SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: MIRIAM’S SONG

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“Miriam the prophetess” by Anselm Feuerbach. Public Domain image.


“Miriam the prophetess… took the tambourine in her hand; and all the women followed her with tambourines and dances. And Miriam called to them: Sing…” (Exodus 15:20-21)


Editor’s Note: The most important thing that has happened to Passover this year is the Notorious RBG’s decree that when we remember the Exodus, we need to remember the women. First and foremost among them, for me, is Miriam. The unsung hero of what is usually thought of as “Moses’ story,” Miriam is responsible for everything from Moses’ birth to his survival to providing water for the Israelites throughout their forty-year-sovereign in the desert. The first person in the Bible to be called a prophet, Miriam was beloved by her people but less-loved by her creator, who struck her down with leprosy to teach her the consequences of a woman voicing her opinion.

Song is one of the oldest forms of poetry, and the poetry of the Bible is one of the oldest written records of poetry we have. Sadly, all that remains of Miriam’s song in the Bible is a call to action: “And Miriam called to them: Sing…”

We are lucky, therefore, that Debbie Friedman (1951-2011) picked up this mantle. In “Miriam’s Song” she joins her voice with a new generation of women to remember and celebrate the heroine of the Passover story, responding to the prophetess’ call to action: “Sing.” Beloved by women and men alike all the world over, Debbie Friedman and “Miriam’s Song” are the kinds of modern Passover traditions we need. Inclusive and powerful, shedding new light on ancient traditions. For, as Debbie Friedman reminds us, “The more our voices are heard in song, the more we become our lyrics, our prayers, and our convictions.”

Want more Miriam, Debbie Friedman, and Feminist Passover?
Read the lyrics to “Miriam’s Song” by Debbie Friedman on Ritualwell
Debbie Friedman via the Jewish Women’s Archive
Miriam via the Jewish Women’s Archive
Buy The Journey Continues: The Ma’yan Passover Haggadah on Amazon

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: STACEY ZISOOK ROBINSON

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By Stacey Zisook Robinson:


THE BOOK OF ESTHER

That blush on my cheek?
It’s paint,
And I have glittered my eyes
And robed myself in the finery
of silk and gossamer,
lapis and gold–
And whored myself for your salvation.

You asked for no thoughts.
You merely offered my body
to the king–
My life forfeit
If my beauty failed.

You asked for no ideas
And I gave you none,
Though I had a thousand,
And ten thousand more.

Diplomacy was played on the field of my body,
The battle won in the curve of my hip
And the satin of my skin,
Fevered dreams of lust
And redemption.

That blush on my cheeks?
It is the stain of victory
And of my shame.


Today’s poem was originally published on Stumbling Towards Meaning and appears here today with permission from the poet.


Stacey Zisook Robinson is a single mom. She sings whenever she can. She writes, even when she can’t. She worked in Corporate America for a long time. Now she works at her writing and looks for God and grace, meaning, connection, and a perfect cup of coffee, not necessarily in that order. Stacey has been published in the Summer 2013 issue of Lilith Magazine and in several anthologies including The Hope (Menachem Creditor, ed) and In Transit (BorderTown Press, Daniel MacFadyen, ed). Watch for her book, Dancing in the Palm of God’s Hand, forthcoming from Hadasah Word Press. Stacey has recently launched a Poet in Residence program designed to work with both adults and kids in a Jewish setting to explore the connection between poetry and prayer as a way to build a bridge to a deepened Jewish identity and faith.

Editor’s Note: This week we celebrated Purim, a Jewish holiday that commemorates Queen Esther (5th c. B.C.E.) saving Persian Jews from genocide. Esther’s rise to power, however, was problematic. Her predecessor, Queen Vashti, was summoned to appear in her crown, ordered to display her beauty before the king and his nobles. The implication, according to many scholars, is that Queen Vashti was ordered to appear wearing only her crown. She refused, and it was suggested that she should be de-throned and replaced by a “worthier woman” so that “all wives [would] henceforth bow to the authority of their husbands, high and low alike” (Esther 1:19-20).

And there’s your daily dose of female oppression, Bible style.

"Vashti Refuses the King's Summons" by Edwin Long (1879). Public Domain image.
“Vashti Refuses the King’s Summons” by Edwin Long (1879). Public Domain image.














