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The Eleven Commandments.

1 I am the Lord and I brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. There are other gods. But you have one God. I am I.

2 Make no idols. I am the maker. Those who create art will compete with me. You may worship them and lose me. If you make idols I shall punish your children for three and four generations. If you love me, since I am a lonely God I will care for you for a thousand generations. Love me, obey me. No statues.

3 In argument or court or the market, do not use my name for influence. I am a private God. I intervene when I wish, but you are not me. Do not stand in the pulpit babbling as if you are God. If you pass for me, I will erase you like an idol.

4 Shabbat is mine. I labored to form letters and place them on cloth of black fire in order to read those letters as words and speak creation. I created twice. Once in six days. And then all in one day when I created a garden with Adam and Eve. Two cosmic efforts. Remember what I did. It was for you. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and I delivered you. Now pause, enjoy, even meditate. I command you to loaf. If you are not lazy and joyful on your day of rest, I will tumble stones on your heads and then you may remember our labors. I have blessed Shabbat.

5 Honor your father and mother who, like me, are your makers. Dishonor to them is abuse of me. If you honor your father and mother, they will like you and forget honor and walk with you in gardens.

6 Do not kill. I kill. Time kills. Disease dismembers and kills. Do not add to that misery. If someone tries to kill you, whisper something quickly to me. Unfortunately, I may be absent. I tend to many and tend to be on line elsewhere. But all my work does not give you license to own guns or kill. Burn the weapons, big and small, of killing. Have a good life.

7 Do not sleep with the spouse of another. There are many to sleep with, including your solitude, which may delight you with never imagined feasts. The world has a mountain of partners. Why look for trouble? If your heart is beating with desire, remember me, your Lord, who has everyone and no one. I stand alone in the sky.

8 Do not steal the shirt of your kin or even your enemy. And worry about it, since even I who know all do not distinguish between stealing and enterprise. Even your prosperity may help or steal from your neighbor, and your poverty may help or steal from your cousin. Look into the mirror. If you see only two figures, you and your heart, if your hand does not shiver, forget this commandment. If you steal and your hand does not shiver, you are destined for great power.

9 Do not rat. A silent face is diamond. If you rat on friend or enemy, a circle of smoke will turn you into a rodent, not a hare, but a rat. Better to be a siren, a singing Josephine who comforts her fellow mouse folk who live in shadows and pipes, than to rat.

10 I am the jealous God. You must not be like me. I possess the world, and its people die and wives and husbands, slaves and oxen and neighbors all become dust and I possess nothing of them. You will have nothing if you do not learn from death, from the dust maker, for your soul, if you covet the things of others, will turn deadly. You will not look in yourself where you are a sky infinitely deep and with unending aromas. Do not be jealous like me.

11 I am a weary God, who has not been listened to. That may be just, since I have taken to long absences. My plate is empty. Do not quibble whether I have been good or bad, whether my commandments are good or bad, whether I am or am not. If you want a good life, I tell you to listen to my commandments. Or do not listen. And if you cannot listen, hear your soul. It is there, asking you to loaf. And when you have truly seen your soul and believed, and are comforted by its vastly intimate rain forest, enter her and forget me.

WILLIS BARNSTONETS recent books are The Poems of Sappho: A New Translation (1998), With Borges on an Ordinary Evening in Buenos Aires (1993), and The Poetics of Translation (1993). UPNE has published The Secret Reader: 501 Sonnets (1996), Funny Ways of Staying Alive (1993), and Laughing Lost in the Mountains: Poems of Wang Wei (1991) with Tony Barnstone.
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Publication:Southwest Review
Article Type:Poem
Date:Sep 22, 2000
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