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Poetry Moment: Rachel Mennies and 'The Creation of Temple Beth Shalom'

This is Poetry Moment on WPSU, a program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. I’m Shara McCallum, this year’s Penn State laureate.

Today’s poem is “The Creation of Temple Beth Sholom” by Rachel Mennies.

Rachel Mennies is the author most recently of The Naomi Letters. Her poem for today comes from her previous collection and first book, The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards. Originally from the Philadelphia area and a former resident of both State College and Pittsburgh, Mennies currently lives in Chicago, where she works as a writer, editor, and adjunct professor.

In “The Creation of Temple Beth Sholom,” with deft wit, the poet delivers an incisive Pennsylvania history lesson. Mennies retells the story of one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s lesser-known commissions in the state, at the same time invoking the “legacy” of Jews in Philadelphia. Tonight begins Rosh Hashanah, the New Year and start of the period of contemplation that marks the Days of Awe. To celebrate, I offer up Mennie’s poem—playful in its tone, layered with allusion, and inviting our reflection.

Here's “The Creation of Temple Beth Sholom”

Frank Lloyd Wright
had built most of his legacy,
and it was good—Fallingwater
tumbled over itself
in Pittsburgh; the Guggenheim perched

on the Upper East Side. Then
the Lord appeared to him
as he lay in bed one night.
The Lord said unto Wright: Bring
your pens and your drafting paper
to Philadelphia, where you shall build
a new house of worship
for the Jews.
Wright, Midwest Baptist
minister’s son, sat up straight
in bed. The Jews? he asked, then pointed

a finger at the ceiling. What
do you think my art can bring
to the Jews? The Lord said
unto Wright: Between you and me:
I’ve been a bad father
lately. And thus Beth Sholom,

mountain of glass, giant
winged ark, came to land
on Old York Road, the last building

Wright designed before
his death: forever stuck
in self-reflection, the panes
making walls and roof of sky.

That was “The Creation of Temple Beth Sholom” by Rachel Mennies.

And with Poetry Moment on WPSU, I’m Shara McCallum. Thank you for sharing this moment of poetry with me today.

Shara McCallum was the 2021-22 host of "Poetry Moment" on WPSU.
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