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Click to enlarge picture Click to enlarge picture. Dwelling: for the Shekhinah
Richard Berengarten




Dwelling ~ for the Shekhinah

In this sequence of ten sonnets, ‘Dwelling’ is associated with the Shekhinah (Hebrew שכינה), which in the Kabbalah signifies the manifestation of divinity in feminine aspect. This word derives from the Hebrew verb שכן [shakan], ‘to settle, inhabit, dwell, in-dwell, abide’. See for example Exodus 40:35: “And Moses was not able to enter into the Tent of the Congregation, because the cloud abode [shakan] thereon, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle.” The word for ‘tabernacle' itself, משכן [mishkan], ‘residence, dwelling place’), is cognate. In my writings, the Shekhinah is associated both with Gerard Manley Hopkins’s conception of inscape and instress, and with our English words radiance and glory. The last of these words is cognate with clear. At once immanent and transcendental, the Shekhinah is often ‘happened upon’ (discovered, recovered, uncovered) among ephemeral qualities and effects of light and sound that appear to inhere in (settle on, cling to, attach to, belong to) more substantial phenomena. This sequence forms the first part of a book entitled Notness, which consists of one hundred ‘metaphysical’ sonnets. It will be published by Shearsman Books in the spring of 2015. This title is an anagram of Sonnets.

Moon over sea

Times when joy’s so full I feel I could burst –
when in fact ‘I’ does burst: explodes in thous-
ands of connecting splinters, the way those
moonflecks spill and ripple tide-wide waves. Best
then never swell to encompass this beast
(many-faced) identity. Rather with these
phantasms, let all fail, flake, fly. Since all withers
eventually, why flinch, fluster, flail, wail, boast?
Catch joys rather in their moments of disappearing
into unthinking, únthought, thought’s entire
notness – past fellow feeling, past fearing
of falling apart, past loss, past past desire –
and never mind their melting or those searing
yellow and blue flames vaulting in black fire.


Gift to my heart, my soul’s hostess and home,
interior, bless’d before time ever was,
before wherefores and whys, before because,
temple of skies with starred or clouded dome;
treasure so quickly gone I cannot wait
when loss sets in with its cold stony grin
and occupies all space that’s left within –
useless I call, Gone, gone, but call too late
through absence to scry miserable fate.
Yet home is this and you whatever this
in presence proffers to my innerness –
you guest, you gust of wind, you swinging gate –
with you and this now how could I not still
be sure that I belonged in miracle?


Where does your skin, or mine, begin or end?
Stilled in the wake of storms we woke and spurred,
my borders, lying next to yours, float blurred
among these waves we failed to tire or spend.
Through hand-clasp, elbow-crook, hip-fold, knee-bend,
you wrapped me ín you as our passion stirred
(and through each other’s passions, more incurred.
And still our bodies merge. Our beings blend.
What shall be said then (rich loss? faint tristesse?)
when what we know is this calm tenderness?
How sudden separation is – and yet
now, as we sleep-wake, cool net curtains let
kind breeze in from this sunny afternoon.
Relishing this, we’ll shower, go out soon.

Night bathing, Aegean

On the beach we strip, watching pin-eyed ships
flicker through dark. Nor shall we wait to hide
our nakedness, but running, cast aside
warm sun-bronzed skins of daylight’s swimming dips.
Now you are all moons, ovals in ellipse
orbiting me. Pale, glistening, purified,
slow we come in to land, lapped by the tide –
to suck out salt from Aphrodite’s lips.
Listen, love, to the waves. Hump-backed, they’re hauling
nets of black light around the shores of Greece.
A creaking-timbered moon, full sailed, is trawling
this August night for shooting stars, its fleece;
while, curled up in their wake, someone lies calling
small white cries, like a seagull, for release.

Though numbed by passing

Though numbed by passing and surpassing fear
and bound to being on this trembling ground
I stand on all the while you spin me round
the axis of a passion or a year,
giddied I listen, having no choice but hear
your song composed of noteless silent sound,
as if unhemmed, and your whole nature crowned
in glints, caught up in waves, now blurred, now near.
Over the waters, shimmering, a face
I’ve half thought yours appears to smile and call
and back I call, Time, come, I am the space
you long to lodge in, and take over all
its darkest corners from, and light in grace,
unsure if still I stumble, rise, or fall.

True to your absence, glory

Is glory in the residue, mere evidence,
in shining track, in afterglow, in spoor?
Being too poor to meet you in your residence
I plead with glory, greet me at your door,
fully resplendent, present, now, revealed
hostlike to your main tenant in this space.
But you come always partially concealed
in mist, with indistinctly profiled face
hanging in haze, ghostlike. We shall remain
true to your absence, glory, seeing you are
bright only as a long exploded star,
a mote in darkness, spreading like a stain,
present but in the shrinking and the swelling,
their course in timespace, and their aftertelling.

Insomniac presence

To wake up, and to be – being wide awake –
are different. The first calls dawn, arising,
a first sun pouring light across the lake,
brilliance for seeing through, not analysing,
Night, sinking fast, a drowning wreck, capsizing
under the ghosthood of its foamless wake,
gives way, itself away, all compromising,
and brittle vials of dark expand and break.
But I dream of a being that can’t sleep
whose constant state is steadily aware
of all that is and can be, anywhere.
Insomniac presence, missing you, I weep,
denied in thought-knots as I watch and keep
calling for you, on you, who are not there.

Radiance, palpable

Time is a chance we cannot choose but take.
Outside it, from this world at least, the odds
are nought to zero. Push our luck and break
rank from all other runners, not being gods?
If we’d been brought to life through play or mime
into some scarcely recognizable vast
non-time, un-time, anterior to time,
in which the very pastness of the past
had turned (or has, or even will have turned)
into radiance, palpable – to a glory
so overspilling presence that the burned
disintegrating day-ends of our story
dissolved – then, might we really take our chance
to be, outside of being, in that radiance?

This scintillating night

This scintillating night is full of subtlest
variations of light. They interlace
then cancel, like expressions on a face,
yours, in this case. How curiously we’re blessed,
witnessing this, as if being called, addressed
directly, on this huge-dimensioned base
by all the puzzling splendour of time-space
that placement and momentum might attest.
So let’s be true, then, to each other’s love,
though what we’d track in passing can’t be touched –
scarcely discerned – in those far heights above;
and though we pass like shoals of arrows clutched
by wind in soaring flight and lightning-flecked
in sentient transience here all things connect.

Soul of my soul

Soul of my soul, my soul’s inner retreat
and nucleus, you still innermost space
that occupy no space yet light her face
in glance of recognition when we meet –
you, instant commonplace on way or street
as stone but quite untouchable in place
being her possessionless pure grace
and miracle – perfectly incomplete
for being instantaneous, lacking name,
beginningless, unpassing, without end –
movement through leaves, sensed radiance and sheen
in all things, yet yourself always unseen –
in me be present yet and through me send
breath, spirit, ghost, and ecstasy of flame.