SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: DEEP CALLS TO DEEP




From DEEP CALLS TO DEEP
By Jane Medved:


WINTER BURIAL

For the sky that reaches into its hushed pocket,
                                           for the bridle of winter waiting to be released.

For the ghost face which slips over everyone,
                                           for the tusk of the same white beginning.

For crystals that shape themselves while falling,
                                           for the storm’s icy laugh.

For the charred bars of the petting zoo,
                                           whose cages were made out of wood and went up fast.

For the twin goats trapped, for the small fire they turned their back on,
                                           the bread burning, the coffee.

For the one surviving goose housed in a Little Tikes kitchen,
                                           the black centers of his eyes and the string closing the door.

For the fenced-in storage area now zoned for a park,
                                           where there used to be patches of dried grass.

For the last time it snowed on the Jerusalem highway,
                                           and they wouldn’t let anyone in or out.

For the holiday makers who were stranded
                                           without fun.

For my niece’s baby who never woke up that day,
                                           she was an angel in her crib.

For they got her into the ground just before it froze,
                                           but no one knows where.

For the hidden ear of the tzaddik she is buried next to,
                                           for the cooing she drops into the ground where it melts.

For her small breaths, none of which are
                                           shaped the same.

For the soul, which cracks open the body,
                                           for the body, which is told what it must carry.

For when the ice let me back down the hill,
                                           I found my niece in her kitchen, forgiving everyone.



from THE LAST TIME I SAW HEROD

I. Women’s shelter, Miriam HaHashmonait St., Jerusalem

He was banging on the gate
even though there is no way
to know that we are in here.

He was looking for his wife,
aren’t they all, which is why
we make the children play

in the yard and of course
he knew her real name,
which makes me wonder

what’s the point of being
a princess if even that
can be taken away. I’m not

sorry he looked thin. I used
to feed my own husband
but I never watched him eat.

In my mind he was gulping
me down, tearing everything
apart so as not to miss a piece.



EVERYTHING WILL TELL ITS OWN STORY

sooner or later, coins, a copper lantern,
bits of colored glass, Napoleon’s diary
on loan from Harvard and the endless
lap of water at the world’s toothless edge.

These were found in the Phoenician port
where Napoleon threw his cannonballs
into the Mediterranean to lighten the load.
He wised up soon enough and tossed
his soldiers overboard instead.

The metal balls are shocked into rust
and stare like thick black eyeballs
from their shelf in the dusty museum.
History ignores the bodies though,
their bones turn to fine sand
that tricks the treasure hunters
with its unpredictable lapses. Never mind.

We are all one part ocean anyway,
which is why sex smells like fish, and waves
always come back to a dry river bed.

We are all one part earth, which is why
snow angels cannot fly but lose themselves
to the ground, only the children
leave a clue, a small piece of spine
that still remains even if they are forced into ashes.

We are all one part fire, angry
as a kidney stone, a fist, absolutely certain,
a blaze that hides for months in the smoking
roots of the rotem tree, waiting
to be lifted out, spoken into flame and taken.

We are all one part wind, did you notice
how birds spread out like notes
when they fly, faithful as radio beams
to their unseen connections.

I inhale the invisibility of it, using up
my appointed breaths, certain
that the air will always pass through me
cold and hot and justified.



WHICH IS TO SAY,

                               there is another way home.
                                                                                Just
yesterday, I saw the beating arc of starlings

who migrate to the Negev every year. It was late
and you have to take my word for this. They

became a single body that exhaled a melody
of startled scales made out of bones and feathers,

a flock of notes that scattered to swoop and play,
then reassemble in a different serenade, a fist of

sky squeezing its shape, or the curve of a swan’s
neck.
                   It was remarkable,
                                                      how soundless waves
could cart away the distance,
                                               and how I forgave,
in that moment, everyone.
                                                             Which is to say,

that the desert is a grave and lonely place,
where silence reappears as another kind of music.



Today’s poems are from Deep Calls to Deep (New Rivers Press, 2017), copyright © 2017 by Jane Medved, and appear here today with permission from the poet.


Deep Calls to Deep: “Taking its title from Psalm 42, Deep Calls to Deep explores the nexus between the depths of biblical history and the depths of the self, and the twin powers of faith and doubt that drive them both. Building from a masterful sequence exploring the legacies of Herod to a final richly lyrical sequence, Deep Calls to Deep becomes richer with multiple readings. With stunning formal variety and skill, it enacts not only the struggle to maintain faith, but to ground it equally in past and present, chaos and void, self and other.” — Leslie Adrienne Miller, author of Y and The Resurrection Trade

Jane Medved is the author of Deep Calls to Deep (winner of the Many Voices Project, New Rivers Press 2017) and the chapbook Olam, Shana, Nefesh (Finishing Line Press, 2014) Her recent essays and poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Queen Mob’s Teahouse, The Tampa Review, The Atticus Review, The Cortland Review, 2River View and Vinyl. She is the poetry editor of the Ilanot Review, the on-line literary magazine of Bar Ilan University, Tel Aviv. She lives and teaches creative writing in Jerusalem, Israel.

