Minaret in Israel

When I lived in Israel, the air felt denser, heavier. In such a small space, words (and worlds) piled up with such intensity, you felt yourself using muscles you didn't know you had, straining to make sense of all the war and death and beauty contained in the land.

I think that is why, years later, when I finally read the Psalms, the word selah held such meaning for me. Its original definition is unknown, but there is some agreement that selah signifies a moment of reflection, an invitation to "weigh" or "measure" the singer's words.

For me, selah is a prayer within a prayer. It means "may the ears hear and the eyes see." It is a word that asks us to stop and listen, really listen, to the song.

On this, first morning of my life,
hosannas are not enough.

I walk and walk,

up streets with Jewish names,
down streets with Arab names —

all in celebration of great poets
or killers.

Men who were both poets and killers.
May my pen draw blood and pour wine.

I walk through old monuments,
tombs of alabaster, car soot.

Slogans half hid
behind green bombs of melon,

grenades of black and purple grapes.

In the end, who will history anoint?
I forget who was Isaac, who Ishmael.

I walk and walk,
forgetting my own language, my alphabet,

the one carried by Phoenicians
from port to port —

trading letters aleph bet

that were rounded like stones
by a lapidist alif ba

and passed from mouth to mouth
until they lost all but essence a b

and continue to be worn and smoothed,
until, as jewels,

only their memory is left —

as I limp through harbours,
the bilge of refugees —

in this, last moment of the day,

when the sky burns purple
and the ocean breaks black,

when the streetlamps tremble and,
all around,

the noise of guns and worship —

Selah. Enough.

A.E. LeftonA.E. Lefton is a poet, journalist, and educator currently living in London. You can read more of her writings on her blog, All I Own I Carry.

Share Your Reflection



Really a great poem. I think I enjoyed the movement or cadence of the poem as much as the words. I am married to your aunt Gail (Apperspach).

I really appreciate that Tom - a poet is always trying to grasp at cadence as much as at words!

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and poem. Very powerful. A friend sent me the link to your blog because she knows the word selah holds special meaning for me as well. It's the one-word epitaph I asked the stonecutter to etch on my mother's grave stone. In the prologue of my memoir MOONLIGHT ON LINOLEUM: A daughter's Memoir, I write: The word selah is an enigma, which describes my mother perfectly. Some think selah refers to a musical instruction meaning "a pause" or "stopping to listen." It may have also been used similarly to the word amen. Now that I was the same age as Mama had been when she died, I wanted to stop and listen to what her life had meant; I wanted to say amen to her, as if her life had been a prayer.

Terry Helwig

Thank you for this reminder of a wonderful hertitage.

Powerful poem.

Loved your poem, but then your were always easy with words. Also loved the tribute to your mother, my sister. Keep up the wonderful work!!!

Thank you for taking time to hear and dig deeply into the meaning of things. Always wondered about the word selah. Thank you for adding depth to my day.

Colors blind the eye. Sounds deafen the ear. Flavors numb the taste. Thoughts weaken the mind. Desires whither the heart.

The Master observes the world but trusts his inner vision. He allows things to come and go. His heart is open as the sky.

-Tao Te Ching,12

really wonderful poem! Keep up the gud work. You were always magical with your words. I'm sure mom wud be feeling so proud up there as is ur dad right here. selah...forever!

What a stunning poem. Thank you.

Youthful thoughts (I reebmmer mine); they seem to make perfect sense even when they are not formed from ultimate truth. For so many, truth is variable because we all tend to form the world to fit our beliefs. Despite this, the wisdom imparted with age will evoke a change in that thinking.My wisdom does support Love as the greatest gift because its source is Devine. Life and Death are both illusion because the spark of your existence is eternal. Beyond the perspective of lives in this form, two other things stand out as being gifts of the Devine and outside of illusion, Free Will and Self Consciousness.I believe that it is these three things that separate us from other forms of life, it does not make us better but it is a statement of the unique reason for which mankind was created. Our path through Life is just a few points along an eternal path of progressive advancement as we approach our source. If you make the mistake of seeing all life as equal in this process, it is possible to arrive at the conclusions presented by our beloved moderator…