A search began for beautiful young virgins. Those who made the cut were subjected to twelve months of beauty treatments before the king would even deign to lay eyes on them. The hopefuls then appeared before the king, who did not see any of them ever again “unless he was particularly pleased by her” (Esther 2:12-14). King Xerxes liked Esther best of all the young virgins displayed before him, and crowned her queen in Vashti’s stead. Plot twist: the king did not know that Esther was Jewish, for she had deliberately kept that fact from him. In the end Esther was able to use her beauty to bend the king to her will, and when one of his henchmen sought to have all the Jews in the kingdom annihilated, Esther stood up for her people and they were spared.

While it is this end-result that is remembered and celebrated each year at Purim, it is Esther’s degrading rise to the throne—and what it cost her to to save her people—that is the subject of today’s poem.

To come to power, Esther had to take the rightful queen’s place and become the poster child for the idea that “all wives [should] bow to the authority of their husbands.” To catch the king’s eye she had to strip away her personhood until nothing was left but her physical beauty. “That blush on my cheek? / It’s paint, / And I have glittered my eyes / And robed myself in the finery / of silk and gossamer, / lapis and gold.” It was not her devotion to her people that allowed her to save them, but that she “whored [her]self for [their] salvation.” Nor did her people care who she was beneath her beauty, or whether she survived her attempt to save them: “You asked for no thoughts. / You merely offered my body / to the king– / My life forfeit / If my beauty failed.”

"Queen Esther" by Edwin Long (1878). Public Domain image.
“Queen Esther” by Edwin Long (1878). Public Domain image.
















Queen Esther was a pawn in men’s games, as women of history have too often been. “Diplomacy was played on the field of my body, / The battle won in the curve of my hip.” She used her beauty and her sexual allure because, as a woman of her time and place, they were the only instruments of power available to her. But if she were given a voice, she might speak of inner conflict. She might tell us what it feels like to lack the ability to either refuse or consent. Queen Esther was a hero, but what did it cost her to package and sell herself in the name of the greater good? “That blush on my cheeks? / It is the stain of victory / And of my shame.”

Today’s poem does what all great feminist biblical interpretation and midrashot do: it examines, deconstructs, and reconstructs androcentric assumptions, biases, and perspectives in biblical literature, placing women, gender, and sexuality at the center of reinterpretation.

In a time when the Bible is still being used to justify the oppression of women, we need much more of the important work Stacey Zisook Robinson is doing with “The Book of Esther.”

Want more from Stacey Zisook Robinson?
Stacey Zisook Robinson’s Blog
Stacey Zisook Robinson’s Official Website
Personal Essays and Opinion Pieces on iPinion
ReformJudaism.org

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: KAREN ALKALAY-GUT

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By Karen Alkalay-Gut:


HER STORY

I have never been able to tell her story
Sometimes it escapes me, sometimes I am not sure
It could really have happened, sometimes I read
Different accounts of her demise, or a paragraph
From some testimony jogs my memory and the terrible days
When I first heard what happened to her return.

This much is in my blood:
I was conceived on the day she died.
This much is in my blood.
She blew up trains.
The courage came from her uplifted chin
And the two infants she watched
Dashed against the wall of their home.
Avram twelve months old and Masha two years.
My first cousins.
They too – in my blood – all that is left.

If I can write of these babies,
I can manage the rest –
Following her path as she escaped
The prison camp with her husband
And joined the Otrianski Otriade
Lenin Brigade, Lipinskana Forest.

I can feel her mouth, her narrow lips clamped
As she bends over the delicate mines,
Solemn as in the photo when as a child
She sat for with the rest of the choir
Unsmiling amid the festive singers
Unwilling perhaps to feel poetic joy
Perhaps destined for so much more.

There are at least three accounts of her death:
The partisan Abba Kovner told me she was caught
In a mission and hung. He looked away when he spoke,
Not piercing me as always with his tragic eyes,
And I knew there was more he would not say.

Another book says she lagged behind the platoon
Escaping an attack, perhaps pregnant,
And was imprisoned in Zhedtl.
The jail was ignited, perhaps by accident,
And she was just one of the victims.

When mother first told me the story
She had just heard at the hairdresser’s,
I must have been fifteen, and outraged
That she was weeping, tears
Rolling down her face. She knew
All I cared for was my own life,
And her latest discovery
Of the fate of her youngest sister
A disruption.
But who else could she tell?

The loft in the barn, she said,
They were hiding there – three women,
Her husband and her. They came
And set the barn afire. He helped
The women first, and his wife came last
But didn’t come, was burnt alive.

