Elya Braden took a long detour from her creative endeavors to pursue an eighteen-year career as a corporate lawyer and entrepreneur. She is now a writer and mixed-media artist living in Los Angeles and is Assistant Editor of Gyroscope Review. Her work has been published in Calyx, Prometheus Dreaming, Rattle Poets Respond, The Coachella Review, Wild Roof Journal and elsewhere and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. Her chapbook, Open The Fist, was released by Finishing Line Press. You can find her online at www.elyabraden.com.
Bread and Strangers
“Surely God is in this place, and I did not know it.”
Mingling in congregations of unnamed faces,
I have chased God through many doors,
taught at my mother’s empty breast
that hunger is a testament to faith. In this time
of pandemic, I am, again, a wandering Jew,
leapfrogging from Zoom to Zoom,
cyberspace surveillant of Mishpacha
from sunset beaches to Rocky Mountains
to New York’s crowded chanting in unsynced
melodies. I’ve lost all sense of home. I join a group
of loosely braided strangers near lifeguard station 23
for Tashlich. In masks and non-latex disposable
gloves, we gather empty bottles, cigarette butts,
a used condom, a lonely red toy shovel
as our Tikkun Olam. If only it were that easy
to heal the world. Seven people, fourteen hands
and miles of sand we will never touch. Don’t
think, I tell myself, of the islands of plastic
clogging the arteries of the sea. We fill
a grocery bag as we march from parking lot
to surf. I burrow my feet into wet sand.
Ground myself. Is God here? I squint
into the sun’s reproach splintering the waves,
sunder the day-old roll I bought to serve
as my modern-day Azazel. What rituals
we have conceived to relieve the chafing
weight of all our daily failures. Every tower
I build undone by tide. And yet, each day I wake
to feed the cat and weekly shop for two fragile neighbors
who wipe down every egg, apple, milk jug, pickle jar.
Now, I reach into my bag, cast a fistful of bread
into the waters to expunge my sins.
The seagulls shrill a chorus of gratitude
as they tussle over crusts and crumbs.