by Rafaella Del Bourgo
Under a sky the color of mica and freshly cold,
the first home of my father’s father,
I sit on the platform skirting a temple,
its yard, earth packed by a thousand years of feet.
On the margins, gravel and rock;
a monk drags bamboo tines
to create concentric circles
like ocean waves lapping against a boulder.
He glances my way,
a lone American woman
close to the cemetery where my ancestors rest.
He lays down the rake,
comes to sit beside me,
the map of his faith
in the folds of his shabby robe.
I show him a photograph from 1901,
Sephardic Jews against a painted backdrop,
obis tight around flowered kimonos.
He nods to a younger monk,
and his face blossoms into smile
as we are served bowls of sweet, hot tea.
PHOTO: Suma Temple (Kobe, Japan). Photo by Sangaku.
NOTE: Kobe is the seventh-largest city in Japan. With a population of 1.5 millon, Kobe is located on the southern side of the main island of Honshū, about 19 miles west of Osaka. From the mid 1920s until the 1950s, the Kobe Jewish community was the largest Jewish community in Japan, formed by hundreds of Jews arriving from Russia, the Middle East, as well as from Central and Eastern European countries.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I very much liked the Japanese aesthetic, how they made beauty in simple gestures like carrying their lunches in knotted silk scarves. Even the plastic food for restaurant display windows seemed like art; I took home shrimp and peas, and a ball of vanilla ice cream with a maraschino cherry on top. The Japanese rock garden is a dry landscape of boulders set in gravel or sand which is raked to represent ripples in water. They are meant to create a sense of tranquility. I saw these in many of the Japanese temples I visited. Kobe was special because this was where my paternal grandfather was raised.
PHOTO: Japanese rock garden. Photo by Nmint.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rafaella Del Bourgo’s writing has appeared in journals such as Nimrod, The Jewish Women’s Literary Annual, The Adroit Journal, The Green Hills Literary Lantern, Caveat Lector, Puerto Del Sol, Rattle, Oberon, Spillway, and The Bitter Oleander. She has won many awards, including the Lullwater Prize for Poetry in 2003, and in 2006 the Helen Pappas Prize in Poetry and the New River Poets Award. In 2007, 2008, and 2013, she won first place in the Maggi Meyer Poetry Competition. The League of Minnesota Poets awarded her first place in 2009. In 2010, she won the Alan Ginsberg Poetry Award and the Grandmother Earth Poetry Prize. She was awarded the Paumanok Prize for Poetry in 2012, and then won first place in the 2013 Northern Colorado Writers’ Poetry Contest. Finally, she won the Mudfish Poetry Prize for 2017. Her collection I Am Not Kissing You was published by Small Poetry Press in 2003, and her chapbook, Inexplicable Business: Poems Domestic and Wild, was published in 2014 by Finishing Line Press. In 2012, she was one of 10 poets included in the anthology Chapter & Verse: Poems of Jewish Identity. She has traveled the world and lived in Tasmania and Hawaii. She recently retired from teaching college-level English classes, and resides in Berkeley, California, with her husband.