Malcah Malcah who saved all our lives
Malcah who was waiting for them
When the ship brought them back to Danzig
After they were barred from the Holy Land,
Who found them the agricultural visas to England
And saw them off the night that Hitler invaded.
But there is no real story.
All that remains is a faded snapshot
A few sentences in unread memorial tomes,
And me, who cannot tell any story for sure.


Today’s poem was originally published in Prairie Schooner and appears here with permission from the poet.


Karen Alkalay-Gut is now easing out of a fifty-year academic career at Tel Aviv University and beginning to concentrate on writing. Born in London during World War II, she was raised in Rochester, New York and moved to Israel in 1972. She has published almost 30 books in English, and Hebrew, Spanish, and Italian translation, and has collaborated on half a dozen music CDs.

Editor’s Note: Is it possible to read today’s poem without being moved to tears? To wax poetic (this is the place for that, after all), when I read today’s poem the first words that come to mind are “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” No, really. Let me.

1) Parallelism, as both an incantatory device and as a conversation between the poem and biblical poetry. “This much is in my blood: / I was conceived on the day she died. / This much is in my blood.” “Malcah Malcah who saved all our lives / Malcah who was waiting for them.” This parallelism is working on more levels than we might imagine. To echo the Bible in this way is a tradition that dates back to the earliest World War II and Holocaust poetry. But, in fact, it dates back to long before the Holocaust, finding rich roots among the varied history of all Jews in exile, and particularly those in Spain’s Golden Age and the time of the expulsion.

2) Vivid imagery that does not let us forget the many tragedies of “her story.” “[T]he two infants she watched / Dashed against the wall of their home,” “I can feel her mouth, her narrow lips clamped / As she bends over the delicate mines,” “He helped / The women first, and his wife came last / But didn’t come, was burnt alive.” This poem is rife with what Aristotle termed Pathos, the emotional connection to the audience. This is not a poem that you can read without feeling, deeply.

3) The poet herself shines through as a character, real and flawed and human. We know her struggles and her failings, and we experience them with her. “If I can write of these babies, / I can manage the rest,” “When mother first told me the story… I must have been fifteen, and outraged / That she was weeping… She knew / All I cared for was my own life, / And her latest discovery / Of the fate of her youngest sister / A disruption.”

4) Malcah, on the other hand, is made a hero through raw nostalgia. Malcah means “queen,” and while the poet did not invent her lost aunt’s name, bringing her name into the poem elevates the heroine to near-godly proportions. “She blew up trains. / The courage came from her uplifted chin,” “Malcah who saved all our lives / Malcah who was waiting for them / When the ship brought them back to Danzig / After they were barred from the Holy Land, / Who found them the agricultural visas to England / And saw them off the night that Hitler invaded.” Malcah the martyr, who did not die before first ensuring that the poet and her family would live.

5) “Her Story.” It is no secret that I am a big fan of herstory. I created a project to revive and celebrate it. But herstory, as today’s poem makes clear, is multi-faceted. It is women’s history, it is one woman’s history, it is women’s stories, and it is one woman’s story. But in today’s poem it is also the admission that there is no one story. (An idea I am incredibly interested in, as I spent the fall of 2013 researching my own family’s history through the lens of varying versions of the same story, much as today’s poem does.) In today’s poem we are given every known version of Malcah’s story, but the poet twins the telling of “her story” with the idea that “there is no real story” to tell. This is as true to an accurate historical retelling as anyone can come.

Want more from Karen Alkalay-Gut?
Karen Alkalay-Gut’s Official Website
Interview in The Madison Journal of Literary Criticism
Tel Aviv Radio
Buy The Encantadas: Evolution and Emotion from Amazon
The Bridge at Raqqa (eBook)
Youtube

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: THE GLAD HAND OF GOD POINTS BACKWARDS

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From THE GLAD HAND OF GOD POINTS BACKWARDS
By Rachel Mennies:


HOW GRANDMOTHER PAID HER PASSAGE TO NEW YORK

One by one her mother sold her silver spoons
and heirloom bracelets; goodbye, porcelain bear,
silk blouses, patent-leather Mary Janes, the scarves
and stud earrings for newly pierced ears, the red wool coat
spotted walking on another tiny body’s shoulders
down Wittenbergplatz. Goodbye, books bound
in leather, bone china, even the hangers, the goblets
and cabinets; goodbye to the Torah buried in the backyard,

the neighbors, the schoolmates, the mothers dressed so well
at services, the men with businesses who stayed behind
one week, two weeks more. What stylish
objects they became: the coins from fillings
and wedding rings, the soap, the wigs, lamp
after lamp to light a thousand decorated homes.


