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by Albert Vorspan
1. ME AND SHEL SILVERSTEIN
I tell you straight and it’s not funny
I’m 92, retired, and need more money
I tried to imitate Gilbert and Sullivan patter
But I can neither sing nor rhyme, so it didn’t matter
I started a novel about the civil rights fight
Editors said This is Trump time, get lost, good night
But, lo, kind fortune finally appeared
(though it sounds unlikely and a little weird) —
My kids were reading a book by Shel Silverstein
With offbeat poems marinated in mirth
The guy enlivens life from death to birth
So why can’t I just be like him
And take the ball right to the rim ?
If you care to hear my song
Just ring the bells and hear my bong
And the proposed book will surely seem
A youthful echo of Shel Silverstein
All hail this iconoclast now long dead
It’s not just kids who assure that he’s still read
But folks who’d rather laugh than cry to bed
So far no publisher has been keen
To publish the Vorspan sequel to Silverstein
It will happen, I foresee,
When apples grow on a cherry tree
So gather ’round and you will see
A worthy successor -- and it is ME
But if perchance you are not aware of either name
You have my deepest sympathy -- and much disdain.
2. HAIL STATES’ RIGHTS
Remember when we rocked the boat
To guarantee black folks the right to vote?
We appealed to the courts long days and nights
To safeguard women and disability rights,
To make sure George Wallace and his alt-right flock
Could not use states’ rights to turn back the clock . . .
But now the tables have really turned.
A new president threatens rights so richly earned.
You’d never guess the strategy, heaven-sent
To save our liberties and the environment:
All hail states’ rights! Come sing with me!
Don’t even dare invade my privacy.
We live in grown-up states, and you will see
They’ll safeguard rights for you and me.
If you want to californicate, have no care,
And if you can make it in New York, you’ll make it anywhere.
So Trump is up, but we’re not down.
Our brand of states’ rights has come to town!
Trump may rage and kvetch to Putin
But he’ll be constrained by our Constitution.
So psychiatrists all, wherever you may shrink,
Tell the people that, although the election stinks,
If they live in states on either coast
They can share a drink and say a toast.
Our good ol’ USA is not a ghost.
If you happen to live in a shiny red state,
Congratulations. Enjoy your fate.
3. THANK GOD FOR KIDS
The shock is fading, the sadness grows,
Where we are headed, God only knows.
But the time has come to face the truth:
The dream we dreamed is now kaput.
The dream we dreamed on the mountaintop
Has come to a heartbreaking, tragic stop,
In World War II, I lost my ship to a suicide plane.
Now suddenly, at ninety-two, I feel lost at sea again.
And each of us must think it through:
What is lost, and what’s still true.
For me, the end-of-life stuff is quite real
Nobody can know just how I feel:
My wife and I have shared seventy years,
Enriched by love, now filled with tears.
My wife has Alzheimers, advanced I fear . . .
When we were young, we used to wonder whether
Some day we might arrange to die together.
Now I hold her tight all night and cry,
Trying to think of reasons not to die.
I’m elderly, and filled with rage,
(Which is probably normal at this stage).
The folks here who are in the know
Say dying in your sleep is the way to go
There are still some laughs, believe it or not,
Like when Shirley says I forget what I forgot
And when she is irritated by the pace
She says: How do we get out of this fucking place?
Shirley suffers no Trump-inspired pain.
He has no admission to her brain,
But I know it would have torn her asunder
To see our gains lost through political blunder.
Some claim it was jobs, coal, and trade they protested
Certainly not that black guy we elected
But the browning of America is, to many, a no-no
(Even in the Jewish neighborhoods I used to know)
And Black Lives Matter drives them nuts
(All blacks are criminals, junkies, and sluts.)
Nu? The election’s over, the dream is shattered
Now kiss goodbye the things that mattered
But wait, my friend, you’re giving up much too fast.
Abandoning the good because of what just passed?
Our values haven’t vanished, though everything ends —
We have children and grandchildren — and they have friends.
A new generation is now emerging
And you don’t need CNN to see them surging
They do not share a legacy of hate
They are not hostage to past fate
They will grow and learn to share
They’re there — they care — they know what’s fair.
So, my friends, forget our perfect offerings
Our kids — and theirs — will make us sing
And even the sick, old, and broken will know
That America is already great — and still can grow
It doesn’t take a goniff -- it’s the people who will grant it
America will be renewed, and in the process, save the planet.
Albert Vorspan is the senior vice-president emeritus of the Union for Reform Judaism and former director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism. He was integral in the establishment of the Religious Action Center in Washington, DC. He is the author of several books on Judaism and social justice, as well as a number of books of Jewish humor published by Doubleday.
Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.