The Voice of the Rooster and the Lessons It Teaches
by Ellen Beth Berman
Bookwhip Company

"The ‘rooster’s lessons’ unfold, suggesting a way to value each day, by searching for its inner light."

Poet Berman brings to life the ancient Hebrew saying, "…Who gives the rooster understanding to distinguish between day and night." It is a profound concept, as are other questions posed in Berman's works, where often the answer lies simply with "G-d." Berman asserts that a face, an innocence, and "a glimpse of the true Artist" can inspire us in all aspects of life. Truth has no mask. It's just "pure 'straight talk,'" as Berman suggests in her opening poem, "Unmasking Truth." When ego assails us in various disguises, G-d seeks to lift us up and shows us who we truly are ("Held Prisoner"). The author accompanies a poem about the Father's love with a sweet photo of a small child crawling eagerly toward outstretched, grown-up arms. Such love and trust are a reflection of G-d's care for us ("Awaiting You").

One portion of this collection, "Your Distinctive Crow," comprises tributes to people in Berman's life whose love and example have provided her with the inspiration she believes we all seek. A neighbor named Grace who contracted Parkinson's is praised for her teaching in a rural school and devotion to the small community ("Life of Grace"). A Holocaust survivor is regarded in retrospect as a "prince of a man" who modestly performed "glowing deeds." The horrors of the Holocaust are also underscored in "Can There Be a Place of True Darkness?": "Yet no matter how he tries to destroy / There still remains their indefinable light / He sees "those Jews" possess something beyond / The farthest reaches of his substantial might."

Berman was raised in Appalachia, making an apt comparison based on that experience, in that one's spiritual journey may entail going deep into the darkest realms to return "with diamonds." Her thoughtful observations of the joys and vicissitudes of human existence have a long reach, with quotations from and references to both modern trends and ancient lore. The image invoked by the book's title is exemplary. The collection opens with the "Lessons of the Rooster," including such wisdom as "Crow with conviction" and "Do not let having to scratch the dirt for food, define you." The poet also reveals lessons she has garnered over the years from contact with several inspiring rabbis.

Her colorful presentation, produced with the assistance of her artist husband, contains photos and illustrations of the rooster perched on a fence post, singing out the golden sunrise. There are also evocative photos of family, and one grim photographic remembrance of the Holocaust, depicting children in striped coats hemmed in with barbed wire in front and a block wall behind them. At the end of the book, Berman has added a lengthy set of idea-invoking "Questions for Discussion" based on her poems and suggests these as a possible useful addition to "an adult class or learning group." With subjects ranging from anger to bedtime stories to romantic love and G-d's sustaining care, Berman's work could well motivate readers interested in poetic construction and the rich history behind the offerings gathered here.

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