PHILADELPHIA WOMAN

The old sisters spoke with the wild gestures of trapped birds, snared or
cooped, their wings working toward an impossible escape. They stood
on street corners in Germantown and gesticulated the full span of their
arms. They argued over coffee, over books, over the dinner table, food
chilled to the temperature of the air. They hewed their beliefs for the
sake of debate. Soft-handed and pale-skinned, they lived mostly inside.

They took the trolley to Center City when they were in their twenties,
living in Logan with the rest of the refugee Jews. They told wild stories
of their childhoods, never explored or questioned. They worked as
bookkeepers, secretaries. They went to Girls’ High School, classrooms
filled with young women speaking foreign tongues, caught and released,
caught and released each day, back when men and women were kept
separately until marriage, fine china and daily dishware.

The oldest of the three married a soldier (never explored) who loved her
dearly (never questioned). When he died his mouth made words that
opened her chest like shrapnel. Tell them whatever you want, he said,
but I need you to know. I need you to know. Her hands stayed slack at her
side. Her name was. It was. She left his bedside and paced a block of Old
York Road, north and south, east and west, as if a cage around her kept
her close.


YAHRZEIT

Here the eye of God opens, unblinking,
at the throats of our grandmothers. The small pale
candle flickers on the windowsill, making
constellations of all our deaths.

How long a wick, how short a year. And here,
the family site, the only real estate
that’s mine—how clever, the way earth
makes us into mud—how heavy

the feet of our commemorators, how white
the knuckles that clasp their books of prayer.


Today’s poems are from The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards, published by Texas Tech University Press, copyright © 2014 by Rachel Mennies, and appear here today with permission from the poet.


The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards: In her first poetry collection, Rachel Mennies chronicles a young woman’s relationship with a complicated God, crafting a nuanced world that reckons with its past as much as it yearns for a new and different future. These poems celebrate ritual, love, and female sexuality; they bear witness to a dark history, and introduce us to “our God, the / collector of stories / and bodies,” a force somehow responsible for both death and liberation. Here, Mennies examines survival, assimilation, and intermarriage, subjects bound together by complex, if sometimes compromised, ties to the speaker’s Judaism. Through wit and careful prosody, The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards lays bare the struggles and triumphs experienced through a teenage girl’s coming of age, showing the reader what it means to become—and remain—a Jewish woman in America. —TTUP


Rachel Mennies is the author of The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards, winner of the Walt McDonald First-Book Prize in Poetry (Texas Tech University Press, 2014), and the chapbook No Silence in the Fields (Blue Hour Press, 2012). Her poems have appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Poet Lore, The Journal, and elsewhere, and have been reprinted at Poetry Daily. She teaches in the First-Year Writing Program at Carnegie Mellon University.


Editor’s Note: The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards is an absolutely stunning collection. It is that rare breed of poetry book that you cannot help but read cover to cover, knowing all the while that you will return to it again and again. There is magic in this work. Ritual. Tradition. Its stories rise from the page in painstaking detail—vivid, emotive, and all too real. History is both honored and excavated; bones and memories are buried in the backyard. Time is not linear, but fifth dimensional; the past, present, and future unfold more like a snowflake than a line. The soundscape is rich and evocative, the themes resonant and deeply lyric, the entirety layered and striking.

And then there are these moments. These perfect, brilliant, heartbreaking moments. Reveals like the volta in “How Grandmother Paid Her Passage to New York,” when we discover what became of “the men with businesses who stayed behind / one week, two weeks more.” Lines like “When he died his mouth made words that / opened her chest like shrapnel.” Like every freakin’ moment of “Yahrzeit.”

Easy to invest in, the rewards of The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards are “as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore.”


Want to see more from Rachel Mennies?
Rachel Mennies – Official Website
Buy The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards from Texas Tech University Press
Buy The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards from Amazon
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Thrush Poetry Journal

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: ALEXIS KIENLEN

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By Alexis Kienlen:


HOW TO PICK AN APPLE

find a ripe specimen,

gaze at its perfection,

cup it in your hand,

turn the bottom star to the sky.

show the end of the apple to heaven,

let it fall.



“How to Pick an Apple” appears here today with permission from the poet.



