Ps. 1: A Contemporary Interpretation

Rodger Kamenetz’s work in poetry began with The Missing Jew (1979) and includes as well The Lowercase Jew (2003). His most recent books of poetry are Yonder (2018) and Dream Logic (2019). His poems have appeared recently in The Southern Review and Image and in dozens of anthologies. His website is


Psalm 1

Rodger Kamenetz, The Lowercase Jew, pp. 67-70.


              Happy is the one who … does not sit with scorners.

              -Psalm 1:1


              Just like a tree that standing by the water

              we shall not be moved.

              -Civil Rights anthem



happy is the one who does not sit

on the crooked stool,

who stands, satisfied with

one bag of sugar, of tea,

one slice of lemon,

white china, Formica countertop,

the clock with its black hands.


Happy is the one who does not sit

on the rusty seat by the broken mirror,

but closer to the register, taking in

the aroma of fresh grease and the ketchup squeezer.


Happy is the old man with the daily news

murmuring quietly to himself day and night.

The headlines jump up and down their fonts,

but his voice is steady as he shakes his head.

Happy is the old woman quietly studying the crosswords

and filling in the blanks with pen & capitals.


Happy is the student who studies at night

with black coffee and the sugar shaker

like a white tower in the sky.


Happy is the one who slides on life

and does not stick to the griddle.

Happy is the check, added correctly,

with the smiley face and the “Thanks!”


Happy is the name of the waitress

printed on a badge

and the customer secret in his own wallet

who pulls an extra bill and lays it on the table.


Happy is the short-order cook

who forgets time and space

with a spatula and an apron.  


Happy is the world outside

balanced on the appetites

that enter through the door

with the hydraulic hinge

and exit later, full and satisfied.


Happy is the air in the room buzzing

from ear to nose to mouth, tasting,

looking, inhaled, and swallowed.


Happy is the hamburger bun

with tiny flowers of wheat

like wheels and gears turning.


Unhappy is the meat,

the slaughtered cow,

the slaughter.


Happy is one who does not mock with the mochers,

who lives in the apartment down the street from the diner

and dwells in solitude

that’s open 24 hours a day.


Happy is the one rooted like a tree in the great life,

who draws from the porous earth

sap, leaf, juice, and fruit.


Happy the bug that eats the fruit,

the fly that lurches on the flower.

Happy the radiation flying from the petal,

invisible to the eye of man.


Happy the invisible which can't be seen,

the splash of bright color and disappearing air,

the ancient webwork of filaments

under the ground, and the mushroom heads

that pop in the spring rain.


Blessed all life unknown, the burning

filament of desire that lights the hallway, 

 air around the subway sign.


Happy is the dust mote blowing past the door

in the breeze that makes rails in the air.

Happy is the chaff that loved the wheat

and left it without pity or sadness,

the wheat bear in the arms of the harvester.

Happy are the wicked

singing at the top of their lungs.

Happy the neurotic in the endless technicality

of their unhappiness.

Happy the quiet man in his deep meditation

disturbed by the bass of his neighbor’s speakers.

When the clear image comes to him at last,

it will gather every blunt and broken noise

at the bottom of sleep

and he will see the roots of wisdom tap

the source of life, cold and stinging fresh.


Happy is the night and the path unlit in the dark.

Happy the stumbling, the falling down.

Happy the snow on the freezing body

and the last hat and muffler.

Happy the umbrella switched to a new owner

in the afterlife of umbrellas.

Happy matter and anti-matter

and the bit more of right than left

that makes corners scorn scorning

and the wicked turn from wickedness.


As in the motion of particles,

the motion of the creek over the rocks,

the happy disappear into the unhappy

and the unhappy recirculate into the happy

and the leaves fall into soil

and rise again as leaves:

happy, happy, and happy.


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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.