Humidity, thunderstorms, threatening hail- without hummingbirds, lizards and fragrant sage growing wild. I’m in a very different place now, back home, here in the Berkshire foothills, far from my month outside LA teaching and sharing stories. During this week before Tisha B’Av, I’m remembering a conversation with Nimrod (a young, post-army Israeli) about the hard work for men to reclaim our tears. Here’s a poem for those on this journey.
The first grown man I saw openly crying was in Jerusalem, on Tisha B’Av, our day of mourning and lament. I was in Jerusalem during the summer of 1987, sitting on the floor with the ash from a burnt egg on my forehead. When the chilling and eerie sounds that came from the book of Lamentations filled the room, I found not only one, but several men were crying.
Needless to say, growing up in Suburban Detroit, we boys did not learn to nurture our tears as a vital part of our humanity. My journey awakened that day, and has been supported by many including this amazing poet of truth- Jimmy Santiago Baco.
Do you have a favorite poem or story that has helped you on your journey?
PS Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av (10th if falls on Shabbat), a full fast day filled with mourning and laments. Remembering past tragedies including the siege and utter destruction of ancient Jerusalem and entering a period of exile and slavery. Many other national calamities have been added to the memory of this day of mourning. Along with the sorrowful chant of the book of Lamentations, reading Kinot (hebrew for poetic elegies) are also part of our remembering.
A Story: Reb Shimon Bar Yochai and his son Elazer were banished to a cave by the Romans- inside they survived because of the generosity of a Carob tree that was fruiting and a fresh stream that was flowing. They learned the mysteries of Torah with the Angel Gabriel for 12 years and survived. When they finally came back into the world- they saw, heaven forfend, people farming and not studying! Their eyes burned with the fire of righteousness and memory of roman persecutions and the fields burned wherever they gazed. A Bat Kol, a heavenly voice had to stop them. After another year in the cave- they came back out- yet Elazer still burned all that he saw- thankfully, his father was able to restore what he burned. What happened to Elazer? Reb Art Scroll suggests that only by writing of the Kinot was he able to soothe the inner burning that came out his eyes.
Contemporary communities also understand the wisdom that a day of grief is important in our world as well- our world which contains many persecutions and horrors portrayed in any daily newspaper. Tisha B’Av allows these truths to be acknowledged, in grief. To acknowledge that activism alone is not enough. The Rabbi’s emphasize this point in the Midrash by saying that the afternoon of Tisha B’Av is the time that the Mashiach, the Messiah will be born.
By Jimmy Santiago Baco
For the longest time,
I haven’t been able to cry.
Tears start to come while I’m watching a movie tears
starts to come,
swelling my whole body a tulip starting to open under moon,
then the petals of my eyelids
and something in me braces
and I don’t cry.
When we crashed into a telephone pole
my dad yelled me not to cry,
I was terrified, almost killed –
but don’t cry,
I couldn’t cry because men don’t cry.
When the dog bit me on the leg I couldn’t cry,
when Joey died I couldn’t cry –
how cool it would feel
to have a tear slide down the corner of my eye
on my cheek,
to the curve of my lip,
where I could taste it –
but I don’t cry.
Something blocks the paths, channels
under my skin.
Tear ducts are red cracked clay,
for thirty years,
since I was eight when I got a beating for crying.
My heart an open furnace oven door,
rage seething for tears to cool it down,
but coal hoveling men keep feeding it
don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry.
I want to untie my hands like a tired boxer’s gloves
and lay them down on the table, gripped in their tight
clench of defense,
and I want to grow new hands
moistened by my tears.
I love the color blue
to touch my chapped cheeks
and whisper in tears
But I’ve always had to stop it up in me, hold my breath back,
keep my mouth shut tight
so as not to cry.
Man, I cry,
and it’s a lie I don’t.
I embrace my brother and pray shoulder to shoulder.
I kneel and kiss earth,
and I cry — if only I could cry.
Don’t translate my tears into thought,
I want to sob autumn tears on my window,
streaking the pane blurring the world.
I want to fill every hole in my heart with glimmering tear pools,
fill my kitchen sink with tears,
just thinking of me not crying all these years,
makes me want to cry,
but I been taught not to cry –
big people don’t cry, people say,
ain’t those alligator tears boy,
can’t fool me with those tears –
Fooling no one but myself not crying
step aside –
I’m going to cry,
until my shirt is drenched,
and my hands shimmery wet
running down my face on my arms,
my legs and breast,
and you have to look at me,
because I’m drowning your manly ways in my tears,
to get back my tears.
I’m crying until there isn’t a single tear left
for what we been through not crying,
how we fooled ourselves thinking men don’t cry.
I’m crying on the bus, in bed, at the dinner table, on the couch,
enough to float Noah’s boat,
let out the robin of my heart,
bringing me back my own single shoot of greening
life again –
and you go fuck yourself
dry eyed days,
here I come,
giving you a Chicano monsoon season,
here comes this Chicano cry baby,
flooding prison walls,
my childrens’ bedrooms,
splashing and tear slinging
tears up to my ankles,
planting rice and corn and beans
in fields glimmering with my tears,
and all you dry skinned nut-cracking ball whackers,
don’t want to get your killer bone-breaking boots wet,
because I’m bringing you rain.
Goodbyes were crying events –
Goodbye to grandma, to my brother,
friends, my neighborhood,
teachers and other boys,
and I never shed a tear,
though I felt them coming up in me.
I bit my teeth down hard to hold the tears back,
lowered my face and thought about something else.
I kept hearing voices in me,
telling me not to cry, don’t cry, don’t cry!
Boys don’t cry,
leave yourself open,
become liable to get an ax in your heart by some non-crying fool,
be a sissy,
puto, you be hurting
yourself if you cry.
I hurt when I didn’t cry,
all those times when I didn’t cry ashamed
to in front of people,
fearful others would think I’m not a man,
fearful I’d be made fun of,
whole groups of us heard tragic news
and no one cries,
because it ain’t right –
we need to weep –
get up in the middle of the night,
and cry, like a endurance’s hips and stomach convulse during
child birth, we need to give birth
to that terrible convulsion of tears,
weep for those we never wept for,
let the legs shake and your arms embrace you
in a junkie habit for tears,
weep for the poor in prison
taken from their families,
the fieldworker’s daughter
eaten by cancer from pesticides,
for all those homeless
who couldn’t meet mortgage payments,
those sleeping under bridges,
and the hopeless,
cry our differences into a lake,
where we can all cleanse our goodbyes and apathy,
papas cry for their children,
let children cry in my arms,
men cry in my arms,
endurance cry in my arms,
let us all cry,
after lovemaking and fighting,
make cry a prayer,
a language made of whimpers and sniffles and sobs,
cry out loud, louder, cry baby, cry! Cry! Cry!