Alexis Kienlen is the author of two collections of poetry, 13 and She Dreams in Red. She’s also the author of a biography of a Sikh civil rights activist called Truth, love, non-violence; The story of Gurcharan Singh Bhatia. Alexis lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada where she works as an agricultural reporter for a newspaper called Alberta Farmer. From 2001-2006, she was the Literary Editor for Ricepaper magazine, a Vancouver based Asian Canadian arts and culture magazine. She currently writes a weekly literary column for The Grande Prairie Daily Herald Tribune. Her poetry, fiction and journalism pieces have appeared in numerous publications across Canada and online. She’s currently working on a novel and a new collection of poetry.

Editor’s Note: Today’s poem is vivid and whimsical and whisks the reader away on a brief yet epic journey. Placing us, at first, in the everyday pleasure of picking an apple, the poem turns on the word “turn” in the fourth line. From there we are shifted upward, toward the stars and the sky and the heavens, and are transported from the orchard into the realm of the spiritual, the mystical, the otherworldly. The last line echoes what has been biblically ingrained in the western apple, the fall.

Today’s poem is dedicated to my friend Luis, a faithful reader of this series and a man who knows and loves a good apple.

Want more from Alexis Kienlen?
Alexis Kienlen’s Official Website
Buy 13 and She Dreams in Red from Frontenac House
Buy Alexis Kienlen’s books from Amazon
Blue Skies Poetry
Alberta Farmer Express

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: NOMI STONE

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By Nomi Stone:


WAR GAME, AMERICA

The war scenario has: [vegetables stalls], [roaming animals],
and [people] in it. The people speak

the language of the country we
are trying to make into a kinder country.
Some of the people over there are good
others evil others circumstantially

bad some only want cash some
just want their family to not
die. The game says figure

out which
are which.


WHAT IS GROWING IN THESE WOODS

Green in here, gleaming like
being inside a fable but with
stalls of fruit you can’t eat.
To go home, leave crumbs.
When the wood circles you
back here instead, let the lost
and the impossible ripen in
you, ripen and go.


US AND THEM

“I would make love to one of our

whores before I
would fuck one of their
bourgeoisie.” There was a proverb,

like this: Don’t trust a         if
he becomes a         even though
he remains a       for

forty years. And the sister opposite
proverb: Don’t trust a       even
though he has been in the grave

for forty years. It was a difficult day,
a bomb had spun open
a bus, and children

had been crushed down by
a machine. Each wondered if he was born
too soon, if later would have been better, if 40

+ 40 + 40 + 40



War Game, America” and “What is Growing in these Woods” previously appeared in Painted Bride Quarterly, and “Us and Them” previously appeared via The Poetry Foundation. These poems appear here today with permission from the poet.



Nomi Stone is the author of the poetry collection Stranger’s Notebook (TriQuarterly, 2008), a PhD Candidate in Cultural Anthropology at Columbia University, and an MFA Candidate in Poetry at Warren Wilson. She previously earned a Masters in Modern Middle Eastern Studies from Oxford and was a Creative Writing Fulbright scholar in Tunisia. Her poems have been published or are forthcoming in Poetry Northwest, Memorious, The Painted Bride Quarterly, The Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish Poetry, at The Poetry Foundation, and elsewhere. She is currently researching and writing a book of poetry as well as a book of non-fiction about combat simulations in mock Middle Eastern villages erected by the US military across America.

Editor’s Note: Nomi Stone’s poetry is a veritable minefield of experience. Politics, war, violence, history, proverbs, culture, peoplehood, nationality, borders, mythology, folklore, fairy tales, and biblical referentiality lie in wait for the keen and unsuspecting reader alike. The unsaid is as present and powerful as what is written, so that her poetry echoes the Bible’s black fire written on white fire. This is a poetry rich and blooming. Thick with the sights and smells of Near Eastern markets, yet heavy with human tragedy. Herein lies the old world. Herein lies the Levant. Herein lies the wild woods of our imagination set against the all-too-real world of war. If you cannot find your way out, “let the lost / and the impossible ripen in / you, ripen and go.”

Want more from Nomi Stone?
“Many Scientists Convert to Islam”
“Trapped on Djerba, Island of the Lotus Eaters”
“Purim, Spring Festival: How to Escape Massacres”
Interview with Nomi Stone with poems: “The Notionally Dead” and “War Game America”
An interview about Nomi Stone’s research on war games

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: GLOSSOLALIA

GLOSSOLALIACOVER


from GLOSSOLALIA
By Marita Dachsel:


PATTY BARTLETT SESSIONS

I

I was 17, newly married
when I first put a woman to bed,
her new babe in arms.

