the past they talk about Brooklyn
not Turkey. They don’t say too much
about their lives.

The older I get the more I try to understand
what connection actually means
how we all come to be connected
what our responsibilities
are to each another if we can broaden
our idea of what family means
if some differences matter
more than others if being a good person
is the same as wanting a just life.


a postcard for the fourth day of Chanukah with Matthew’s amazing photographs read the others if you feel like it
and maybe even write a sentence saying I read these

People email me
secret emails
sometimes a text
only I can see their question
are these stories true?
I wonder if Matthew gets
secret emails asking
him about his photos.
all stories and photos
are true even mine.



Some years ago a beautiful Malaysian woman
introduced me to her friend Siddhartha.
We all became friends, and would eat dosas
in Jackson Heights and listen to Siddhartha.
He’s the kind of person who vanishes. After a while
he did. Two months ago he messaged me:
I have something to say. Can I come for coffee
tomorrow morning at nine? Sure I said
but Siddhartha did not appear.
Yesterday early morning I saw him
on the subway platform. “I’m going
to a Franz Fanon movie about oppression
and there’s only one showing,” he said.
“What about Birdman?” I asked.
“No more movies about white
man’s oppression,” he said.

Can you read two poems?


Dear Readers,
I want you to read
my are they Chanukah poems
to see Matthew’s photographs
to go on the onbeing blog
for eight days of Chanukah
if you want to only
if you want to because
I know by know that
most people don’t want to
read poems. A poem
said a successful middle aged man
in my workshop a few weeks ago
a poem is like a root canal
only worse. (Imagine two)


Chanukah The Second Day,
Or How Did Our Poems Get to be On Being (it wasn’t easy)

One day my husband who has tinnitus
always ringing in his ears always
no one knows how to stop ear ringing
he sleeps with headphones and listens because
listening often overcomes ringing
one day my husband heard Naomi Rachel Remen
writer and doctor tell a completely wonderful story
with one of those VOICES and when I woke up
he played it for me. The story was about
what life is what matters, and then,
who she was. Who she was took precedence.
I listened to her story Over and Over.
I even wrote her a letter.
Maybe On Being
where she belonged was where
I belonged too. Not that I want to
Belong Anywhere. Not really.
I wanted my poems to belong.
My poems are happiest
with Matthew Septimus’s pictures.
He shows what I can’t and what he shows
is often linked to my words.
I am not a collaborative type. Neither is Matthew.
So we worked well together for years.
Trying to show what holiness looks like
photographing holiness in a record store
under the subway with my poet friend
Pedro Pietri he called himself El Reverendo
people who are for ordinary reasons
extraordinary. He photographed mailboxes
and old men and all the miraculous odd beauty that he sees
over and over and I wrote poems and poems.
A few years ago I thought we should be on On Being.
I wrote a letter a pitch
even though pitch is a word like blog
and tweet that is intrinsically problematic.
Like everything else, it took years
and then some months and then today
Peter was googling On Being Just to See
and there was Matthew’s picture,
and my poem.

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