tehilim:  songs of praise
poems from the hebrew
by jason francisco


untroubled:  the man who rejects the counsel of the arrant,
the path of deeds without names,
the company of the insolent,

but makes life from his wisdom,
studies his life-wisdom night and day.

this man:  a tree whose leaves never fade,
rooted beside streams,
season to season bearing fruit:
whatever he yields thrives.

not so the decadent, the depraved.
they are chaff the wind blows away.
they cannot survive the scrutiny of the healthy soul.

the virtuous cherish honest paths,
and forsake abject ones.

                        psalm 1
                        from the hebrew

my shepherd

my shepherd, i want nothing.
i lie down in your pastures,
follow you to your waters.

in these places i renew my life.
in these places you are my guide:  
you, your unspoken name.

sometimes i walk in the valleys of the deepest darkness.
even then:  i feel no harm, no fear.
my shepherd, my name, you are with me:  
you, your rod, your staff staking out my refuge.

in full view of those who hate me,
you spread a table.
i sit, i drink, and gingerly you press
your oil into my scalp.

now only goodness asks after me.
each day of my life
i don't run.  i lie down.
i am at home in your wide home.

                        psalm 23
                        from the hebrew

i resolved

i resolved: 
i would watch my step, guard my tongue,
keep my mouth muzzled before the bastard.
i was dumb, silent, still.
he carried on:  haughty, smug.

my pain was intense.
my mind smoldered, flared.
i screamed:

speak!  how long will it go on!
and what for?

i wept:
how long is my life?  handbreadths, inches?
what is my life?  what is a human being ? 
a gust of air, a sigh?
what is a man walking the earth?  a shadow, no better?
and his work, his rushing here and there?  his wealth? 
does anyone inherit it?  does it accrue anything?
is there reason to expect?

take away your plagues from me!
i am beaten from your punches!
you punish me, chastise me, grind me down for my mistakes,
and like a moth you eat away my pleasures.

i know what i am:   for you just wind,
no better than a gust, a sigh.
if i am dumb, silent:  this too is your doing.

still i am putting my hope in you,
still i trust that you will cut me loose from my mistakes,
not make me the butt of idiots.

i am praying:  now listen to me.
i am crying:  am i the one i cry for? 

like my ancestors
i am an alien, a stranger, a wanderer here.
not my bones, not my mind,
none of me belongs here.

just turn away from me:
let me recover something
before i pass away
and am gone.

                        psalm 39
                        from the hebrew

one idiot thinks

one idiot thinks, "there is no god."
another thinks, "god exists, but doesn't care."
they are rank, corrupt, vile.
they are all idiots.

from a high place god looks,
searches for a single woman of understanding,
one mindful man.

everyone is tainted, thoroughly foul.
there isn't one honest person,
not even one.

could they really be so witless, so ignorant,
so evil, these evil-mongers
who devour human beings
just as they scarf bread?

eventually fear will seize and grip them
—there never was such fear—
and the god they revile will scatter their bones,
put them to shame,
disown them all.

oh that israel will come home!
that god will restore the people beyond good fortune!

then jacob will rejoice, israel will sing.

                        psalm 53
                        from the hebrew

a plea

a plea
this is a petition
to heed me, not to ignore me
not to let me pass

i am
complaining, moaning
constantly moving
restless, tossed

wicked people clamor for me
crash misery on my head
harass me, howl
fury at me

my heart
convulses within me
beats on me from within my chest
assailing me with
deathlike terror

and trembling
and horror have invaded me
descended on me
wrapped me

i said
oh for the wings of a dove!
i would fly away
surely, far off
find rest

i would find a home in wilderness
a refuge in the sweeping wind
rest from the tempest
of moaning sound

sweet one
who confounds speech
who confuses words
who destroys

in your city
i see lawlessness, strife, violence
day and night making rounds
together stalking
the walls

inside i see
evil, mischief, malice, ruin
fraud, deceit, sloth, treachery
sorrow never leaving
the square

it is not
an enemy who insults me
(i could bear that), not my rival
vaunting himself against me
(from him i could hide)

but you
my companion, my colleague, my friend
who stayed and spoke softly
and bound me with words
in god's house

let my sweet one
incite death against them
send them to the pit alive
so that evil will share
their home

as for me
i call to you
evening, morning, noon
my voice complains
and sighs

how can peace
ransom me from this offense
raging through and
within and
over me

i know
many are ranged
many arrayed, waiting to bear me
despite a crushed spirit
toward death

it was my sweetest
the one without successor
who heard and humbled
those living recklessly
those without fear

he harmed his ally
broke his pact, his talk
smoother than butter
his mind belligerent

his words more soothing
than oil, words become swords
drawn and naked
poised to pierce
my trust

oh cast your burden
onto him, he will sustain you
never letting a good man collapse
never leaving a virtuous man
to falter

as for them
you will bring them
into the nethermost pit
push them, drag

they will not
live out their days
but i, i trust
i will trust

                        psalm 55
                        from the hebrew

here i am

here i am
searching the waterless limbs of my life,
searching my soul, my body.
should i find you in my heart?

i don't know glory, or wonder
but your loyalty to me is better than my life.
here, my lips are saying it,
i am blessing you, lifting my hands,
pointing at you.

suddenly i feel sated.
have i just eaten?
my lips are pursing—with pleasure.
i am singing!  i am calling you
here in my bed.

i am awake in the night, asking:  why am i singing?
as if in the shadow of your wings?  why?
it must be that i am attaching myself.
it must be that you are supporting me.

still i hear the voices that want to destroy me.
may they sink into clay!
may they be sliced by swords,
gnawed by the jackals and the fiends within.

the king i know finds refuge in you.
the others who know you will shout wildly
when the liars within are shut up!

