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: 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: 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: 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
Buy The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards from Amazon
Poetry Daily
Sixth Finch

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: THE MOONS OF AUGUST

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FROM THE MOONS OF AUGUST
By Danusha Laméris


EVE, AFTER

Did she know
there was more to life
than lions licking the furred
ears of lambs,
fruit trees dropping
their fat bounty,
the years droning on
without argument?

Too much quiet
is never a good sign.
Isn’t there always
something itching
beneath the surface?

But what could she say?
The larder was full
and they were beautiful,
their bodies new
as the day they were made.

Each morning the same
flowers broke through
the rich soil, the birds sang,
again, in perfect pitch.

It was only at night
when they lay together in the dark
that it was almost palpable—
the vague sadness, unnamed.

Foolishness, betrayal,
—call it what you will. What a relief
to feel the weight
fall into her palm. And after,
not to pretend anymore
that the terrible calm
was Paradise.



LONE WOLF

On December 8, 2011, the first wolf in nearly a hundred years was seen
crossing the border of the Sierra Nevada from Oregon to California.

A male, probably looking for a mate
in this high wilderness
along the cusp of Mount Shasta.
Already there are ranchers waiting, armed.
True, it’s only one wolf.
Except that a wolf is never just a wolf.
We say “wolf” but mean our own hunger,
walking around outside our bodies.
The thief desire is. the part of wanting
we want to forget but can’t. Not
with the wolf loose in the woods
carrying the thick fur
of our longing. Not with it taking
in its mouth the flocks we keep
penned behind barbed wire.
If only we didn’t have to hear it
out in the dark, howling.



THE BALANCE

She was at a friend’s apartment,
my mother, a third floor walk-up.
It was summer. Why she slipped
into the back room, she can’t recall.
Was there something she wanted
fro her purse…lipstick?
a phone number?
Fumbling through the pile
on the bed she looked up and saw—
was this possible?—outside,
on the thin concrete ledge
a child, a girl, no more than two or three.
She was crouched down
eyeing an object with great interest.
A pebble, or a bright coin.
What happened next
must have happened very slowly.
My mother, who was young then,
leaned out the window, smiled.
Would you like to see
what’s in my purse?
she asked.
Below, traffic rushed
down the wide street, horns blaring.
Students ambled home
under the weight of their backpacks.
From the next room,
strains of laughter.
The child smiled back, toddled along
the ledge. What do we know
of fate or chance, the threads
that hold us in the balance?
My mother did not imagine
one day she would
lose her own son, helpless
to stop the bullet
he aimed at his heart.
She reached out to the girl,
grabbed her in both arms,
held her to her chest.



Today’s poems are from The Moons of August, published by Autumn House Press, copyright © 2014 by Danusha Laméris, and appear here today with permission from the poet.


The Moons of August: “Danusha Laméris writes with definitive, savoring power—in perfectly well-weighted lines and scenes. Her poems strike deeply, balancing profound loss and new finding, employing a clear eye, a way of being richly alive with appetite and gusto, and a gift of distilling experience to find its shining core. Don’t miss this stunning first book.” —Naomi Shihab Nye

“This book of motherhood, memory, and elegiac urgency crosses borders, cultures, and languages to bring us the good news of being alive. With language clear as water and rich as blood, The Moons of August offers a human communion we can all believe in. Reckoning with and grieving for the past as they claim the future, these poems are wise, direct, and fearless. “What’s gone / is not quite gone, but lingers,” Laméris reminds us. “Not the language, but the bones / of the language. Not the beloved, / but the dark bed the beloved makes / inside our bodies.” —Dorianne Laux


Danusha Laméris’s work has been published in Alaska Quarterly Review, Poetry Northwest, Rattle, The Sun and Crab Orchard Review as well as in a variety of other journals. Her poems have also appeared in the anthologies In a Fine Frenzy: Poets Respond to Shakespeare, A Bird Black as the Sun: California Poets on Crows and Ravens, and Intimate Kisses. She was a finalist for the 2010 and 2012 New Letters Prize in poetry and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her poem, “Riding Bareback,” won the 2013 Morton Marcus Memorial prize in poetry, selected by Gary Young and her first book, The Moons of August, was chosen by Naomi Shihab Nye as the winner of the Autumn House Press poetry contest. She lives in Santa Cruz, California and teaches an ongoing poetry workshop.


Editor’s Note: I first discovered Danusha Laméris when I featured her stunning poem “Arabic” in the fall of 2013. When I read that her first book was forthcoming this year—and chosen by Naomi Shihab Nye as the winner of the Autumn House Press poetry contest, no less—I begged the poet remember me when the book was released. When it arrived I read, devoured, re-read, explored, breathed, bled, and grew whole once more within the boundless confines of its pages.

