Suburban Bar Mitzvah by Matthew Lippman

When Jay Horowitz got bar mitzvahed

I smoked a cigarette with Davey Johnson

in the parking lot of Temple Mount Sinai. 

When Deborah Grossman read her dvar Torah

I ate lobster tails in the back row with Mitzi Greenberg

who later French kissed me

with lobster meat still stuck in her braces. 

At the party there was a mountain of shrimp in the meadow of suburbia

and the disco ball made us Mexican lovers

which meant we were Swedish meatballs

and didn’t give a shit about Judaic responsibility. 

This is what my people taught me when I was thirteen. 

And that on Saturday at shul

in front of the whole continent of your life

you could say The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord,

have  no idea what that meant,

but still feel YHWH inside your heart

then go to The Star Black Beach Club

and dance your ass of in that green polyester suit

your mother bought for you at Sears

across an oily floor of shrimp cocktail and oyster shells. 

When I was 13 I embraced the oyster shells and I miss them now,

even though my spirit burns bright

no matter what building I walk into, no matter what time of day. 

So, how do they did do it, those teenage Rozenfelds and Schneiders,

the ones who stayed so close to the li-had leek ner,

the ones who havdalahed themselves into a sustainable and consistent union

with mitzvah, personal and otherwise? 

Tonight, I walk into that old green polyester bar mitzvah suit

like I was parking my silver Toyota 4-runner into a too small garage

and want to blow the stitching to pieces

so the arms undo, the legs,

the crotch explodes and here I am,

the candle of God burning bright and into the glowing of my mind.


Matthew Lippman is the author of four poetry collections, SALAMI JEW (Racing Form Press), AMERICAN CHEW, winner of The Burnside Review Book Prize (Burnside Review Book Press, 2013), MONKEY BARS (Typecast Publishing, 2010), and THE NEW YEAR OF YELLOW, winner of the Kathryn A. Morton Poetry Prize (Sarabande Books, 2007). He is the recipient of the 2014 Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Prize, and The Jerome J. Shestack Poetry Prize from THE AMERICAN POETRY REVIEW.