All Vows by Philip Terman

All Vows

I was not ready to chant the Kol Nidre,
yet nevertheless I was called up
to stand before the open Ark
and find within myself the voice
that was required of me, the voice
hidden in the deep down, below

my errors, my words spoken
in haste, my actions taken
without thought, the hurts I caused.

The fast had begun.
The Ark was open,
the Scriptures revealed,
the worshippers risen
in their white garments,
the cantor nodding it is time,

and, though I was not noble,
or virtuous, and though
my wrongs were a weight
I could barely hold, the way,
at the dawn of my adulthood—

almost another lifetime ago,
my muscles tightened to lift the Torah
and carry it around the shul,
pausing at each row of pews
for the congregants to touch
the scrolls with the fringes
of their tallises then
their tallises to their lips—

something about the circumstances
of my life brought me to face
the sanctuary and the souls
who stood waiting
for me to confess
release from our flaws,
and rejoice, with trembling.


Philip Terman’s most recent books are This Crazy Devotion, Our Portion: New and Selected Poems and, as co-translator with the Syrian writer and translator Saleh Razzouk, Tango Beneath a Narrow Ceiling: The Selected poems of Riad Saleh Hussein. Poems and essays have appeared in many journals and anthologies, including Poetry Magazine, The Sun Magazine, 99 Poets for the 99 Percent, The Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Poetry and Extraordinary Rendition: American Writers on Palestine. He directs The Bridge Literary Arts Center in Franklin, PA, co-directs the Jewish Poets Reading Series, sponsored by the Jewish Community Center at Buffalo, co- directed the writing festival: Poetry Life: Celebrating Heritage in Sarasota, Florida and conducts workshops and writing coaching hither and yon. On occasion, he performs his poetry with the jazz band Catro.

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