The Scroll is adding to our poetry output with Scroll Verse, a recurring feature that presents the works of Jewish poets–or in some cases, poets who write on Tablet themes or have Jewish souls. Our last poem was Creed: A Still Life by Susan Comninos.
Our latest installment is a work by Jake Marmer.
Adding It Up
“Gematria … interpretive freedom gone mad”
I have this relative, a young guy. Call him Gematria. Not a gematria, but Gematria with a capital G because that’s his first name. Last name’s Woodpecker. Hence, Gematria Woodpecker. Anytime we’re at a family gathering together, before I even wash my hands there’s already an equation waiting on the table. Something adds up immediately! Gematria is a mystical thing: numbers behind letters behind words the world is made of. A great cosmic abacus that counts up not only causes and effects but all sorts of other more random things (which may be, by the way, why effects don’t add up to causes – but that’s a separate conversation). It is the world’s wiring the guy’s fiddling with it – this relative who isn’t even my relative, but is spliced upon me through one of those circumstances. If you add “Jake” and “the ladder” you get “rose” which is your wife, Shoshana, get it, you had to climb a ladder to reach her…. subtract “bird” from “jake and his woman” and you get the “blessing for the downtrodden”. He’s not wrong with either of these gematrias; but, weirdly, the look he gets as he busts them out is exactly like that of some middle-age dad who lives for his bad puns. What I’m trying to say is that maybe this obsession is not so crazy after all. The issue, of course, is that he’s also a Woodpecker – he’ll drill a hole in your head with these gematrias. Then again, we have nothing to say to each other, and it’s awkward – and what else has he got up his sleeve? I’ve been attracted to puns myself. lf all I ever read was holybooks and my Hebrew was much better, maybe I’d be gematrying all day long myself just like him. Come to think, it would’ve been nice to spice up a conversation at the table where I too have nothing to say, and overall, aside from a few dead-end jokes, sprinkling of anecdotes, and the obligatory didactic thing, there’s just not a whole lot happening for me, not a whole lot going on at all…
Jake Marmer’s first collection of poetry, Jazz Talmud, was recently published by the Sheep Meadow Press.
Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.