Joan Myra Polikoff
June 8, 1961- January 14, 2016
An improvisation on “Dodi Li” Damiel Faxon, cello Eve Kodiak, piano
recorded by Jim McClure at Betsy’s Folly Studios, Lyndeborough, NH
January 14, 2017
Some anniversaries are too raw to remember . . . but still, they come. So we find ways to resonate with the life that was lived.
Soon after my sister died, I wanted to make a piano album for her. I couldn’t, then. But my son and I have improvised a song for her in the cello/piano score we’ve been creating. It will be released in May as a Colors in Motion “Touchstone,” with visuals transforming between abstract watercolors and almost-as-abstract close-ups of flowers. We call it Ambient Light – and I do feel my sister these days as a sort of a glimmer, hovering between the seen and the unseen.
She loved to sing. So I thought that we could bring a little more of her into the score by improvising on one of the melodies we used to sing together. “Dodi Li,” in Hebrew, from the Song of Songs, was a favorite. The lyrics remind me of my sister’s fierce and wistful beauty:
דֹּודִי לִי וַאֲנִי לֹו – Dodi li, va’ani lo – My love is mine, and I am his
My sister was a Gemini, always searching for the other half that could understand her, complete her, make her feel whole. For her, relationship was the most important thing – to talk things over, to connect. She considered superficiality to be a personal insult. Her river ran deep and she longed always to be met in its deepest currents.
הָרֹעֶה בַּשֹּׁושַׁנִּים – ha ro’eh ba’shoshanim – a shepherd among the lilies
The only thing my sister loved as much as a close relationship was nature. She was happiest outdoors. She was even a “ro-eh” of sorts – one of the first things she did when she moved to California was to convince her husband that they needed a pair of miniature goats. On the bike path that ran by their house, dog owners and joggers would do double-takes to see Juniper and Zinnia being led along on leashes.
מי זאת עלה מין המדבר – Mi zot olah min ha midbar? – Who is that ascending from the wilderness?
I like to think of my sister that way – being so happy simply to be out in nature, hiking between the earth and the sky, that she just – poof! ascends, astonishing the unexpectant angels.
My sister loved to give presents. Each occasion was marked by a beautiful card chosen specifically for its recipient. Inside the card, she would be sure to collect handwritten notes from everyone in the family.
The last gift I received from her was a blue ribbon upon which hung a clay swirl with a cast metal cap – a whimsical acorn! I wore it on a hike to the mountain lake where my brother and sister-in-law had scattered some of her ashes. I smashed a little bottle of gold flakes, returning them to the waters from which they had come. It was a ritual she would have liked – from ashes to gold to pure gold light.
לבבתני אחותי כלה. – Libavtini, achoti kala – You have ravished my heart, my sister, my bride.
The root of “libavtini” means to be understood, to be likeable. In this intense form, it means to be fascinating. That is my sister – when she was happy, you couldn’t take your eyes off her. In the Psalms, the bride is also a metaphor for the Sabbath, the most powerful and ordinary of holidays, a day of rest and peace and reflection. My sister needed more of that peace in her life. I like to think of her having a limitless amount of it now.
The root of “tzafon” means hidden, concealed. The sun hides from the north. In the meeting of the Tribes of Israel, the least favored spot was to the north.
I wish that my sister had not kept so much hidden, especially in the last few years. I wish that she had moved the tent of her heart from that cold northern place to the accessible, sunny south. Whenever there is a death like hers, there are regrets, wishes that things could have been different.
But there is another meaning hidden in the word “tzafon.” It also means “treasured.”
Tragedy often uncovers treasure. I don’t mean to suggest that the relationships created, the insights gained, the strength that is required, make the tragedy “worth it.” That kind of valuation is useless, anyway, because in life we are not given those kinds of choices. But we can still feel gratitude for the beauty that comes from sorrow, and connects us to the beauty that was always there.
My son and I spent about ten minutes going over the melody of “Dodi Li” the night before our recording session. We wanted to improvise on that seed without preconceptions. The next day in the studio, as we played, I felt my heart opening to the unseen sound of my son’s cello, to the feeling of my sister. When we finished, I had no memory of what we had played. Listening to it now, I am still surprised.
Who is that ascending from the wilderness? Libavtini, achoti . . .
דֹּודִי לִי וַאֲנִי לֹו הָרֹעֶה בַּשֹּׁושַׁנִּים.
י זאת עלה מין המדבר מקטרת מור ולבונה? לבבתני אחותי
כלה. עורי צפון ובואי תימן.