Learning To Speak

Nishmat Kol Chai Tverech Et Shimecha

Everything alive blesses You as it breathes

I pray with breath you have lent me

but when I want to pray aloud,

ancient words block my path.

Hebrew lines across a desert,

the long trail of Jews walking toward You.

Their robes rise in the wind, and they lift their voices --

but I can't catch the meaning:

time dried these words, they're just ink to me now.

The trail is cold.

I block the path to You myself:

my mouth could open the gate, but I keep it closed --

speech pours out too easily; I rain on my own road.

It gets slick with my speech, and I skid by You.

I boast, I rebel, I can't pray with this voice.

I'm just making sounds.

The sparrow chirps, the seagull squawks,

all who breathe call to You,

but I come with words.

I have a small word, a yelp of confusion,

but yank it back in my mouth

before You can hear.

That's my prayer: the second before I speak.

Breathe in on the Ni, breathe out on the Shema,


As I breathe, I pray two words: help me

I've reached the hard part,

the leap from Nishmat to Kol Chai.

To say Kol, my mouth has to stay open;

For Chai, I need my jaw and my tongue, all I've got,

and breath pulls a prayer from my throat if I mean it:

if my prayers plant deeds.

The willow lifts in the wind:

the tides go in and out again.

Thank you for air:

I'm learning to use it to speak to You.

Nishmat Kol Chai Tverech

May my words be acceptable

... Et Shimecha

You are the One who waits, listening.

Shelby Allen

(previously published in Tiferet Journal of Spiritual Literature)