Editor’s Note: “History ignores the bodies,” but Jane Medved does not. It is through her own determined lens on history that the poet shapes this stunning new collection. The history she embraces is personal and familial, ancient and deeply entrenched, a history of people and place, of nature and land, of violence and loss. One might approach this work like an archaeologist, gentle and sifting, knowing that “coins, a copper lantern, bits of colored glass” are all precious, that every word and artifact you come across has a story to tell.

Deep Calls to Deep is ambitious, provocative, heart-wrenching and sacred. Within its pages the spiritual commingles with the archaeological, and words lay bare lost treasures like a desert wind revealing fact and fiction from beneath centuries of sand. The collection is divided into four sections, each so distinct and compelling that I could only begin to give you a taste of the whole by sharing a poem from each.

How visceral it is to read this collection. How engrossing. How evident on every page the capable hand of the poet who wrought the work, her knowledge and skill as writer and reader, how in tune she is with the human experience. Deep Calls to Deep is a masterpiece of the lyric, overflowing with stunning language and accessible imagery, at once startling in its beauty and reassuring in its familiarity. “Which is to say, // there is another way home… Which is to say, // that the desert is a grave and lonely place, / where silence reappears as another kind of music.”

Want more from Jane Medved?
Buy Deep Calls to Deep from Amazon
Queen Mob’s Teahouse
Cortland Review
2River View

 

A NOTE FROM THE MANAGING EDITOR:

After nearly ten years as Contributing Editor of this series, I am thrilled to expand my role to Managing Editor and provide the opportunity for fresh voices to contribute to this ongoing dialogue. It is an honor and a unique opportunity to now share this series with a number of guest editors, and we’ll be hearing more from them in the coming weeks. Today’s feature, however, is a labor of love from yours truly.

Viva la poesia!
Sivan, Managing Editor
Saturday Poetry Series, AIOTB

 

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: HOLLY KARAPETKOVA

Song of the Exiles
By Holly Karapetkova

There never was a garden
only a leaving:
miles and miles
of footprints in the dirt.

In the beginning–
the shattered sun, the wind,
and nothing left but our shadows
sifting through the dust behind us.

When we turned
we did not turn to salt.
When we turned
there was nothing behind us to burn,

nothing to return to,
though who could blame us for turning
with only the long days ahead,
tongues tripping in the dirt.

They said we didn’t belong.
They blamed us
for leaving the garden
which never was or would be.

Where could we go,
we who had come from nowhere
and hence could not
return?


“Song of the Exiles” previously appeared via Split This Rock and appears here today with permission from the poet.

Holly Karapetkova’s poetry, prose, and translations from the Bulgarian have appeared recently in Alaska Quarterly Review, Prairie Schooner, North American Review, Drunken Boat, and many other places. Her second book, Towline, won the Vern Rutsala Poetry Contest and is just out from Cloudbank Books.

Editor’s Note: After a moment of silence following the loss of AIOTB’s Managing Editor, the Saturday Poetry Series returns this week with a poem worth breaking silence for. Holly Karapetkova’s “Song of the Exiles” begins in Eden. At once biblical and real, this Eden is a “garden / which never was or would be.” In this world we are storyteller and reader, mythological figure and landless refugee. This is world news, this is human interest story, this is myth in the truest sense of the word. And this, above all, is poetry. Expertly crafted, delicately wrought, brilliant poetry. “When we turned / we did not turn to salt. / When we turned / there was nothing behind us to burn.”

Want to read more by and about Holly Karapetkova?
Holly Karapetkova’s Official Website

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: SARAH SARAI

sarah-sarai-2016-for-sivan

REMORSE
By Sarah Sarai

When he lumbered in the way of men
who use their hands to till earth,
he knocked rough doorway
to sob at unfairness and
the slaying. Dull, trembling,
he threw down three pelts against
a desert night, and feared heaven’s
white stars. We’ve all killed our brother.
The dead roam through us.
We toss beneath old gods’ blazing navigation.
Cain? It’s morning. He bites a sweet seedy fig.



Today’s poem originally appeared in the Terrain.org and appears here today with permission from the poet.


