Edited and introduced by Gibson Fay-LeBlanc.

Our poem this week comes from Lee Sharkey, an award-winning poet who lived and worked for many years in western Maine and now lives in Portland. Her fifth full-length collection, “Walking Backwards,” was recently released by Tupelo Press.

The title, “Tashlich,” refers to the ceremony of tossing bread into lakes or streams during Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which starts tonight. The tossing of bread into naturally flowing water symbolizes the casting off of burdens from the previous year.

Here, the ritual helps the speaker of the poem transform. She becomes “a bush flowered with bees.” She feels “Words travel through pitch-dark centuries.”

She is left (and we are left) with “ruach,” which is Hebrew for “breath.”



By Lee Sharkey

I kneaded a loaf of my failings and fed it to the fish.

Sleepless, worn thin by presumption,

pierced by regret, I stumbled, fumble-tongued.

I woke. Something was golden and riding the wind:

either it was small and close or it was large and distant,


maybe a spider dancing on a thread,

maybe a leaf in a languid loop de loop

I was drawn to enter.

For a moment I had the integrity of an envelope,

for a moment I was a bush flowered with bees,

a beaver pond’s stilled eye.


Then wind swept in a tunnel where leaves came tumbling,

first gold, then terra cotta. One step, another.

One mother’s child, one father’s darling following,

bent-kneed, wind-combed—

My friend says we are all strands in the web of life,

ethereal beings waiting to taste the flowers.


I have Jewish feet and a feet-on-the-ground stubbornness;

I’m not much for such vocabularies. Where I come from

whoever heard of an afterlife.

But mother said “spoon” and I said “spoon,”

mother said “Don’t touch the filthy ashtray” and I said

“Here mommy, filthy ashtray mommy said don’t touch.”


Words travel through pitch-dark centuries

to touch my recalcitrant body.

“Ruach,” they say and I say “ruach.”

Gibson Fay-LeBlanc is Portland’s poet laureate. This column is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Poem copyright © 2016 Lee Sharkey. The poem was first published in RHINO in 2016 and appears here by permission of the author.

Comments are no longer available on this story

filed under: