Map of Kansas Literature

[graphic] dot Return to TOPEKA
[graphic] dot Return to KANSAS MAP

Israel Wasserstein, Kansas Poet

Israel Wasserstein


This Ecstasy They Call Damnation, Book Cover, Israel Wasserstein









Born and raised in Topeka, Kansas, Israel Wasserstein received his BA in English from Washburn University, and his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of New Mexico. He is currently a Lecturer in English at Washburn University. His poetry collection, This Ecstasy They Call Damnation, was published in 2012.

Return to Top of Page
Bibliography ( - housed in Thomas Fox Averill Kansas Studies Collection)  


Return to Top of Page
Writing Samples

3 AM, The Plains of San Augstin

There would be no sound were it not for the wind,
etching its history in dust across the high desert,
pulling sediment laid down by that ancient lake
in whose basin I stand, beneath the arc of stars,
where the first humans to walk this land left tools,
evidence of their ancient path along the water’s edge.

Here the land breathes, here the earth finds its edge
along the Great Divide. Here the song is the wind’s,
and the rocks became the first tools.
The trick of the place: it was not always desert.
The wheeling sky and the timeless stars
are no more eternal than the land-that-was-lake.

Once the red planet was dotted with lakes,
and once volcanoes, not antennas, cut the edge
of this sky—I am learning to listen to the stars.
Here I am a guest, interloper of wind,
thin air and slow time of the desert,
which preserves and disdains all our tools.

In this State of pollen-yellow sands, we built tools
to break earth from earth, to flood the sky with lakes
of ash, to shatter millennial quiet of the desert.
In a moment, we carry ourselves to the edge
of annihilation, and trail death on the wind:
this will not disturb the wandering stars.

May I hold in myself the scope of stars,
and in my hands fragile Pleistocene tools,
see the blessings and fury of the wind,
for I am here, and here remains a lake,
and the past is with me, and the future’s hungry edge,
and I am not the ancient desert,

but I may rest where night meets desert.
May I know the dignity of the stuff of stars,
as the Array whispers we may be on the edge
of contact, and not all tools are tools
of war. Let me remember the lake,
and the people who drank of it, and the wind.

I stand amidst desert, amidst monuments to the edge
of our reach, and the stars are not mine, and the lake
is not ours, and our tools are exposed by the wind.


The Golem of Prague

Beside the river was I crafted,
packed and molded of mud, a blind child’s
imitation of man. A word
woke me, bound me.

I tell you (my mouth unmoving)
this is no tale of hubris:
my feet of clay have no more of the corpse
than Adam did, before breath
summoned breath. No mad fool stitched me,
nor did the Rabbi wish to be divine.

This I learned: G-d was alone, so he made man.
The people were alone, so they made me,
breathed life, for a time, that I might
take life in their defense.
Why should they weep that I am
what they dreamed? This is the secret:
the crafter gives a portion of himself. Soon the Rabbi
will return, and wipe one letter clear.

Though I fear the silence, I will answer his call.
The last of my breath will return to him.
And when the last of creation falls,
who will then be made whole?

Return to Top of Page

Online Resources:

Interview with Miranda Ericsson, Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library

"Conversation with Zeus" in Fickle Muses

"3 AM, the Plains of San Agustin" and "A Time Traveler Sends a Postcard" in Celebrating New Mexico's Centennial Through Poetry

"To the Stars Through Difficulty" and "Stepping into the Woods" in Kansas Time + Place

"The Golem of Prague" in Scissors & Spackle

Israel Wassertein faculty page, Washburn University

Return to Top of Page



[ WU Home ] [ Directory ] [ A-Z Index ] [ Sitemap ] [ Contact WU ] [ Statements & Disclosures ] [ Accessibility ] [ Search ]
© 2015 Washburn University, 1700 SW College Ave, Topeka, Kansas 66621 785.670.1010
Contact with questions or comments.