Sarah Sarai’s second collection, Geographies of Soul and Taffeta, was published this year by Indolent Books. Poet Melissa Studdard called Sarai’s first collection, The Future Is Happy, “a poetry of luminous, brave transparency” (American Book Review). Journals include Painted Bride Quarterly, Barrow Street, The Collagist, Boston Review, Threepenny Review, Ascent. After teaching English at a Catholic girls’ school in Los Angeles, Sarai received an NEH fellowship and used extra monies to move to Seattle where she began writing poetry. She has been Lecturer in comp and lit, editor-in-chief, file clerk for warrant officers, and, currently, freelance editor in poetry, fiction, and pharmaceutical advertising. Sarai has an MFA in fiction from Sarah Lawrence College. A native of Long Island, she lives in Manhattan.

Editor’s Note: Today’s poem is a vivid and moving reflection upon the slaying of Cain by his brother Able. The Bible’s first brothers, and already one slays the other. But then, as the poet points out, “We’ve all killed our brother.” And while “The dead roam through us,” life–and the poem–insists that we go on. For although in the night Cain “threw down three pelts against / a desert night, and feared heaven’s // white stars,” in the morning light life looks sweeter, even for the damned.

Want to see more from Sarah Sarai?
Geographies of Soul and Taffeta
Poems in Posit
Poem in The Collagist
Poem in Ascent
Poems in Yew

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: ABRIANA JETTÉ


abeheadshotphtocredchrisjette


LIES OUR MOTHER TOLD US
By Abriana Jetté


I do not believe in the story of the virgin
but in the value of the human: the body —

because no matter what you were told
that soul is not yours. But the body,

the body is yours. The slight round
of the breast like the sun or the depth of your

toes to your crown: these are the ways
we measure ourselves. I do not want to

believe she was a vehicle. Tell me
there was pleasure; there were moans.

Tell me when she was fully grown
she remembered a wave a release an ecstasy

that entered her, that she could feel it in her
teeth. Motherhood means you are no longer

maiden but Queen. Tell me the story of the one
who smiled at the rustling of her sheets.



Today’s poem was published in the The Journal for Compressed Creative Arts, Spring 2015, and appears here today with permission from the poet.


Abriana Jetté: Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York Abriana Jetté is an internationally published poet and essayist and educator. Her anthology 50 Whispers: Poems by Extraordinary Women debuted as a #1 best seller on Amazon, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Seneca Review, River Teeth, Barrelhouse, The Moth, and many other places. She teaches for St. John’s University, for the College of Staten Island, and for the nonprofit organization Sponsors for Educational Opportunity.

Editor’s Note: And then there was the poet who reimagined the Virgin Mary. Not as virgin, but as human, as woman, capable of “a wave a release an ecstasy // that entered her, that she could feel it in her / teeth.” Advocating for agency, the poet insisted, “I do not want to // believe she was a vehicle.” Reverent of the woman’s transformation, she taught us that “Motherhood means you are no longer // maiden but Queen.” And we saw her as the poet saw her. And it was good.

Want to see more from Abriana Jetté?
Hermeneutic Chaos Journal
Truthdig
Abriana Jetté’s Official Website
Stay Thirsty Publishing
Barrelhouse Mag

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: JANET R. KIRCHHEIMER

Janet

THE NATURE OF THINGS
By Janet R. Kirchheimer


I was eleven the spring my father singed his eyebrows off
while burning down pear trees.

Anne Carson says dirt is a minor thing.
This is not true.

Perhaps she has not seen a string bean pushing
its way up through the dirt.

The Rabbis say that Adam gave names to all the animals,
but do not say who named the trees.

These are some of the plant names I love:
Joseph’s coat, Persian shield, Silver shrub, African mallow.

Once in January, my father woke me at four o’clock in the morning
to help cover the parsley in our garden with blankets.

Frost was on the ground.
Stars, so bright at that time of the year, lit the garden.

In June, I call home to ask my father about the gladiolas.
He says some are coming, some are going.

The Talmud says occasionally rain falls because of the merit
of one man, the merit of one blade of grass, of one field.



Today’s poem was was previously published by the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals, and appears here today with permission from the poet.


Janet R. Kirchheimer is the author of How to Spot One of Us. She is currently producing a documentary, “After,” about poetry of the Holocaust then and now, and is a teaching fellow at Clal-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.

Editor’s Note: Unearth the humble offerings of today’s poem and discover what grows from its rich soil. What love, what relationship, what sage advice about life. This is a poem as intimate as tending one’s own garden, and as universal as studying scripture. How wise, how simple, how sage. How lovely today’s poem, with all its offerings.