Awaiting death, I’ve tallied,
attended 3977 births. Midwife,
my eminent title.

Pride is a sin,
but I think I will be forgiven
for the surge I feel
when I consider my record.


II

47 did not feel old,
but looked ancient to him.
A month after my daughter,
me. Sexless, righteous.
Virtuous. Finished.


III

I became a Mother in Israel,
coaxing young women
into the new covenant.

We were Sarah & Hagar. Rachel & Leah.

But I was wrong about polygamy.

Lust, envy & wrath are sins,
& I know I will never be forgiven
for being the zealous handmaiden
to this difficult life.


IV

I have lost four children. Heartache
is my chronic companion,
chafing the every day.

But my dear husband David
took a second wife
& I will tell you
what the others won’t admit:

There is no other earthly pain,
constant, raw & rending,
like sharing your man
with a younger wife.


V

I am a practical woman:
I can heal with herbs & my hands,
I brew my own beer, sew, knit,
& speak in tongues.

After birth, I would show
the mother the slick placenta,
raised up, a stretched orb.
An offering.

It carries the tree of life.
Rough, ropey. Red,
the colour of strawberry jam
boiling low on the stove.


VI

Being the first hand
to touch a life
is a powerful thing.

I have wondered
what imprint
I have left

& what has been
left on me.



AFTER THE MARTYRDOM

The men, they surged
from their homes,
from their women,
a confluence
in search of
their Galilee.

They shuffled, they scuffed
dirt across the land,
a hand of a crone.

The men, they fished.
Eyes skimmed the shore
for a stranger they would know.
Hope bobbed in their throats.
Loss, a lure, caught
shredding what they once knew true.

The women, they were left
with the children,
the dead.
The scriptures gave no guide
for wives at a time like this.


Today’s poems are from Glossolalia, published by Anvil Press, copyright © 2013 by Marita Dachsel, and appear here today with permission from the poet.


GLOSSOLALIA is an unflinching exploration of sisterhood, motherhood, and sexuality as told in a series of poetic monologues spoken by the thirty-four polygamous wives of Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In Marita Dachsel’s second full-length collection, the self-avowed agnostic feminist uses mid-nineteenth century Mormon America as a microcosm for the universal emotions of love, jealousy, loneliness, pride, despair, and passion. Glossolalia is an extraordinary, often funny, and deeply human examination of what it means to be a wife and a woman through the lens of religion and history. (From the Anvil Press website.)


Marita Dachsel is the author of Glossolalia, Eliza Roxcy Snow, and All Things Said & Done. Her poetry has been shortlisted for the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry and the ReLit Prize and has appeared in many literary journals and anthologies. Her play Initiation Trilogy was produced by Electric Company Theatre, was featured at the 2012 Vancouver International Writers Fest, and was nominated for the Jessie Richardson Award for Outstanding New Script. She is the 2013/2014 Artist in Residence at UVic’s Centre for Studies in Religion and Society.


Editor’s Note: In this collection Marita Dachsel has taken on no small task. By seeking to reclaim women’s stories from the polygamous world of Joseph Smith, the poet gives voice to the voiceless, the unknown, the lost and forgotten. Their stories come to life, their lives become known history. In “Patty Bartlett Sessions,” polygamous wife Patty Bartlett converts other women to the Mormon faith, “coaxing young women / into the new covenant.” But when she realizes the insurmountable trials of polygamy, she knows she “will never be forgiven / for being the zealous handmaiden / to this difficult life.” Instead she finds inspiration and fulfillment in her work as a midwife, for “Being the first hand / to touch a life / is a powerful thing.” In “After the Marytrdom” Dachsel speaks for a chorus of wives left by husbands seeking a divine experience, noting ruefully that “The scriptures gave no guide / for wives at a time like this.”


Want to see more from Marita Dachsel?
All Things Said & Done – Marita Dachsel’s Official Blog
Canadian Poetries
The Rusty Toque
The Barnstormer
Youtube: Too True: The poetry of four acclaimed BC poets

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: KAITLIN DYER

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By Kaitlin Dyer:


LEAVING JERUSALEM

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ON THE FOURTH OF JULY, I HEAR THE NEIGHBOR’S MUSIC

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Today’s poems were originally published in the Hawai’i Pacific Review, and appear here today with permission from the poet.


