James Crowe Rich­mond, Blank Ocean and Mere Sky

There was a white mosque by the Black Sea

In the vil­lage of Ak-mechet.

A few dozen Tatars tend­ed their vines and their sheep

As a lone Jew­ish black­smith shod their hors­es in peace

And ham­mered out wag­on wheels.

He was a sim­ple man in a sim­ple world,

God-fear­ing and silent.

He fol­lowed his sea­sons in inward prayer, sky and sea,

Sky and sea, praise and iron, iron and praise.

Nobody in Ak-mechet remem­bers the white mosque.

There is no pho­to­graph, no ruin. But one ancient

Men­tion by a pass­ing trav­el­er who fancied

Him­self a writer and man of the world,

Found now only on the inter­net’s remotest pages.

For the book is lost and the mosque long destroyed.

The vines and the sheep a dream, the horse­shoes and

Wag­on wheels a nightmare.

Leav­ing only the Black Sea, the Black Sea,

The Black Sea and the name of the village,

Ak-mechet: white mosque.

The sim­ple black­smith is now more leg­end than memory.

On the far­thest end of the cos­mos, his great great

Grand­son is also a Jew, sky and sea, sky and sea,

Praise and iron, iron and praise.

With­out horse or ham­mer, he too some­times fancies

Him­self a writer and man of the world. Such days

He fol­lows in inward prayer, scan­ning his trav­el­er heart

For the white mosque by the Black Sea, entering

Ak-mechet the God-fearing,

Ak-mechet the silent.

Into the emp­ty step­peland he calls:

O Dede, my grandfather.

As a child I was awed by your mystery.

Now, holy ances­tor, speak to me.

Into the white wind he accuses:

Your puri­ty was no good to me.

You chant­ed the sweet­est of melodies

But only to God.

Into the black waters he cries:

You cast your ham­mer and wheel to the depths

Of the sea. I searched but I nev­er did

Find them there.

With what shall I hit now, my Dede,

And upon what shall I strike?

And whom shall I praise, my Dede,

If not you, if not you?

His hands pound the key­board again, and again.

No mat­ter the words, no mat­ter the rhyme,

No mat­ter the song, no mat­ter the tears,

No mat­ter the sea and no mat­ter the sky,

No mat­ter the book or the wind or the prayer,

It always comes out the same, the same:

There was a white mosque by the Black Sea

In the vil­lage of Ak-mechet. There was…

Sky and sea, sky and sea, praise and iron,

Iron and praise.

This piece is a part of the Berru Poet­ry Series, which sup­ports Jew­ish poet­ry and poets on PB Dai­ly. JBC also awards the Berru Poet­ry Award in mem­o­ry of Ruth and Bernie Wein­flash as a part of the Nation­al Jew­ish Book Awards. Click here to see the 2020 win­ner of the prize. If you’re inter­est­ed in par­tic­i­pat­ing in the series, please check out the guide­lines here.

Rab­bi David Osachy is a health­care chap­lain in Jack­sonville, Flori­da. He descends from Yahudil­er, also called Krym­chaks, the Tur­kic-speak­ing Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion of Crimea and south­ern Ukraine. These small com­mu­ni­ties of tra­di­tion­al arti­sans and pet­ty traders were almost entire­ly anni­hi­lat­ed in the Nazi Holo­caust. The white mosque of the poem was destroyed, and the local Mus­lims expelled, in the mid-nine­teenth cen­tu­ry after Rus­sia gained con­trol of the area from the Ottoman Empire.