Poem: Dybbuk in the Cafeteria

Updated on August 1, 2018

Isaac Bashevis Singer, the Dybbuk and Horn & Hardart

I first heard of a dybbuk while I was reading a short story by the great writer, Isaac Bashevis Singer. A dybbuk is a Jewish term meaning a malicious possessing spirit believed to be the dislocated soul of a dead person. Some of Singer's stories were based on the Kabbalah, the Jewish book of mysticism, that included supernatural beings such as dybbuks. I was intrigued and a bit frightened by the way the dybbuk would terrorize a village or a group of people so effortlessly.

As a young man growing up in Philadelphia during the 70s, I often ate at a cafeteria called Horn and Hardart. It was cheap, and the food was tasty, plus it was a great place to listen to other people's conversations and imagine writing a poem about a demon one day entering that establishment.

Hm, I think I'll call it Dybbuk in the Cafeteria.

Dybbuk in the Cafeteria

I jotted down notes,

thought that’s what successful writers do

on white cafeteria napkins,

hoping that my mystical experiences

could transform scribble into prose.

On a squeaky wooden chair,

hovered over a small round table,

I picked up a piece of Salisbury steak

with my shiny silverware.

Dining on steak and creamed spinach,

I listened to four wise men talk

with thick Yiddish accents

at the big round table

in the center of the cafeteria.

Mendel told Marty, Hershel, and Leo

that a malicious spirit with bright red hair

had just entered through the revolving door

and took a seat, howling by the window.

Gorging on Shepherds pie and rice pudding

with his hands and feet

while swirling in madness

and still not getting enough to eat.


“Just ignore the demon,” said Mendel.

“It’s one off those bewildered dybbuks.

He’s a lost soul that keeps coming back

trying to correct past wrongs,

making the same mistakes twice.”

Hershel turned to Leo and laughed:

“This dybbuk must be my investment broker

coming to give me some more bad tips.

Mischievous souls, like shady brokers,

take what they can get and then go.”

Mendel got serious and said, “Let God handle

the ugly dybbuk. He knows what’s best;

He'll exorcise that troubled pest,”

Then Mendel leaned forward

and took a bite of a chicken salad on rye.

I finished writing in my composition book,

swallowed down the last piece

of boysenberry pie, took a sip of Coke

and bid Horn & Hardart

and the wailing dybbuk goodbye.

I got the story I came for and much more

I hurried out of the haunted cafeteria

with notes in my marble bound book,

past Mendel, Marty, Hershel, and Leo,

past the demonic spirit, stuck in the revolving door.

Dybbuk in the Cafeteria


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    • Mark Tulin profile imageAUTHOR

      Mark Tulin 

      6 months ago from Santa Barbara, California

      Albert, so sorry to get back to you 9 months later. Good question. No it wasn’t the automat. That was a bit before my time. But I enjoyed the cafeteria in the early 70s in Philadelphia. I’ve had thoughts of making it into a short story as well. And I love Bernard Malamud, one of my favorites

    • Mark Tulin profile imageAUTHOR

      Mark Tulin 

      6 months ago from Santa Barbara, California

      Thanks, Diane. I hope you enjoyed the mystical aspect.

    • Diane Denison profile image

      Diane Denison 

      6 months ago from Cincinnati Ohio

      Mark This Poem Caught My Attention When You Mentioned Mystical Experiences. I Couldn't help But To Smile.

    • Albert Diner profile image

      Albert Diner 

      15 months ago

      COULD BE expanded to a short story. It reminds me of Bernard Malamud. Is Horn and Hardart cafeteria "the automat" of the 1950s ?

    • Mark Tulin profile imageAUTHOR

      Mark Tulin 

      21 months ago from Santa Barbara, California

      Thank you, PA. The term sounds funny and scary at the same time. Thanks for reading. Mark

    • profile image


      21 months ago

      Nice work Mark! I was intrigued by the term"dybbuk. Awesome story indeed.

    • Mark Tulin profile imageAUTHOR

      Mark Tulin 

      24 months ago from Santa Barbara, California

      Thanks, Tamara. Your guess is as good as mine.

    • Rhyme Vine Poetry profile image


      24 months ago from Uninhabited Regions

      Interesting poem! I kept wondering what was going to happen next!



    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 

      2 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      "He’s a lost soul that keeps coming back

      trying to correct past wrongs,

      making the same mistakes twice..."

      "...past the demonic spirit, stuck in the revolving door."

      Dark, yet humorous and charming. I liked this poem.

    • Mark Tulin profile imageAUTHOR

      Mark Tulin 

      2 years ago from Santa Barbara, California

      Thanks for watching,Chibuzo.

    • Rossimobis profile image

      Chibuzo Melvin Mobis 

      2 years ago from Nigeria

      Nice piece...was hooked to the video.

    • Mark Tulin profile imageAUTHOR

      Mark Tulin 

      2 years ago from Santa Barbara, California

      Interesting, manatita. Often, the more pleasant the setting, the scarier the story. Thanks, again, for your input.

    • manatita44 profile image


      2 years ago from london

      Nice piece. I call these observational poetry. I did a few in Kenya. The art of looking and making use of one's five senses to produce wonderful work.

      Your story is scary yet fun. We had lots of them growing up in a caribbean setting. Peace.

    • Mark Tulin profile imageAUTHOR

      Mark Tulin 

      2 years ago from Santa Barbara, California

      No, Tim. I wasn’t thinking of Gregor Mendel. I’m glad it worked for you, though. Much peace.

    • Tim Truzy info4u profile image

      Tim Truzy 

      2 years ago from U.S.A.

      Superb as always, my friend.

      Was Mendel by any chance Gregor Mendel, pointing out the genetic and spiritual flaw of the dybbuk? Clever.

      I enjoyed the interesting rhyming approach and the imaginative use of language in this work. You never disappoint in your poetry and introductions.



      Much respect,



    • Mark Tulin profile imageAUTHOR

      Mark Tulin 

      2 years ago from Santa Barbara, California

      Thanks, John. We’re both contributors to the devil’s poetry collection.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      This was a fun read, Mark. A well written poem and interesting.

    • Mark Tulin profile imageAUTHOR

      Mark Tulin 

      2 years ago from Santa Barbara, California

      Thanks,Rinita. I just hope that if I come back, I don’t get stuck in a revolving door.

    • Senoritaa profile image

      Rinita Sen 

      2 years ago

      Effortless wordplay, half rhymes, and story telling here, Mark. I had never heard of a dybbuk before, but how scary! We have similar concepts of souls with unfinished business coming back, in our culture, too. Not sure what they are called, though. Really admire the blend of imagination and reality in your poem.


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