Kaitlin Dyer is a founding editor of Harlot: A Revealing Look at the Arts of Persuasion. Her work has appeared in PANK, Potomac Review, Hawaii Pacific Review, and The New Welsh Review among others. These poems will be included in her chapbook Alter Lives of Alter Egos which is forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press in Feb/March of 2015. She loves dogs, hates caramel, and contains multitudes.

Editor’s Note: Today’s poems take on big issues. Politics and God. Ownership, land rights, and humanity. “God, forgive us. We build a fence / in the yard.” Who are we to lay claim to the earth, to carve out our little sections and plant our flags? And what god are we living with after we have staked our claims? These are the questions today’s poems pose. Questions that at once seem to take a stance and yet feel rhetorical. We don’t know where our birds have gone: “Perhaps / to the desert. / Perhaps, the morgue.” And instead of a God who is reflected in children and animals, we are left with an image of a biblical God who breaks through man-made fences.

Want to read more by Kaitlin Dyer?
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Harlot Magazine

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: RACHEL MENNIES

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By Rachel Mennies:


AMIDAH FOR TEENAGE GIRLS

We said it Friday nights in unison: blessed
is Abraham, Isaac, patriarchs whose weight
we felt against our chests, Jacob, whose brother

filled his mouth with the sand of hate,
who split sisters with his body
of patience. The God of History, reads

the Siddur, nothing more dangerous
than this sort of God. Any good girl
will tell you so: ask Leah, who watched

as her betrothed tilled fields in agony,
rutted at her nightly, his pious bride, as he dreamed
for seven years of younger Rachel’s face. God,

our brute teacher. God, whom we thank
and thank for these big men. You are mighty forever,
my Lord. You resurrect the dead. My Lord, open

my lips, that my mouth may declare
Your praise.
Imagine the shock, that first boy
or man inside us for mere seconds, the tremor

of realization — some smaller God at our clavicle
thrumming in awareness. The creator of all things. And so
when I lie with him, my body already knows what to do

while he shifts his weight, moves his hips. You cause
the wind to blow and the rain to fall.
The hard ram’s horn,
the arms thrust high, parting a sea of salt. The open mouth

of incantation. O King, helper, savior and shield. And what of our
pleasure, that quiet subtext, that patient search against
our partners’ sweaty brows, near to finished? We already

know the phrase: bestow, bestow.


BUMPER CROP

Wet pink shock of a sliced-open
peach, pit hard between our teeth,
reached in a liquid, honest hurry.
Peach in the fingers of a certain lover’s hand.
Peach juice sliding down the wrist of a man
with assertive hungers. Peach, bringer
of rapture: the climax, but not
the fall. Peach sky rising up and up, free
of consequence. Impossible, but for
our chase of it. Peach in the crisper drawer,
softening. We hear stories of the pastor
and his book, so certain of fire, his biblical
calculus. Peach hot, sugared in an oven.
The mouth of red around the brain-
shaped, dumbstruck stone. Peach the very taste
of sin. Peach that sends the crows circling,
rapture here and gone. Peach God, rapt for carrion,
turning above us in the heavens, waiting for
us, ripening, to satisfy ourselves;
come to him pitted, come to him
finished, made rotten by
your sweet time in his sun.


“Amidah for Teenage Girls” was originally published in Witness, and “Bumper” was originally published in Linebreak. These poems appear in the collection The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards (Texas Tech University Press 2014) and appear here today with permission from the poet.


Rachel Mennies is the author of The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards, winner of the Walt McDonald First-Book Prize in Poetry (Texas Tech University Press, 2014), and the chapbook No Silence in the Fields (Blue Hour Press, 2012). Her poems have appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Poet Lore, The Journal, and elsewhere, and have been reprinted at Poetry Daily. She teaches in the First-Year Writing Program at Carnegie Mellon University.

Editor’s Note: I really love today’s poems. Discretely and in conjunction. For the ways they press against the same themes, and for the ways they diverge. “Amidah for Teenage Girls” had me at “patriarchs whose weight / we felt against our chests,” and held me there, exalting, with “Jacob, whose brother // filled his mouth with the sand of hate, / who split sisters with his body / of patience.” Yes. Yes and yes. I could write pages about the first two stanzas of this poem alone. Instead, I urge you to read and reread it, to savor what stews and what simmers.

When I think of peaches and poems, I think of Li-Young Lee. And while “Bumper Crops” and “From Blossoms” each make their own unique contribution to the poetic landscape, I think Li-Young Lee would meditate along with Rachel Mennies on God and humanity, and that he would relish the poem’s sweet sensuality. As, I believe, would Anya Silver and Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, whose “French Toast” and “Sufganiyot” would, along with Mennies’ peaches, make up a picnic that would give Fifty Shades of Grey a good blush.

