Aryeh Cohen

A Talmudic diptych

For Holly on her 66th birthday.


An occurrence, being in Nehardea.
There were two.
The one demanded of the other: “What have you with my land?”
Otherwise inscribed: “What have you with my house?”
The other: “From you I bought it. I had it under use till term.”
The first: “I was afar, away in other places, not able to challenge your usurpation.”
Others interpret: “I was here the whole time, dwelling in the
inner rooms.”
They appeared before Rav Naḥman. 
He said: “Go, clarify your use.”
Rava, then retorted: “Is this truly the law? One who wishes to extract from his fellow, upon him is the burden of proof.” (Babylonian Talmud, Baba Bathra, 29b)

To own is to hold. To grasp with quick fist.
To drive a stake into hard ground. To bound.
To limn. To limit.
To own.
To contest is to get between to challenge to
query to dare
to lie
to contest.
The land
inert it stays where it was
property implies perhaps that it was
seeded with sweat and now impregnated
with the life of the owner.
It happened in Nehardea. It did.
Two men, real men,
bandanas and cowboy hats. One maybe
had a John Deere cap. Sweated through around the band.
The conversation was anything but hale friends well met.
The conversation was pointed
What are you doing on my land son?
You sold it to me.
Say it like this: But you… you sold it to me.
Say it like this: Don’t you remember, old man, I
bought it from you. I tilled it
till my arm near fell off, I planted it and harvested it. Three years now. I bought it from you, old man.
Now leave.

It happened like this
of a day. a very certain day
on a field. a specific field
it happened like this
a certain man and another man
two men. no other men.
two men facing each other over a piece of land
my land. my land
was your land I bought it from you
Impossible I was not here
Impossible I was on it all the while
two men. facing each other
face to face
standing before the law. before a very specific law
before Rav Naḥman. before Rava
Rava also before Rav Naḥman
setting the case before the law
setting the land before the law
Rav Naḥman speaks. Clarify your hold.
Make it clear to me that you had possession.
make it clear to me that you had sole possession.
make it clear to me that the land is yours
Rava. student. questions.
is this the law?
the books say that the one who extracts must bring proof.


It happened in Meḥoza.
That one man who said to his fellow: What are you doing in this house?
He replied: I bought it from you and have enjoyed the years of legal ownership.
He said: I was in distant markets!
He replied: Behold I have witnesses that each and every year you would come to market for thirty days.
He said: All thirty days I was occupied with the market.
Said Rava: It does happen that all thirty days one would be occupied with the market. 
(Babylonian Talmud, Baba Bathra, 30a)

It is the lure of the easy metaphor
the lure of the market ignoring the house
preoccupied with the marketplace you have forgotten who
was in your house. preoccupied. engrossed. It happened.
in Meḥoza. With one specific person
and another specific person.
and Rava decided that that is what people do.
in Meḥoza. only in Meḥoza?

I was away in foreign lands, not the lure of adventure
it wasn’t the white sands, just the daily search for bread,
It wasn’t that home slipped my mind, that ever I didn’t think
of Meḥoza and those left behind, its just that I was ever so
busy, the busyness that is life, running after the deal
avoiding the pain, the strife, you were on my mind
really. It happened. But I wasn’t in Mehoza.

and yet you were. and even when you were.
you weren’t.
and yet you were. and even when you were.
you weren’t.

but that is still too easy. the metaphor falls breaks
dissolves into dust on the stairs of the courthouse
on the rhetoric of the courthouse and the anger
of the law: What are you doing here?
I have a claim
I was unable to dispute
I have witnesses
I was unavailable
Yes. It happens.
we are though still captured by the metaphor
take it on then, break it open.
what is a house? if you were in foreign lands for these many years
it was not a home
it was a piece of property
yet here I was. I ate those years. I enjoyed those years
I made a home and memories.
you could have come back
what gates or walls did I erect?
what bill of divorce did I send you?
I paid in blood sweat and tears
I paid in the laughter of little children
the cries of skinned knees and broken expectations
the glass of merlot at the end of the day
the sunsets
you paid market prices. you waged marketfare.
what have we now but Rava’s final decision
and he’s decided. it happens betimes. just like this.
in Meḥoza. it happens. we are not unique.
it happens.