The Rule Against Perpetuities
For Myron Jacob Poliner
We followed the law, Dad, buried you with the words of God,
whole prayer books thrown into the grave
along with the dirt that would cover you.
As we shoveled
and dropped the books, the rabbi read psalms
the whole while. It took a while.
Earlier, at the synagogue, I felt you,
a sudden force
nearly knocking me over. I was shocked at the touch,
and afraid, but soon realized it was you,
speaking a new language,
because it was new. In the old language
we told the best stories of your life,
and for the first time in my life
I felt I really understood you.
The law—your life’s work—favors freedom
to sell what we’re bequeathed
lest “the long arm of the dead,”
by way of wills,
control our lives. The rule is against perpetuities. . . .
But now that you’re there
and we’re here what I say is
break the rule,
Dad, let your long arms reach forth and help.
Let the words of God that we buried with you
be the comfort your long arms are to us.
In your transformation
may your new way become a fluency
we can hear. You always did talk a lot. At the funeral
I even spoke of your unique friendliness.
The crowd listened, knew. We go on.
Elizabeth Poliner’s books include the poetry collection, What You Know in Your Hands (David Robert Books), a Beltway Poetry Quarterly Best Book selection for 2015, and the novel, As Close to Us as Breathing (Little, Brown & Co.), winner of the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize in fiction, finalist for the Ribalow Prize for Jewish fiction and the Library of Virginia’s People’s Choice Award in fiction, and an Amazon Best Book of 2016. Her poetry has appeared in The Sun, The Southern Review, The Hopkins Review, Ilanot Review, Seneca Review, and many other journals. She teaches at Hollins University where she directs the Jackson Center for Creative Writing.