Through Laméris’ words I was the first woman born; I knew the burden—and relief—of being Eve. I was as old as time and as all-encompassing as nature. I was as helpless and as grieved as a mother, and as powerful. The Moons of August is small and light and fits effortlessly in my hands. Yet it reaches far back to human origins and delves deep into the human experience and the complex soul of (wo)man. “With,” as Dorianne Laux so aptly states, “language clear as water and rich as blood,” this is a book to read when you want to feel alive, from the very atoms that comprise you to the farthest reaches of your white light.


Want to see more by Danusha Laméris?
Author’s Official Website

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: KRISTIN GEORGE BAGDANOV

Kristin-George-Bagdanov

WE DISSOLVE SEPARATELY
By Kristin George Bagdanov

In the beginning was the word, was the
breath that shaped it, the mouth
that cupped the breath and the body
that made it. I am merely flesh, remaking

myself every seven years. I breathe to escape
my origin, caressing the unseen
with syllable like rings of smoke
that open to dissolve. Trust me, you will

always be alone. We will always be separate in time,
the distance between our bodies in bed
the distance between your death and mine.

We come together at night to pretend
that loneliness is an animal we can cull. But
I watch you sleep, hair splayed across your pillow,
slack mouth breathing for your singular life.


(Today’s poem originally appeared in Thrush Poetry Journal and appears here today with permission from the poet.)


Kristin George Bagdanov is an M.F.A. candidate in poetry at Colorado State University, where she is a Lilly Graduate Fellow. Poems of hers have recently appeared in or are forthcoming from The Los Angeles Review, 32 Poems, CutBank, Redivider, and Rattle. Her chapbook We Are Mostly Water was published by Finishing Line Press in 2012 as part of the New Women’s Voices series.

Editor’s Note: If I had to sum up today’s poem in one word it would be “powerful.” With this piece Kristin George Bagdanov takes on the heavy and the deep; without fear, without apprehension. “Trust me,” she tells us bluntly, “you will / always be alone.” We can love, but “We will always be separate in time, / the distance between our bodies in bed / the distance between your death and mine.” From its biblical entry—as captivating as the origin story it evokes—to its repeated waves of brutal honesty, today’s entry is as well-wrought as the human body in all its striking, singular existence.

Want to read more by and about Kristin George Bagdanov?
Kristin George Bagdanov’s Official Website
32poems
Flyway Journal
Rattle
Buy We Are Mostly Water from Finishing Line Press

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: LINDA STERN ZISQUIT

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POSIT
By Linda Stern Zisquit

“Ten measures of beauty came down into the world;

Nine were taken by Jerusalem, one by the rest of the world.”

                                                                         Tractate Kiddushin


“Ten parts of suffering came down into the world; nine

were taken by Jerusalem, one by the rest of the world.”

                                                                         Avot d’Rabbi Natan


Had Rachel not looked up

Jacob would not have seen her.

There would have been no water,

no winding dream,


no tribe or unrelenting

portion of sadness

dispersed on his land, his Jerusalem,

and I would not have promised


to gather then home. But Rachel

saw him and he loved her.

She was barren and she suffered

and she followed him.


So I have this heaviness

to bear. Her life before him

had also the dailiness of lives,

an hour at which she would rise and go


to the well. Then out of the blue

her future came crashing against her lids

when she looked up, those hours changed,

and I was moved to his, another well.


(Today’s poem originally appeared in the collection Ritual Bath (Broken Moon Press, 1993), was recently published in The Ilanot Review, and appears here today with permission from the poet.)


Linda Stern Zisquit has published four full-length collections of poetry, most recently Havoc: New & Selected Poems (Sheep Meadow Press, 2013). Return from Elsewhere, her fifth volume of poetry, will be published in Spring 2014. Her other books are The Face in the Window (2004), Unopened Letters (1996), and Ritual Bath (1993). Ghazal-Mazal, a chapbook, appeared in 2011. Her translations from Hebrew poetry include These Mountains: Selected Poems of Rivka Miriam (2010), a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award, Let the Words: Selected Poems of Yona Wallach (2006), Wild Light: Selected Poems of Yona Wallach (1997), for which she received an NEA Translation Grant and was shortlisted for the PEN Translation Award, and Desert Poems of Yehuda Amichai (1991). Her work has appeared in journals including The Denver Quarterly, Harvard Review, Paris Review, Ploughshares, The Southern Review, Salmagundi and the Virginia Quarterly Review. Born in Buffalo, NY, Zisquit has lived in Jerusalem with her husband and five children since 1978; she is Associate Professor and Poetry Coordinator for the MA in Creative Writing Program at Bar Ilan University, and runs ARTSPACE, an art gallery in Jerusalem representing contemporary artists.

The Ilanot Review, where today’s poem recently appeared, is a biannual journal of creative writing which publishes a stellar selection of poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and literary interviews. The journal publishes two themed issues a year, inviting submissions from English-language poets and writers from anywhere in the world. The Ilanot Review is currently seeking submissions for its winter 2014 edition, through November 30th. The theme of the winter 2014 issue is sacred words.

