Pleasanton Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - November 5, 2010

From earthquakes to prayers

by Deborah Grossman

Thanks for everyone who helped make BOO-etry 2 a success on Halloween, especially the Creatures of Impulse, the city of Pleasanton's talented teen improv group.

In February I had a very real scary encounter with an 8.8. earthquake in Chile. I was sleeping at a 130-year-old hotel at a winery an hour south of Santiago when I woke up to what sounded like trains roaring above and beneath me and lamps crashing to the floor. The quake lasted for 90 seconds, which is quite a different experience from the 15-second Loma Prieta trembler I recalled in '89. I didn't exactly know what I was doing as I whispered, "Stop," while being shaken violently for a minute and a half. Here is what I discovered when I wrote a poem a month later.


I didn't know prayer.

I never passed the test

or even signed up for the course

Prayer escaped me,

like learning to love anchovies

or folding sweaters neatly on the rack

When prayer appeared once a year

at Repentance Time,

I tapped my chest and swore

I would be more mindful.

The day marched on

and Prayer straggled behind

My Grandfather was intimate

with Prayer. Three times a day

he turned to Jerusalem

Rocking back and forth,

he spilled his words and hymns

into space for his God

I should have looked up

to his kindly eyes under his prayer cap

and talked to him

But he would only have given me

his sweet, gentle smile

and told me I'd understand later

Maybe tonight I'll blow a kiss

and a few words to the sky

and tell him the time has come

Coming soon

On the subject of how poetry fits into our daily lives, our next event is "Poetry and Prayer: A Panel Discussion on Poetry as a Language of Faith" to be held from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 16, at the Firehouse Arts Center, 4444 Railroad Ave. I'll host a panel discussion with several Tri-Valley clergy and learned members from various faiths to discuss the role poetry plays in their religious tradition.

By reading examples of poetry from their liturgy, the participants will speak about the significance of poetry in their faith and how poetry impacts their services. They will share stories and perspective on how symbolic meaning is communicated through poetry. We will encourage dialogue to seek similarities or differences in poetic approaches in the liturgies.

Participants will include Rabbi Raleigh Resnick, Rabbi, Tri-Valley Chabad, Pleasanton; the Rev. Catherine Cascade, Chaplain, Hope Hospice, Dublin, and Buddhist priest, Berkeley Zen Center; Rabbi Richard Winer, Rabbi, Beth Emek Congregation, Pleasanton; the Rev. Pamela Cranston, Chaplain, Hope Hospice and Episcopalian priest; and Nora Talebi, a member of the Speaker's Bureau of the Islamic Network Group in San Jose.

Cost is $5; students, free with ID. There will not be an open mic at this event.

Deborah Grossman is Pleasanton's Poet Laureate. Email her at


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