Want to read more by and about Janet R. Kirchheimer?
Buy How to Spot One of Us on Amazon
Writing Without Paper
Best American Poetry
CLAL
Collegeville Institute

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: THE BOOK OF ESTHER BY STACEY ZISOOK ROBINSON

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By popular demand, in celebration of Purim we are re-featuring this stellar poem by Stacey Zisook Robinson, in conversation with your faithful editor at the crossroads of feminism and midrash.

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: DECENCY


Decency


From DECENCY
By Marcela Sulak:


selections from SOLIDARITY

vi. Virginity

It’s not that you get tired, it’s that it starts to be the only thing,
starts to disappear you.

Your parents phone you at college to ask: how is your virginity
doing? Did your virginity have a good day?

What does it want to be when it grows up? Your virginity sounds
a little sad this morning. What kind of cake does your virginity want

for its birthday? your girlfriends saw the most amazing shoes
that your virginity would look terrific in!

Want to go shopping? your boyfriends—would your virginity like to see
a movie? What about dinner?


ix. witches

My daughter is named for my grandmother, a midwife
who attended the births of 90 babies in rural Texas

before they had cars and after they finished having witches
but before there were doctors. Now you may understand

what I mean when I say another woman
gave my daughter a book called “The witches and the rabbi”

for her birthday. Here is the plot: a village is terrorized by a plague
of witches who fly from their cave when the moon is full,

on brooms through the sky except when it’s raining. I’m not sure
what the witches actually do to the village, since no one

actually goes outside on those nights. Gary, Indiana, could use
an infestation of witches—no stabbings

or gunshot wounds on evenings of full moons.
But one full moon when it is raining the rabbi shows up

with twenty townsmen. The witches
are so delighted they make them a feast of all the good things

they have. The rabbi tricks them into dancing with him and
the vigilante men, out into the rain,

which kills them. I knew her father’s mother was secretly
glad when I started to hemorrhage. She didn’t want me

to have a homebirth with a midwife.
“What kind of rabbis are these?”

Says my rabbi, stopped by for a quick hello. My daughter
wanted to show him that we had a book about rabbis. “They’re

engaging the poor witches
in mixed dancing and leading them astray,” he says.

This is the broom which sweeps the sky of the stars you have
to be too drunk to write about, as Daisy put it.

This is the housework the princesses do disguised
as village maidens. These are the constellations that form

in the shadow of the stars.
Silent are the women in the village

who took their cloth packets of herbs and were silent
when their husbands rushed off to kill the witches in that story.



CHOCOLATE

The day I won the custody case my lawyer gave me a bitter chocolate
in black and silver paper. Once I saw cacao pods
drying in a Venezuelan village square

during Easter week; through the open church doors, peeling saints sniffed
        and were carried
like colicky children through night streets. The local hot chocolate
was thickened with cornmeal and canella bark

somebody tore from the trees. To reach that village we found a fisherman,
        plowed
through rows of porpoises, then hiked five kilometers
inland through banana and cocoa trees,

which like shade. Once only men could drink
chocolate. Women were permitted cacao beans as currency,
to buy meat or slaves or pay tribute. It feels good to imagine a single seed,

hidden in the forbidden mouth, the tongue
curled, gathering the strength to push. The Aztec king discarded
each gold-hammered cup after its initial use; his chocolate was red as fresh
        blood.

He was a god to them. It was frothy,
poured from great heights. When we bathed in the village river, girls
gathered around me, whispering, why is your skin so pale? Why is your
        hair so straight?

Can we braid it? Dime, eres blanca?
The judge, our lawyers, her father, and I decided the fate
of my child. The dark liquid we poured was ink, initialing our little
        negotiations.

Who can know the heart of another, the blood
spiced with memory, poured from one generation to the next
over great distances? The Mayan word for chocolate means bitter. The
        village

used to be a plantation; now it is a co-operative, owned by descendants
of the former slaves. At Easter Vigil the women lined up
behind the most beautiful, in a long sky

-blue dress adorned with gold stars. Between the decades of the rosary she
        called out,
while we shuffled our feet in merengue beat, bearing the saints
through the streets, someone shot off a Roman

candle. The men’s procession paused for rum. I know I’ll be paying for it
        the rest
of my life. The Mayan word means bitter water. The cacao
tree was uprooted from paradise.



HOW TO USE A NAPKIN

Understand the napkin
has been unnecessary
for most of human history.

Understand the world is filled with people
eager to bend
things to their will.
We shall practice on the napkin.
When you have finished eating
place your napkin loosely
next to your plate
.

