Let us now relate the power of this day’s holiness, for it is awesome
and frightening… On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed…who will live,
who will die…who by water and who by fire… who will enjoy tranquility,
who will suffer…
–U’netaneh Tokef prayer, from the Jewish New Year liturgy
On Rosh Hashanah eve, when I was ten, my friend
Mike’s house was destroyed by fire. For hours
it seemed, or it might have been minutes, I watched
it burn from my bedroom window, the wild flames
illuminating the evening sky. We used to trade
baseball cards at his kitchen table and I wondered
if he was able to save them. That night, in a dream,
I stood by my window and watched Mike, South-side
Irish Catholic, blow a shofar, tall as a ten-year old boy.
With each blast, flames shot out, as if from the mouth
of a dragon. I knew I should watch, he was my friend,
but the light from the fire hurt my eyes and I turned away.
I have not seen Mike for forty years, do not recall his face.
Has he lived a tranquil life? Has he suffered? On Rosh
Hashanah, I remember the boys we were; sliding cards
across formica. Mantle for McCovey, Gibson for Drysdale.
Dreaming of the cards that would, one day, bear our own faces.
Never suspecting how awesome and frightening this life can be.