A poem for our time

After the martyrdom of Rabbi Akiva (c. 50 – 135), publicly tortured to death for continuing to teach when prohibited

They all watch

the martyrdom

in agitation

their unblinded eyes see

again, and again

the metal-headed Roman soldier

his fine-toothed comb

strokes, without rhythm, or beauty

the old shepherd’s weathered skin peeled

thighs, calves

wherever raked

arms, breasts

nipple falls to ground


eyes upturned with salted tears

his shepherd’s lips crease

slight smile clear

to those gathered


grateful to sound

the depths of himself

his late-life longing

the completed self

even as, slowly, under the sun

he bleeds to death

David Kobrin

Orcas Island