For years, I have taught workshops on writing ethical wills. I have drafted my own, but never felt finished. With this poem, I feel complete. This poem is my ethical will.

A Jewish tradition, ethical wills pass ethical values to the next generation. In recent years, the practice has been used by the general public, sometimes to aid estate planning and as a spiritual healing tool. Here is a longer description: http://artieisaac.com/blog/2015/04/ethical-will/.

My mother’s ethical will was found in her papers after her death and has been kept unpublished. I am — as an act of ethical willfulness — choosing to publish my ethical will publicly, to encourage others to write their own.

NOTE: This poem is in the form of a golden shovel. Please enjoy the poem, first. Then, below the poem, read (and see a video discussion) about the golden shovel form.


 

Ethical Will

after Pablo Neruda

As planted in your mother’s garden there,
you seedlings of bean and sweet pea are
repotting yourselves, what we know
of you: children so good.

Today, I step into summer, by s-
canning the gardens for
Alisa in radishes and greens, my
love and our lunch, the dog
at her feet, content within this acre. Who
ever is happy, desires life, has
found where joy lives, longing has died.

Now, at 60, my fruits are smiles and
words, my leaves are patience. I know we
have shared love so long we don’t
know it only from seeing it now.

When infants, you slept on my chest and
aged, I will walk in your arms. Never
wonder. You have been clear: I did
know you loved me. May hearts supply
the earth, the sun, the rain, to
surround you, nourish you, each,
with love, grown at home with another.


A Golden Shovel?
Applying the poetic form of a golden shovel, I borrowed Pablo Neruda’s two lines from the poem “Un Perro Ha Muerto” (“A Dog Has Died”):

… No hay adiós a mi perro que se ha muerto.
Y no hay ni hubo mentira entre nosotros…
.

… There are no good-byes for my dog who has died,
and we don’t now and never did lie to each other.

Each word (as translated by Alfred Yankauer) is, in order, the end word for each line:


As planted in your mother’s garden
there,
you seedlings of bean and sweet pea are
repotting yourselves, what we know
of you: children so good.

Today, I step into summer, by s
canning the gardens for
Alisa in radishes and greens, my
love and our lunch, the dog
at her feet, content within this acre. Who
ever is happy, desires life, has
found where joy lives, longing has died.

Now, at 60, my fruits are smiles and
words, my leaves are patience. I know we
have shared love so long we don’t
know it only from seeing it now.

When infants, you slept on my chest and
aged, I will walk in your arms. Never
wonder. You have been clear: I did
know you loved me. May hearts supply
the earth, the sun, the rain, to
surround you, nourish you, each,
with love, grown at home with another.

 

Before we quibble about the unorthodox hyphenation and other linguistic gyrations, see “Golden Shovel,” a poem by Terrance Hayes, which established the form in 2010. I believe the grammatical contortions suggest: “something is going on here.”

Hayes’ poem: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/55678/the-golden-shovel.
A general explanation: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/articles/92023/introduction-586e948ad9af8.


 

For a discussion of the poem with poet Beth Weinstock, see the video below (https://vimeo.com/429272253). We met on June 13 for a Poetry Circle — during which we read poems — finished and unfinished — to the other and then comment with encouragement and criticism.

 

To attend an upcoming Poetry Circle, register here: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZUodOusrjwqHdJse_dsGT2oqcp1dTyJQM9L