Editor’s Note: Today’s selection contemplates the question so many of us are wont to ask: “What if?” In today’s piece the poet straddles two worlds; her own life and the biblical tales that shape so much of our modern lives. Within the poet’s words her own life is inextricably linked with the biblical love story of Rachel and Jacob. “Had Rachel not looked up / Jacob would not have seen her,” the poet posits, “But Rachel / saw him and he loved her,” and “So I have this heaviness / to bear.” Had the stories of our people unfolded differently, the poet seems to say, so, too, would our own lives now be different. Time, place, religion, literature, and the poet’s own path are conflated as the poem considers the universal themes of belonging, suffering, love, home, and self.

Want to read more by and about Linda Stern Zisquit?
Buy Havoc from Sheep Meadow Press
Sheep Meadow Press Author Page
Buy Unopened Letters from Amazon
ARTSPACE Gallery

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: ORIT GIDALI

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KOHELET
By Orit Gidali, Translated by Marcela Sulak

I, Kohelet, was king of Jerusalem,
I really was.
Treading over a thousand flowers on my way to the white bed
where my wives waited to remove the crown from my head–
made of marzipan in the biting of sweet tongues–
my silk rubbing against their silk, my flesh would choose among
them, and my flesh was already sweet in their flesh.
Kohelet, I held a thousand women
and I didn’t have a single one
I could recognize by smell
or by her skin or her feet,
her steps as she walked away from me: David’s lament.
Her steps toward me: his song.
I am Kohelet, Solomon,
my linen is the mystery of shrouds
and my bitten crown is above me.



קוהלת

אני קוהלת מלך הייתי בירושלים
באמת הייתי
דורך על אלף פרחים בדרכי למיטה הלבנה
שם חיכו נשותי, שהסירו את כתר ראשי
העשוי מרציפן בנגיסת לשונות מתוקות, משיי
מתחכך במשיין, והייתי בוחר מתוכן לבשרי,
ובשרי כבר מתוק בבשרן.
קוהלת החזקתי אלף נשים
ולא היתה לי אישה יחידה
לזהות את ריחה
ועורה ורגליה
צעדיה ממני: קינת דוד
צעדיה אלי: שירתו
אני קוהלת שלמה
סתרי תכריכים של סדיני
וכתרי הנגוס מעלי.


(Today’s poem originally appeared in The Bakery, was published in the collection Esrim Ne’arot LeKane [Twenty Girls to Envy Me] (Sifriat Poalim, Tel Aviv, 2003), and appears here today with permission from the translator.)

Orit Gidali is an Israeli poet. Her first poetry collection, Esrim Ne’arot LeKane [Twenty Girls to Envy Me], was published by Sifriat Poalim in 2003. Gidali is also the author of Smikhut [Construct State] (2009), and the children’s book Noona Koret Mahshavot [Noona the Mindreader] (2007). She is married to poet Ben-Ari Alex, and is a mother, writing workshop facilitator, and lecturer in the Department of Communication at Tel Aviv University.

Marcela Sulak is the author of two collections of poetry and has translated three collections of poetry from the Czech Republic and Congo-Zaire. Her essays appear in The Iowa Review, Rattle, and The Los Angeles Review of Books, among others. She directs the Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Bar-Ilan University, where she is senior lecturer in American Literature.

Editor’s Note: Kohelet is the original Hebrew name for Ecclesiastes, one of the Writings that comprises a portion of the Hebrew Bible. The book is an autobiographical account of Kohelet’s search for the meaning of life and the best way to live. Kohelet introduces himself as “son of David, king in Jerusalem,” and is therefore sometimes believed to be Solomon. This book, however, was written anonymously and is believed to have ben penned late in the 3rd century B.C.E., while Solomon’s reign was circa 970 to 931 B.C.E.

In today’s piece the poet associates Kohelet with King Solomon and explores the notion that “heavy is the head that wears the crown.” To get to his marriage bed the king must trample a thousand flowers. He has “held a thousand women” (Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines and may have had an affair with the Queen of Sheba), but “didn’t have a single one / [he] could recognize by smell / or by her skin or her feet.” His wives remove his crown from his head—perhaps an allusion to his wives’ polytheism which influenced Solomon and displeased God—and at that his crown is “made of marzipan” and therefore vulnerable to “the biting of sweet tongues.” In the end he is left shrouded in mystery with a bitten crown.

As fascinating as the midrashic element of today’s piece is, it is the vibrant and lyrically explicit language that brings the scene to life. The beauty of the lyric is itself almost biblical: “my silk rubbing against their silk, my flesh would choose among / them, and my flesh was already sweet in their flesh.” It was no small effort on the part of the poem’s translator, Marcela Sulak, whose original work was featured on this series last week, to translate today’s poem from Hebrew into English while still maintaining elements of rhyme, meter, and lyric beauty. This is a piece as rich in English as in the original Hebrew, and which carries as much depth and beauty in both languages.

Want to read more by and about Orit Gidali?
Author’s Official Website (in Hebrew)
The Ilanot Review
Blue Lyra Review
Buy Nora the Mindreader on Amazon
Orit Gidali’s Blog (in Hebrew)