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!
  • Kosovo's centuries-old Jewish community is down to a few dozen. In a nation where the population is 90% Muslim, they are proud their past — and wonder why Israel won't recognize their state. http://jd.fo/h4wK0
  • Israelis are taking up the #IceBucketChallenge — with hummus.
  • In WWI, Jews fought for Britain. So why were they treated as outsiders?
  • According to a new poll, 75% of Israeli Jews oppose intermarriage.
  • Will Lubavitcher Rabbi Moshe Wiener be the next Met Council CEO?
  • Angelina Jolie changed everything — but not just for the better:
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • 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.