Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Second Grade and Second Class

At Norbert Blei's workshop last summer, we talked a little about the influence of Jewish literature and a little, too, about our views of Jewish/non-Jewish relations. We were to think of our first awareness of being Jewish, or of our first meeting with a Jew.
Several of my correspondents have reminded me of the little piece I wrote on the topic. I'll reprint it here, with apologies for possible mis-spellings of names and Yiddish words.

My First Jew

Mrs. Steinberg, my second grade teacher at the Oklahoma Avenue School, kitty-corner from Thompkin’s ice cream parlor and just up from Rexall drugs where I got caught stealing Hershey’s chocolate, what can I remember of you?

After first grade’s militant Miss Marshall, I was already up to here with shiksas; not that I knew from shiksas, that would come later. Not that I knew from Jewish; that too, would come later.

Of course, I’d already heard the term “dirty jew” here and there, mostly from the unscrubbed snot-noses of my neighborhood who also taught me about “dirty japs”, and taught all the other loveless lies designed to demean.

But Pa would come home from building new booths at Oscar Plotkin’s deli or building cabinets at the Goldberg’s house and he’d talk of what wonderful and wise people were these Jews. But, what did Pa know? He was a small, hard man with a big, soft heart – he always saw the best in everybody – what about the grimy ragman who bought rags in the alleys? What about “jewing you down”, to get a better deal, to get the best of you?

No, Mrs. Steinberg, you were Dad’s kind of Jew; nurturing and loving and making me excited to get to school and eager to learn new things. Too bad I didn’t figure out ‘til years later that YOU were Jewish.

Oh, that you had been my first Jew! It was not to be. My first Jew was no Jew at all, but a phantasm, a myth, born of ignorance and bigotry, of hatred and envy. My first Jew was very, very old when we first met, but he is still very much alive, and he lives . . .
just down the street.

-Ralph Murre

Monday, November 28, 2005


photo by barry murre


Where’s the boy
whose dark eyes laughed
as he ran the pastured hills?

And the boy
who drove the tractor
that furrowed October’s brow?

And where’s the boy
who knew what the brook
was babbling about?

Where’s the boy who knew
how the oak would split
when it was ready to be fire?

And the boy
who delivered the steaming calf
when it was breeched?

And where’s the boy
who dreamed the dreams
and told them to a dog?

Has he gone into town, then?
Taken the smooth-paved road?
Do you expect he’ll be back?

- Ralph Murre

Saturday, November 26, 2005



A bright spirit walks unseen;
truth, but not fact,
and is given direction
to the long-shuttered
Church of Holy Myth
and Mystery, where
no parishioners kneel
and the last believer
tends the flowered graves,
and the bell tolls
the unprovable,
and a trick of light hides
what might be,
and the truth is carried off
like a suitcase
of warm clothes,
and the facts
won't keep out the cold.

- Ralph Murre

Wednesday, November 23, 2005



Like third-class,
he gazes from the dim hull.
Porthole; too near waterline,
bright world passing,
opening glass to breathe
may drown him
as, airless, he listens
to roar of days going by,
faint sound of lifeboats rusting,
well-oiled hum,
well-heeled sigh.
The deafening weight
of the disappointed,
the inaudible lightness
of the hopeful.
The orchestra and dancing above.

- Ralph Murre

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


Followed the van of a schizophrenic today. Her driving was fine, and gave no hint of her mental condition. Her two bumper stickers were the tip-off: one advocated random acts of kindness while the other urged voting for Bush/Cheney!

Monday, November 21, 2005

rock photo



Rock – smoothworn, black, warm of sun
Big enough to sit on
Still a stranger on this dolomite shore
Having just arrived at the last ice age
Having left your parentland
Before it knew its name
Talk to me in your slowquiet
Sloweloquent way
Talk to me of listening
Talk to me of patience
Tell me of a time
Before steam, before sail, before paddle
Tell me of a time
Before alewife, before trout, before sturgeon
Tell me of a time
Before clocks, before calendars, before time
Teach me . . . sloweloquence
Teach me . . . slowquiet
Teach me . . . Rock.

- Ralph Murre

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The Helmsman

Construction Ahead

An old and e-nept guy from the Midwest attempts to build a blog. Show the world what's going on in the gray matter behind the graying exterior. Snapshots of voyages, literal and figurative. No need to check in on a minute-by-minute basis. Postings to be irregular, at best. An occasional poem. A photo. A love song to the planet. A snide remark. A daydream.