It should not be crumpled or twisted,
which would reveal untidiness or nervousness;
nor should it be folded,

which might be seen as an implication
that you think your hosts
might reuse it without washing
.
.
It is a delicate affair.
Don’t argue with me
said my husband

who had called for my advice
about the apartment he was renting
when he didn’t want to live with me.

It is largely
symbolic today
except for barbecues.
Lightly dab the lips.

I suspect the word
argue is the space
in the mouth for things
to come apart in.

The napkin must not be left
on the chair, it might seem
as if you have an inappropriately

dirty napkin to hide
or even that you are trying
to run off with the table linens.

It takes great trust
to use a napkin.
It takes an act
of faith to leave
the table.



Today’s poems are from Decency (Black Lawrence Press, 2015), copyright © 2015 by Marcela Sulak, and appear here today with permission from the poet.



Decency: Poetry. Jewish Studies. Women’s Studies. Decency celebrates the spunky wenches, the unfortunate queens, the complicated translators, the wistful wives who have been hustled off the spotlit stages of history. Through the lens of Victorian manuals of etiquette, through the unfolding of religion from the Middle East to the American Southwest, Decency thinks through the brutal things we do to one another, recording the ways the individual operates in relation to society’s mores and harms. From the Sumerian queen Puabi to contemporary female recruits to the Israeli intelligence’s “Honeytrap” operation, Decency is a mix of the documentary and the lyrical, the wrathful and the joyful.


Marcela Sulak‘s poetry collections include Decency (2015) and Immigrant (2010), both with Black Lawrence Press. She’s translated four collections of poetry from the Czech and French, and, most recently, the Hebrew: Orit Gidali’s Selected Poems: Twenty Girls to Envy Me (University of Texas Press, July 2016). She’s co-edited the 2015 Rose Metal Press title Family Resemblance: An Anthology and Exploration of 8 Hybrid Literary Genres. Sulak directs the Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Bar-Ilan University. ​​


Editor’s Note: If there is a question driving the poems in Marcela Sulak’s sophomore collection, it is a question of the ways in which we are and are not decent to one another. As individuals and as countries. As intimates and strangers. Both within and across the (real or artificial) divides of race, creed, culture, and nationality. Sulak pursues the answers to this question with the keen eye of an academic and a researcher, then relays her observations and discoveries with the skilled and deliberate abandon of an artist. These questions of decency are considered and depicted through the lenses of history, relationship, and etiquette. The result is a brave yet dainty collection. A powerful yet vulnerable collage. A work that charms the reader with its quaintness so that its harsh truths and difficult revelations go down like chocolate–bitter yet sweet, delicate yet bold.

Among the many long poems in this collection is one that stopped me in my tracks when I heard the poet read it aloud at the book’s New York launch last year. “Solidarity” is a stunning inquiry into rape–its ramifications and its afterlife and the endless experiences that collide with sexual violence in concentric circles. Today, for example, are Sulak’s reflections on misogyny and witch hunts, virginity and agency. Of virginity she writes, “It’s not that you get tired, it’s that it starts to be the only thing, / starts to disappear you.” Determined that her daughter know the truth about the history of hysteria, misogyny, and women healers, she considers witches through the skewed twin lenses of history and scaremongering: “Silent are the women in the village // who took their cloth packets of herbs and were silent / when their husbands rushed off to kill the witches in that story.” If I could have, I would have reprinted this long poem in its entirety. But then, you really ought to buy the book so that you can read this breathtaking work for yourself.

Throughout this masterful collection the poet’s own experiences are coupled with the larger lenses of the book–history and etiquette, for example–so that what is gleaned by the reader is at once deeply personal and delightfully educational. “The day I won the custody case my lawyer gave me a bitter chocolate,” Sulak writes of her unique experience, then later, in the same poem, writes of the history of chocolate: “Once only men could drink / chocolate. Women were permitted cacao beans as currency, / to buy meat or slaves or pay tribute.” Yet these ideas are not disparate; they are finely woven together by the poet’s skilled hand. The genius of this interrelation is beautifully evidenced by moments like this, in a poem that appears to be about the history of the napkin, but is equally about the poet’s leaving her husband: “It takes great trust / to use a napkin. / It takes an act / of faith to leave / the table.” The art of the poem–like the collection that houses it–is enriched beyond experience and information by a powerful lyric: “It feels good to imagine a single seed, // hidden in the forbidden mouth, the tongue / curled, gathering the strength to push.”


Want to see more from Marcela Sulak?
Marcela Sulak Official Website
“Jerusalem” in the Cortland Review
Decency” and “Raspberry” in Haaretz
Buy Decency from Black Lawrence Press, Book Depository, or Amazon