Praying at Coffee Shops


Poems by

Maureen Sherbondy

Poetry chapbook, 40 pages, cover price $10

ISBN: 978-1-59948-108-1

Release date: 2008


MSherbondyPxMaureen Sherbondy grew up in Metuchen, New Jersey, and now resides in Raleigh, North Carolina with her husband and three sons. Her poems have appeared in numerous publications, including Calyx, Feminist Studies, 13th Moon, Cairn, Comstock Review,Crucible, The Roanoke Review and The Raleigh News & Observer. Two of Maureen’s poems were chosen as finalists in the 2006 William Faulkner–William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition. Other poems have won first place in: The Deane Ritch Lomax Poetry Prize (Charlotte Writers’ Club), The Lyricist Statewide Poetry Contest, and Gin Bender Poetry Review‘s 2004 Contest. Main Street Rag published her first chapbook, After the Fairy Tale in 2006. Her poetry has also appeared in many anthologies. Maureen has had fiction published, has written a novella, and is currently working on a novel.


What a thought-provoking collection for a Jewish audience! Moving from the concrete details of Jewish rituals to their spiritual implications, Sherbondy is full of wisdom and surprises – sometimes ironic, often dark, full of yearning for the tikkun olam seamstresses to stitch the broken world back together with their needles and threads. And what a treat, in the midst of the spiritual struggle, to find in the poet’s contemplation of a praying mantis that has landed on her prayer book, one of those rare, transcendent moments when “God’s long fingers are reaching, guiding us toward a promise.” These tough-minded, deceptively lovely poems yield up more of their considerable power with each successive reading.

Praying at Coffee Shops in the South

What are these public interludes with God?
Two men at Starbucks holding hands
bent over in prayer, leaning into the invisible.

This is not church or temple,
but an invasion into my caffeinated space —
these murmurings of Lord, God, Praise Be
spiraling into my melodious Sirius radio tunes.

I want a beverage jolt, not a lightning strike
of prayer — Hallelujah, Holy Ghost, Jesus.

My mother said no kissing in public places
but here they are —
pressing lips against java-infused air,
searching for the mouth of God.


Bar Mitzvah Nightmares

My son has nightmares
about standing on the bema forgetting
his Torah portion —
Hebrew letters, trope, and blessings
vanishing through temple walls.

I dream the caterers fail to show
two hundred pairs of eyes glaring at me
in the social hall, wondering why
there are no tablecloths, themed centerpieces,
hors d’oeuvres or drinks.

As a child, I dreamed of nakedness —
arriving at school without clothes
or shoes, not knowing
until my classmates pointed
and giggled.

Recently my teeth have been falling out
from the seams of darkness,
someone told me it means
a loss of self, or a lack of control
I can’t remember.

I tell my son these dreams are normal
that our fears tumble and release
beneath the wing of midnight’s shadow
and flood us with doubt
upon waking.

I add that if when he opens his lips
on that day, if words and music
fail to arrive on his tongue, I will open my
own mouth and sing the words for him.


At the Mikveh, Age Four

For weeks my brothers flooded me
with tales of drowning,
said the special pool was where
young girls sank
and did not rise again.

When we appeared at the mikveh —
attempt to quell the swell
of non-Jewish blood swimming
through our veins,
I planted myself upon a bench
refusing to budge from my position.

Wanting to live no matter
the future cost. In my heart
I was a Jew, this I knew,
no ceremony could make it so.

Better to stay than to go.
While brothers and mother
vanished under water
and prayers rang out in the other rooms,
Alone, I remained wordless, prayerless
still and silent as a stone.


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