The Arty Semite

Chocolate Labs for the Lord

By Rodger Kamenetz

  • Print
  • Share Share

Each Thursday, The Arty Semite features excerpts and reviews of the best contemporary Jewish poetry. This week, Rodger Kamenetz introduces “Third Temple,” by Richard Chess. This piece originally appeared on January 5, 2001, as part of the Forward’s Psalm 151 series. It is being published here online for the first time.

Richard Chess

Richard Chess is a widely anthologized poet who lives and teaches in Asheville, N.C., where he directs the Jewish studies program for the University of North Carolina. Mr. Chess’s first book, “Tekia,” was published in 1994 by the University of Georgia Press. His second collection, “Chair in the Desert,” published by the University of Tampa Press, is a powerful book in which Mr. Chess touches the magnetic poles of his experience — man and woman, Israel and Diaspora, religion and sex — and sets off great sparks of soul.

Mr. Chess’s poetry is engaged — obsessed — with Judaism and alive to the ironies and strange juxtapositions of carrying a Jewish consciousness into the Piggly Wiggly, or, in a poem from the new book, “I and Thou, Baby,” wrestling with Martin Buber while sorting out the memories of a love affair.

In “Third Temple,” Mr. Chess’s satire exposes the distance between daily life as we live it with our beloved dogs and cats and the end of Jewish time, when some imagine we will return to animal sacrifices, in a way that manages simultaneously to point out the absurdity of the proposition, while also bringing us much closer to understanding the meaning of sacrifice. The final image of the poem is powerful, indelible.

Third Temple

When they build it, I will bring Leon, unblemished
chocolate Lab, as my offering to the Lord.

Leon comes when I call, when I call upon him
in truth, with a bone in my voice. He bounds
up the steep bank in front of the house and races
to the rear where I stand at the kitchen door.
With his two brown eyes, he looks at me adoringly.
I command him to sit, and he sits
and receives his reward. I command him to lie,
and he lies and rolls over to offer his belly.
This is how I know he will dutifully accompany me
when the time comes, when the dust of disassembling
the Dome of the Rock has settled and been swept away,
when the thousands of elegant tiles that adorned the building
have been wrapped and shipped to collectors,
when the Muslims have slunk away for the last time, disgraced, ashamed,
when the righteous stonemasons have completed their work
on the new pillars and columns and steps, and the metalworkers
have finished the seven-branched candelabrum, and the yeshiva
boys have placed it and the lavers and display table and cherubim
and curtains, when law has been established in its third home.

My brothers and sisters will bring their pets.
You bring yours: Cat. Parakeet. Angelfish.
Alpaca, diamondback, and pig.
Goats aplenty. Turtle, mare, and sheep.
From their cages, perches, fields, bowls, and pens,
they have gazed upon us for years. Watched us
knot our ties, weep on the sofa, stare blankly at snow.
Have they known, all along, that we are lost?

The red heifer has appeared!
From this day forward, I will read to Leon

from Leviticus so that he will understand, when we arrive
in Jerusalem, the meaning.
I will grill meat every day,
greeting first light with lamb and throwing
ribs and sirloins onto the grill well into the night,
thickening the air with smoke
so that he will grow accustomed to the aroma,
which will be magnified, when the Temple goes online again,
by a power of tens of thousands of peace and sin offerings.
Leon is my only pet.
On my state-employee’s wages, I cannot afford to care for more.

On the plaza below the Temple, under
the achingly blue sky, the sun spreading its glory,
among wigged, frocked, pale, and fearful ones
meticulously performing every great and minor ritual,
I will shake with shame because Leon is all I have,
the Lord deserves more than his extended paw.
Surely, the priests will marvel at his fine coat
just before they slit,
and because we are a good, kind, loving people
surely they will sing his favorite psalm
as blood drains from him, as his coat flames.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: University of North Carolina, Third Temple, Tekia, Psalm 151, Chair in the Desert, Richard Chess, Poetry, Piggly Wiggly

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.