Want to read more by Rachel Mennies?
Rachel Mennies – Official Website
Buy The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards from Texas Tech University Press
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Poetry Daily
Sixth Finch

A Review of Mike James’s Elegy in Reverse

Mike James Elegy in Reverse

A Review of Mike James’s Elegy in Reverse

By J. Andrew Goodman

Elegy in Reverse is a tense poetry collection exploring how loss and absence manifest. Family, friends, lovers, talents, and faith are shadows made measurable by experience and reverence in Mike James’s eighth collection, released by Aldrich Press earlier this year. James’s verse reminds us that what we hold dear is perishable and that words are often not enough to hold these things accountable for leaving. His poetry is plainspoken but evocative, fully rendering the familiarity of longing and grief for that which has a propensity toward leaving. Amid such an exodus, James captivates readers with his rapturous voice.

The characters of James’s past are made tangible by his written memory. In the early pages of his collection, readers are introduced to his mother and his alcoholic father; the latter is deceased and the former presumably so. In “Jailbird,” his father invents a dance, “the prison shuffle,” that the son enjoys, but his mother refuses to join:

when i was with your father
i had enough dancing
to do me
until cows or jesus
came home

she always
laughed
when she said that
as if she were saying it
for the first time

In economic verse, James details the family situation of his childhood: His father goes or returns to prison. His mother hopes to prevent her son from making similar choices. She makes light of her husband’s antics, yet reveals in doses the continuity of the past, her worry refreshed.

His mother appears sparingly throughout the collection, despite James’s apparent fondness of her, while his father returns frequently. The collection contains a number of heartbreaking poems about his father’s alcoholism, which “cost him a sense of direction,” ultimately turning him away from his family. The son is left only with his memory, piecemeal and bitter. James seems to believe he has inherited such transience. Or, possibly, he recognizes this as a feature of human nature, the human condition. He expresses “a sad anger” toward most loss or abandonment, writing in a poem later in the collection that “an old friend says leaving is contagious.” This sets a precedent for the remainder of the book.

Despite his ability to make good use of them, James recognizes that words often escape or fail us as well. In “Message at Babel,” James alludes to the biblical account of God confounding the human language. As part of a short series of poems within the collection that questions the necessity of disparity in faith, James explores through a lens of mourning what it means that Eve was possibly judged “before she even chewed,” that Job’s wife was silenced by her children’s “faces / so stiff in death.”

Still, James shows us clearly that language and voice help diffuse the power of death and grief. Our memories become stories, become physical. “I don’t know what to make / of the language / of grace” James writes in a poem about refusing to offer a prayer before a meal with his wife. The litany and ritual of biblical language are not as significant or endearing to him as experience itself:

those words / don’t cling to me / the way a blanket does / on mid-winter / mornings / / or the way we cling / to one another / at night / as we swim / across the ocean of our bodies / past the edge of our wants / / the night sky full of stars / mariners used / for passage/ their breath filling sails / with a word / that can be a taunt / a promise / or something close to grace / / home

James’s refusal isn’t a rejection of faith, but of its language, poor in its appraisal of our desires and necessities. He suggests silence is its own grace in “However Bright the Sun” and “Wild Apples.” In labor, we work through our grief and unpleasantness. We forget our losses, even though their accumulation manifests into a shadow, “some days . . .  into a taste.”

The dichotomy of what is unreal as it exists in reality is essential to James’s collection. He is visited by his father’s ghost, and they converse. Eden’s inhabitants are capricious, envious of Eve’s taste. James even defines an elegy as “a love poem to an abstraction / once touched.” It seems, then, that with poetry James is enabled to seek the abstraction through language, to define absence by its bounty. The way the monk in “The Monk’s Dream” seeks God’s face during sleep or contemplation but can think only of hawk’s feathers and an empty bowl is how we, with James, seek the unreal through the limitations of the real.

More than a reconciliation of grief, Elegy in Reverse is a love poem to language and the surprising result of what happens when we’re able to say the right thing. Even when describing that which is fleeting, Mike James’s voice is nascent, emerging. He is never at a loss for words.

Mike James, Elegy in Reverse. Aldrich Press, 2014: $16.00

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J. Andrew Goodman is a graduate of Murray State University’s MFA program and an intern for the independent literary publisher, White Pine Press. He currently lives and works in Louisville, Kentucky.