Rikki Santer


The ram’s horn carries fire from
camp to camp. I am camped deep, 
shoulders into shoulders in a packed shul
on the High Holidays. Two mornings,
two evenings. My father’s damp palm
as he holds my hand during each service.
I’m home from college, the stand-in 
for my bed-ridden mother. Raw horn. 
No mouthpiece. Pure breath that births 
one steady blast. The shofar’s tribal 
question mark penetrates across centuries.
My father squeezes my fingertips. Our faces
turn to each other, eyes moist, heads nod.
Then three broken notes, quivering staccato, 
and one long blow. High above the bimah,
from the choir chamber, a woman with
lustrous silver hair and a Stradivarius 
delivers the haunting melody of Kol Nidre. 
My father whispers she is the one who
introduced him to my mother. Father
here with me at synagogue, stained 
fringes of his prayer shawl, sanctuary 
vibrating with atonement. Mother 
now at home with decaying nerve fibers, 
plate of apple slices and honey in her lap.

          On this clear-sky Rosh Hashanah morning, 
          I crouch in the shade of a pin oak placing 
          smooth stones on my parents’ headstones
          keeping their souls in my world—my world 
          without synagogue, without ram’s horn, 
          without the flame of certainty flickering
          in the ether.

Read previous
Read next

Rikki Santer’s poetry has received many honors including six Pushcart and three Ohioana and Ohio Poet book award nominations as well as a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Her eleventh poetry collection, Stopover, which is in conversation with the original Twilight Zone series was recently published by Luchador Press. Please contact her through her website rikkisanter.com.