Good day, fellow travelers. Sorry for the delay. I was in Israel and the West Bank for almost two weeks doing reportage for a New York Magazine story that must remain under wraps for the time being, but which I think you’ll find very interesting when it makes its debut. While there, I had a lot of Big Thoughts about everything, some of which are contained in the poem (eep!) that I have included as this email’s Main Course. I know, I know; this newsletter is swiftly mutating into a LiveJournal. I apologize for nothing. Ok, on to the content.
The felines were well taken care of by my dear friend Ben whilst I was away, and he took some solid kitty pixxx. Here’s Barb in repose:
And here’s Tim in his little box:
Arundhati Roy on India’s impending collapse in The Nation — I’m months behind on this article, but I finally got around to reading it while on a bus from Jerusalem to the West Bank, and God, it shook me to my core. I have rarely read a piece so cogent and emotive while still being so rhetorically undeniable. Required reading for anyone who cares about how societies eat themselves or just where the world is going these days.
Approaching the Qur’án: The Early Revelations by Michael Sells — I randomly stumbled across this slim volume at a used bookstore in Manhattan after I got back and swiftly devoured it at a cafe. It’s primarily a work of translation and annotation, in which Sells takes the short final chapters of the Qur’an and attempts to convey their musicality and context for readers who lack knowledge of all of the above. The introductory chapter, alone, with its explanations of the literary origins of Islamic scripture, is worth the price of admission.
Pearl Jam, “Wishlist” — This song happened to be playing on the stereo in a trendy soup restaurant in Jerusalem on my final night there and I was suddenly walloped with a metric ton of alt-rock nostalgia. I’ve been listening to it incessantly ever since. Now I pass it on to you, my friend.
Me, me, me
No new articles from me in the space since the last newsletter, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the future and what comes after the future, and my mind keeps returning to this essay I wrote for Vulture in 2018 about one of my favorite movies, Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys. In it, I argue that the film more or less sums up where we’re at as a species, right now, and offers messages of hope that can only be articulated after the direst circumstances have been displayed. I promise it’s not too much of a downer!
The words of Yeremiahu
Son of no one
Priest of nothing
In the territory of nowhere
The word of the LORD came to him
In the days of the wicked kings
Sons of absolute bastards
In the lost years of their reign
When I was only a zygote
I still remember the time
When there was nothing to know or to think about
Except the sound of my mind
The word of the LORD came to me:
“No one will listen to you
It is already too late
Nonetheless, you will speak”
And I walked the stones of Herod
In the Terrestrial Jerusalem
Looking up for the Celestial one
Floating ever farther out of reach
And I took the cabs
And I left the shower running
And I ate half of my shakshuka
And the rest was thrown away
Children of Itzhak, children of Ismail
The light of God shines on you both
The light grows ever brighter
Until you cannot open your eyes
Who among us is prepared for the Third Temple’s fall?
Who will be on that final flight out of Ben Gurion?
Who will send the drones to take forlorn pictures
Of all that we cannot touch anymore?
Who will be the last to exit the gates?
What will the chosen ones do
When the Holy Land is uninhabitable?
And why will no one talk about it?
I tried to speak, but the words caught in my throat
I couldn’t tell those who live in the Land
That their children’s children
Will weep and rend their clothing
The Ninth of Av is back on the calendar
Here within a century, if we’re being generous
The kingdoms of the north are not our problem this time
Not that they ever really were
There is still so much for me to learn
But this I already know
The wrath of God will not be denied
And we are known as what we are
The word of the LORD came to me:
“What do you see?”
And I replied: I see the plasticware
Thrown away by your most kosher children
And I replied: I see the deserts defiled in green
The work of creation perverted
The cycles that have run for 57 centuries
Wrecked in a few generations’ time
And I replied: I see the milk and the meat
I see the toothpaste and the shampoo
I see the fevered quest for life and health
In defiance of the sacred fact of death
The LORD said to me: “You have seen right
For I am watchful to bring my word to pass
And I will argue my case against them
For all their wickedness”
And I replied, in the interest of fairness:
It is hardly only them who are to blame
I, too, stick my knife into the Seventh Earth
And twist it every day
I am as nothing before you, my father, my king
I deserve no pity, I should not be spared
I have fallen into wickedness
And done nothing to pull myself out
Every day, I disobey you
You, who have given me everything
I do not bless or consecrate
I only consume and destroy
I eat and am not satisfied
I fly when I don’t need to
I down the contents
And toss the container in the trash
Who is like you, Lord, among the gods?
Who is like you, doing wonders?
Your children care not for your word or your law
Even them that think they do
Pikuach nefesh: the preservation of souls
This task sits above all the others
Laws are suspended in its name
And this is pleasing in the eyes of God
But we perform all the mitzvot except that one
We do petty justices and pat ourselves on the back
We muddle along as extinction draws near
And get high on the evil inclination
A covenant is useless if only one party is left
We have broken our promises and worshipped idiot gods
Our father told us he would not flood the earth again
But that was only if we kept up our end of the deal
I meet your most faithful, men who think they march under your banner
I ask them what they will do when waters rise and fire burns
They tell me that they compost
And that our people did fine in the last Dark Age
I am not so sure as they, Lord
We act as though Moshiaich is guaranteed
And will save us in spite of our misdeeds
But that is Rome’s way, not ours
We are people who worship a strip of land in the desert
For better or for worse
Shouldn’t we be at the forefront of the battle, Lord?
Who is more at risk than us?
How can we have been so blind, avinu malkeinu?
How can we have devoted ourselves to nonsense?
At what point did we forget our stewardship of creation?
And is there any hope of return and repentance now?
The LORD said to me: “Let your misfortune reprove you
Let your afflictions rebuke you
Mark well how bad and bitter it is that you forsake the LORD, your God
That awe for Me is not in you”
Then the True Judge was gone
Set to plan the contours of our fate
Pondering new covenants with new children
Ones that would not disappoint Him so
Pray that I heard wrong and that it is not too late
Open your eyes for the first time in your blip of a life
If some of us survive, we must weep, not rejoice
And try not to fuck it up next time