James Stone Goodman — Poems

I’ve been writing poetry for the last nine or ten years, deepened myself in it enough to hunger for instruction, and in 2008 I completed a Masters in Fine Arts in creative writing with an emphasis in poetry. I am looking for the poetry – music heartline, I am riding the wild borderline between when I play with my hands and the imaginings of what I call my mind. I include a few recent pieces, I am writing all the time.

The alef is silent and diminished
/I am listening with everything I have/the right word/the true story.

The alef is silent and small/Let the pure come and occupy themselves with the pure.

The letter Alef (א) at the end of the word “Va-yikra” is always written smaller than the surrounding letters [Lev.1:1]?

Moshe – the greatest of all prophets, the humblest of all persons.

Va-yikar Alef also signifies and The One called. Alef is 1, G*d one and unique. Alef first in the Hebrew alef-bet, and all the other letters turn their faces away in awe.

Va-yikar Alef = the Alef called, the One called, the Aluf is concealed within each soul, the Alef/Aluf calls out to us to return,

The voice that we carry within, the inner voice, calls.

When You call me
speak louder than you did with Moses
I may not hear the diminished alef

the sound of affection
You used with him.

I am listening with everything I have
I am listening for the right word
the true story.

Let the pure come and occupy themselves
with the pure

so said the wondrous Rav Assi [Lev.R.7:3]
3rd – 4th century
student of Rav Shmuel in Nehardea (Babylonia)
companion of Rav Ammi

what they talked about --

And G*d called to Moses
And G*d spoke to him
From the tent of meeting

Saying --

R. Ya’akov ben Asher [Ba’al Ha-Turim]: Vayikra used to indicate God specifically chose Moshe.

The intimacy between the two, G*d called to him. . .

But Moshe was too humble to write it.

Moshe Rabbeinu is like the alef – small, humble –
So he wrote Vayikar [happened by] – they just ran into each other.

The alef is small to depict the humility in Moshe Rabbeinu in this sacred relationship.

Something else:

The Alef is the vav and two yuds/human-being-li-ness and G*d-li-ness/both/
the Alef/suspended between/the foundational lower world/and the reach to the upper world/connected by the sitting/And.

We are connected/above and below,/the Alef is diagrammatic -- the human being/planted in the lower world/reaching for the upper world.





I often told a story illustrating the notion of acceptance, or so I thought.

I first encountered the story in Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, compiled by Paul Reps.


One day
I am telling this story

and someone in the group interrupts --

what the heck does that mean!?

I couldn't answer.
After having told the story dozens of times,
I could not articulate
what it meant to me.

The story was powerful
for me. I knew it the first time I heard it. The story moved deep inside me, and there it lurked for years without definition.
Now I wanted it out – what does it mean?

I thought about it for weeks, I waited, and it came.

A man chased by a tiger off
The edge of a cliff.
He hangs by his fingertips --
Above him the tiger
Below him the rocks and the sea.

What does he do? the master asks.

The students offer the standard answers:
He takes his chances with the tiger,
He climbs down the cliff,
Jumps into the sea
Distracts the tiger --

The master shakes his head –

He is hanging on a ledge by his fingertips,
the master says.
He sees next to him
a bush growing out of the rock.
On the vine a fleshy hypanthium.

He picks the fleshy hypanthium
and he eats it.

jsg, usa

How difficult it is to be moved away from answers and given over to responses,

how hard to be stripped of solutions and given to strategies,

to be led away from arrivals and onto journies,

from supposed to be to what is,

from linear to lateral

from being there to getting there,

from goals to process,

from answers to darn good responses.


      We are not likely to answer the master’s question: we are thinking about the tiger, the cliff, the sea, but not about vines growing out the side of the cliff, not about strawberries.

      Secondly, what the master suggests is not an answer at all, it’s a response. Could there have been another response? There could. There may be no answer, or the answer may be elusive and difficult and we might not find it so easily. It may not be present at the time of the dilemma. 




The letters are backward and sometimes upside down, nun m’tzuneret [the isolated nun] and the nun hafukh [upside down nun]. The two letters set off a small text, “And it came to pass, when the ark was traveling. . .and when it rested. . .” [Numbers 10:35-36]. I return whenever I open the doors and carry my wisdom around the room.

Fifty Gates of Wisdom

The alef is an And
And two hands

Explode the alef
Into a vuv
And a yud above
A yud below

Lay your hunger
Down in a chair
You’re all coulo
You are all coulo
And all And.

The hand above
The hand blow

We find our comfort
On our coulos

We are in the shape
Of our prayers

All our beloved hunger


Set off from the text
The letters are backwards
The text they set off
Isolated too --

The verses will be restored
One day
To their natural order.

The fifty gates of understanding
The water wisdom
Swimming in wisdom now
At fifty.

We will all be restored
But for now we are swimming
Swimming in our wisdom
As natural to us
As the sea to the fish --

Between the Backward letters
We are alive
We live in the isolated text
With its mystery
And one day
We will all be restored
To our natural


Take the alef
And pull it apart

In the middle
The vuv

The holy And

Above a yud
Below a yud

Yud is hand
An arm

The hand above
The hand below

Drawn above
Protected below

In the middle
Pull up a chair

Find your comfort
Your beloved S

Anchored below
Drawn above

A stretch
And a planting.


Where do you Live? Asked Blue.
I live between the nuns, in all that uncertainty
I live in the I don’t know.

A wonderful place to be, said Blue.