Bally’s Bocher by Jacob J. Staub
Then, when I stole a closeted glance at your thigh
through the lattice of the mirror,
and you pulled the leg of your gym shorts
down, tznyusdik, like a skirt,
I blushed, mortified, momentarily outed, in a panic.
I looked away, like nothing had happened,
like you must have been mistaken,
but I knew you knew I’d been staring.
You were not so skilled at eye contact to begin with,
but now the aversions of our eyes
in the open showers had meaning.
But what was it? I’d wonder.
When, on Friday mornings,
I wished you a casual Shabbat shalom,
you acted like you didn’t hear me.
Maybe you didn’t.
Or maybe I was part of your wicked
world of temptation,
a perilous category to be avoided.
Never having ventured
to test the living waters,
I feared I would miss my beloved’s arrival in the garden.
I had not heard the term “gaydar.”
But when you shed your baggy shorts in a sweaty heap
in front of your locker,
your body was a revelation,
every muscle sculpted in the image of God.
Not like the bulging overbuilt Greeks,
but understated, absent body fat,
five feet, a hundred pounds,
sailing lightly past, inches off the ground,
closer to heaven.
Worshipping you would not be idolatrous.
My fingers, my lips gliding across your ridges,
piously inhaling your incense
our legs entwined like a havdalah candle..
Surrendering to you,
I’d be submitting to the Creator.
I didn’t know you,
but neither did countless generations know
the One they worshipped with hearts overflowing.
Dressed in a white shirt and black pants,
beeper on your belt, fringes exposed on your sides,
side curls neatly wrapped around your ears,
you would hurry off to see your patients,
abandoning me in my shame.
On Shabbat mornings,
when you wheeled your babies past my house
in your Eastern European garb,
the eruv checked each week,
I would not believe that you were not like me.
I believed with a perfect faith
that those for whom I yearned
must surely yearn for me.
An interminable dark night of the body,
God absent no matter how prayerfully I longed
for loving communion.
How long, O Lord?
How long, Compassionate One of Blessing?
No longer do my genitals steam
for beauty unresponsive.
Flirt with me, and I tingle.
My heart is open for the taking, for the breaking.
Years past disbelief,
I know what it is to be desired,
to be loved,
to shudder in anticipation of an embrace,
to let go, venturing into the mysteries,
to give it to the embracing One.
You were an idol after all,
a marble wonder,
lifelike but not living.
The living God is One who touches and responds,
bawls and brays with me,
holds me down and lifts me up,
a pliant lover, a breath of fresh air.
And in the locker room showers,
you are a Michelangelo to be admired
but nothing more.
Rabbi Jacob J. Staub is Dean of Students at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and co-author of Exploring Judaism: A Reconstructionist Approach.
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