                        psalm 63
                        from the hebrew

sing with joy

sing with joy to our strength,
shout for jacob's name!

sing!  sound the timbrel, lyre and harp!
blow your horn on the new moon,
on the full moon, on the feast day!

joy is a law for israel,
a ruling imposed on jacob,
decreed on joseph when he came up from egypt.

he said:  when joseph came out of egypt
i heard a language i did not know,
so i lifted the burden from his shoulder,
freed his hands from his basket.

you spoke in distress:
he answered you in the secret place of thunder,
tested you at the waters of meribah.

israel!  listen to this advice!

your god is a true god,
not a foreign god,
not a conqueror to whom you bow
as in defeat.

contemplate this:  aliveness, your god, is i to you.

i who brought you out of egypt,
i who fill your mouth
when you open it.

    still, he does not listen!
    she does not abide, does not heed!
    i let him chase his willful heart.
    i let her follow her own devices.

    israel!  listen!

if you followed my paths,
you would know the place of thunder,
test the waters of meribah,
mark out ignorance again and again,
quickly subdue your enemies.

only those who hate the unspeakable name
cower and find refuge in eternal doom.

they do not know:  he fed them the finest wheat
while i sated you with honey from the rock.

                        psalm 81, from the hebrew

a refuge

we have sought a refuge in every generation:
before the mountains came into being,
before our own light brought forth
the earth and the world,
we have sought our refuge
from eternity to eternity.

you return us to dust
whispering, "to die as men,"
and we know that in your eyes
a thousand generations are a day gone by,
a watch of the night.

you swallow us in sleep:  at daybreak we are like grass grown sturdy,
at daybreak thriving,  by dusk withered and dried up.

are we not are consumed by anger (deeming it holy anger)?
are we not terror-struck (deeming it holy fury)?

you set our wrongdoing before us,
display us for the universe to contemplate
our hidden shortcomings shining brightly by the light of your face.
all our days passing away in anger,
our years spent like a sigh.

what is the span of our life?  seventy years
or given the strength, eighty?
and the best of them:  trouble and sorrow.
they pass from nothing into nothing, and we disappear.

who can know the suffering of such a thought?
the fury matches the fear of you.
we strive to teach you:  count our days well
so that we might begin to discern a wise heart.

turn, now, turn!  how long?
show us compassion!  stand in our place!
feed us at daybreak and we might sing by noon!

just as you have afflicted us, give us reason for joy.
show us your deeds after the generations of our misfortune.

may our own knowledge guide us!
may the work of our hands shelter us!
oh prosper the work of our hands!

                        psalm 90
                        from the hebrew

i who love life

i who love life,
would that life heard my voice

turning her ear to me, his ear,
turning whenever i call.

the bonds of death compassed me:
nothingness overwhelmed me.

i fell into sorrow
and sounded the name of life.

gracious, generous, compassionate,
i was low and met the name.

now my soul rests:
i know you are good.

you steered my heart from renunciation,
my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.

i will walk with you
in the lands of the living.

in great suffering i saw the nature of my mind
when i concluded that all action is false.

how can i repay you for your gifts?
i raise my cup and remember your name.

i pay my vows in public and in private;
the grass beneath my feet is marked definitively.

with no father i have become a son:
you have undone the cord that bound me.

i make a place for you,
and a place for your name.

i vow, i appear in the company of those present,
i speak in the courts, in the homes,

in the midst of your jerusalem—
joy, joy, praise, praise.

                        psalm 116
                        from the hebrew

my sweet one

my sweet one
you have examined me, you know me.

you know my sitting, my standing,
my thoughts, all thoughts at all distances from me.

you watch my walking, my reclining:
all my ways are familiar to you.

there is no word on my tongue
that you do not know well.

you block my path in front and behind,
lay your hand on me

it is beyond my knowledge, a mystery:
i cannot fathom it.

where can i escape your spirit,
flee your presence?

i ascend, and find you.
i sink, and again i find you.

if i ride the dawn's wing
to the bed of the western horizon

even there i encounter your hand:
your right hand holds me fast.

if i say, surely darkness will conceal me,
night will cover me,

darkness is not dark for you:
night is daylight, darkness and light the same.

it was you
who created my kidneys and my conscience,

you who formed me
in my mother's womb.

i praise you:
i am awesomely, wondrously made.

i know your work very well:
it is extraordinary.

you saw my frame
when i took form in a hidden place,

when i was knit together
in the recesses of earth.

your eyes saw my formless limbs,
you recorded all of them in your book.

in due time they arose,
all of them, to the very last one.

how weighty your thoughts seem, my sweet one,
how numerous and great!

i count them:  
they exceed the grains of sand.

i lose myself, i end,
still with you.

my sweet one
if only you slew the wicked

you murderers
away from me!

the evil ones
who invoke you for intrigue

who lie using your name.
my sweet one you know

i hate those who hate you
i loathe your adversaries,

i feel a perfect hatred toward them,
count them my enemies.

examine me, my sweetest,
know my mind

probe me,
know my thoughts.

if i still seek you in any way
correct me forever.

                        psalm 139
                        from the hebrew