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Friends, I am going to try and break a land-sea blog posting record and say what I have to say in under 15 minutes (for me, not you). Why? Because I’m writing at the dining room table of my dear friends Julie & Rich (while they watch So You Think You Can Dance) due to climate change causing day after day of crazy-ass storms and said storms causing significant power outages in Bloomington, including at my humble abode. I want to be done by 10 p.m. (it’s now 9:48) so they can throw me out in a timely fashion.

Anyhow, I’m feeling a bit in the wilderness — though admittedly a fairly comfortable wilderness — running from coffee shop to friend’s house, looking for a place to plug in my laptop and charge my iPhone and get a little work done. And not coincidentally, this week we move into the 4th book of Torah, B’midbar / In The Desert.

You may know this book as “Numbers,” which is a direct result of later translations and a focus on the census that takes up the first part of the text, a census that is about counting up the warriors about to take on the inhabitants of the land of milk & honey promised to our intrepid Israelites.

My friend & teacher Rachel Barenblat has a lovely teaching on her blog concerning the unique “count” of each individual. I urge you to read it.

I offer, instead, this poem written many years ago on a visit to the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial. Getting ready for war is no small thing; would that we take it as seriously as we do the raw numbers.


Take up the head-count
     Kenneth Lloyd Cody
of the entire community of Israel
     Corporal HMM-165
by their families
     United States Marine Corps
by their fathers’ houses
     of Griffith, Indiana
by the number of names of every male
     born early August 1953
by their per capita.
     last seen July 11, 1972
From twenty years old and up
     when his CH-53 helicopter
everyone going out to the army…
     was struck by an SA-7 missile
You shall take account of them by their army units
     outside Quang Tri City,
as declared by lineage
     a universe away from State Road 67.
as numbered by name
     He is forever set in stone
and counted for battle in the wilderness.
     polished and still
As declared by their lineage
     Panel 01W Line 055
by their fathers’ names
     near Gene Edmond Davis
by their records
     Philip Ducat
by their families
     and Thomas Clem
everyone going out to the army for Israel.
     young men going out to the wilderness.
5 Comments leave one →
  1. Sarah Rubin permalink
    05/26/2011 10:43 pm

    Perfect timing, with Bamidbar falling on Memorial Day Weekend – thank you! It fits with my thoughts – understanding what it means to “count” – on Memorial Day, in the middle of the Omer – people, for what purpose. A family email just came around remembering the lost, and I was surprised to see my grandfather listed as MIA, apparently the official listing, though I have for my entire life thought of him as having “died” and mostly “went down with his ship in the South Pacific.” MIA has such a different feel to it, and left me with a strange feeling as if he might somehow show up (at age 90). Thanks for bringing the Parashah into this feeling for me!

    • sue swartz permalink*
      05/27/2011 6:20 am

      You’re welcome — and thanks for the connection to the Omer and the ways in which people “count.”

  2. 05/27/2011 5:38 am

    Oh, Sue, so sorry you are entering into your own personal wilderness — though wow, what a way to find resonance between “real life” and Torah! (Thank you for the kind link, too, btw.)

    I love the poem you’ve posted here, the way the two threads interweave.

    • sue swartz permalink*
      05/27/2011 6:22 am

      Thanks Rachel! I haven’t looked at this poem for years, considering it a failed experiment or somehow not good enough to share, but when I sat down to compose a speedy post, it came to mind. All of a sudden — it, too, counted!

  3. Bruce Solomon permalink
    05/31/2011 2:55 pm

    Wow, powerful poem.

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