She loomed before me like a prophecy,
wearing a black robe that swept the sand
and a dangling crucifix. I stared until
her eyes beamed under a birdlike crest.
She had observed me through the chapel window,
carrying poppies, a worn map, and a note
with ink-blurred numbers, home of my hosts
for Sabbath dinner, 17 Elijah.
The sun went down, squeezed like a fat stewed peach
too bulky for its jar. It would soon be dark.
Her coarse sleeve grazed my arm as she held torn paper.
“I don’t know the address, but we’ll walk together.
It’s good gymnastics.” Gliding in black folds
(I thought she’d fly), she waved the scrap
at a man sipping tea. “There’s no such place,”
he barked. “Yes, there must be, she’s lost her way,”
my black angel insisted, and he joined us.
Lost. Yesterday a bomb had exploded here,
responding to arrests. Shops closed. And now
the Sabbath, day of rest, its supplications
for peace unheeded. Soon our group was growing
into a procession. Asked for Elijah Street,
passersby shrugged and fell in. One lean man
offered advice in Serbian; at the next corner,
a woman stood sobbing, until, curious,
she crept along. People followed me—
or was I following them? Where were we headed?
We passed a mosque, a church in ruins, a cloister.
Hats were skullcaps, knitted cartwheels, scarves,
a fez, over faces with family features.
Inside a basement window, men at prayer
gazed upward: a black condor? No, the nun.
She hovered, then made for another house
and rang a doorbell, the diners sitting down
to Sabbath wine. Still, no one knew Elijah.
It was late before I reached my friends,
and I don’t remember anything else that evening
except a black gown, hats, opinions crackling
in a fire of languages that halted prayer.
– Grace Schulman
Without a Claim
Grace Schulman, who has been called “a vital and permanent poet” (Harold Bloom), makes new the life she finds in other cultures and in the distant past. In Without a Claim, she masterfully encompasses music, faith, art, and history. The title poem alludes to the Montauk sachem who sold land without any concept of rights to property, and meditates on our own notion of ownership: “No more than geese in flight, shadowing the lawn, / cries piercing wind, do we possess these fields, / given the title, never the dominion.” She traces the illusion of rights, from land to objects, from our loves to our very selves. Alternatively, she finds permanence in art, whether in galleries or on cave walls, and in music, whether in the concert hall, on the streets of New York, or in the waves at sea.
“Without a Claim is a modern Book of Psalms. Indeed, the glory in these radiant sacred songs melds an art of high music with a nuanced love of the world unlike any we’ve heard before. No matter your mood upon entering this world you’ll soon be grateful, and enchanted. In any such house of praise, God herself must be grateful.”