Tikkun olam – to mend the world.

it is our duty, as prophets, rabbis, sages,
saintly teachers spelled out over years,
decades, centuries, to use ourselves,
our powers, our hearts and hands to
heal the wounded world, and so to be
a part of its Creator’s work, creation.

On this autumn afternoon, soaking rain
pouring down, dusk beginning to fall,
I come to my window, chair, to this
unearned blessing of a safe existence
in a world cruel, unyielding, barbarous,
and wonder what I should be doing

with my pen, words, my mind, fears,
my imagination to change this reality.
If we could imagine a better world…
we can, do – and yet we don’t, can’t.
We cannot make it exist by force of
will or mind, by heart or hopes.

I am sitting here in a chair built by
love, by the hands of a man who loves
me. I am safe only because of luck,
the good fortune of being who I am,
living where I do now, at this moment,
for this day. But as I am writing this,

in Gaza right now there is death and
suffering beyond my imagining being
inflicted in the name of the faith of
my ancestors on other inhabitants of
that land who have been cast beyond
the pale, the obligation of mending.

Over centuries, those ancestors were
both oppressors and oppressed. How
can we acknowledge a darkness we’ve
refused to see in ourselves, our past,
souls? Only by looking at it will we be
able to turn away, freed from its grasp.

I need to invent a prayer that can sustain
me, despite all I know of how I will not
be sustained. Sitting here now, I feel
the embrace of a love which I know can
not live forever, as the man who loves
me cannot, as I cannot, except in this

moment of being here, seeing this, of
writing this. It is not enough to mend
the world. It has to be. All I can do, here,
now, is mourn what I cannot mend.


Sandra Kohler’s third collection of poems, Improbable Music, (Word Press) appeared in May, 2011. Earlier collections are The Country of Women (Calyx, 1995) and The Ceremonies of Longing, (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003). Her poems have appeared in journals and online publications, including The Raven’s Perch and The Beloit Poetry Journal.