13th December 2022
4 minutes read
A Gloss on the Ten Commandments
translated by Anna Bentley
13th December 2022
4 minutes read
- I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
I know who you are, Lord,
And I’m grateful to you.
But, sweet Lord above,
who else could I believe in,
when you’re Jahweh,
Allah, Buddha, Isis,
Zeus, Jupiter, Ra,
and Babba Mária,
Bull, Swan and the Bear;
when you’re Pallas Athene,
Demeter, Hera, Charon,
The Ark of the Covenant, Nature
You’re the Invisible and the
Only, constantly changing
your face and your place
for a new one—so every people in
every time can take in what you are,
can come to know you and find you.
You are a column of fire,
a footprint in the sand.
- You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.
So, no replacing your conceptual form
with a picture.
If All is One: and is also You—
then what is left of the world
So, when I write, I should
keep your commandment—but how?
- You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
Anyone who badmouths you, Lord,
has no fear, but does have teeth of iron:
they fear no bolt from heaven…
- Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.
The servants, the animals, the laborers are resting.
Say ‘Rest!’ to the roaring elements,
say ‘Halt!’ to the avalanches,
to the lightning, the volcanoes, the bitter hail.
Tell hunger and tell thought
to take a break in the middle of a sentence,
tell the barking guns, and tell the
beggars, the children old before their time,
the epidemics and gleeful hatred,
tell the cramps, the fevers, the tumors,
that this is the sabbath, the day of rest—so stop!
For all of these let rest be blessed,
This is the actual Promised Land. Fix all
your eye can see in six days. Then on the seventh
just stand in this Earth, this other-world, and gaze.
- Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
They’re fallible, parents. Try to understand them,
but not in the hope of a long life—no!
Our old ones’ tears are a concrete weight, their child’s
disgrace. Regret will sweep in like a whirlwind later
and swallow us up.
- You shall not kill.
Ah yes! The chief commandment.
I won’t count the beetles, the hens or wasted days.
But who can tell what the naked flesh, the man-beast might
be induced to do by torture? Or terror? What can I promise?
I’m human, I just keep on saying, “I will.”
And hands off even those who kill others—
that’s what you’re asking, right?
If that’s a warning
that life is sacred, then let it be Untouchable,
let it be Unsnuffable, you, you almighty one!
- You shall not commit adultery.
My Lord, my darling,
you do harp on about this. And I’m
not dealing with it.
Think of Lot, of Leda—
more come to mind, I imagine?
- You shall not steal.
Fine, I’ll try not to; not flowers, not books,
but not a title or an idea, even? Rebbe!
Our postmodern writing will die a death!
- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
False witness is like murder, really,
what spurts from some mouths, that sewage-river,
could murder anyone.
People dripping with filthy words flick the dirt
onwards, hoping to blend in among the stained.
- You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
I covet no one else’s goods.
But what if the body is another’s, Lord?
And my body? Who does it belong to? Is it bad
for another to covet it? That won’t mean it’s lost to you,
Lord! But do not prohibit
the desires that pull us skywards either.
Nor wish us to be wily and tell lies.
You know what it says in La Mandragola: with time
‘all that we have decays, only our morals improve.’