A NEWBORN GIRL AT PASSOVER
By Nan Cohen
Consider one apricot in a basket of them.
It is very much like all the other apricots–
an individual already, skin and seed.
Now think of this day. One you will probably forget.
The next breath you take, a long drink of air.
Holiday or not, it doesn’t matter.
A child is born and doesn’t know what day it is.
The particular joy in my heart she cannot imagine.
The taste of apricots is in store for her.
Today’s poem was was first published on the Academy of American Poets website and appears here today with permission from the poet and publisher.
Nan Cohen is the author of Rope Bridge, a collection of poems. Her work has appeared in Gulf Coast, The New Republic, Ploughshares, Poetry International, and Tikkun, among other magazines and anthologies. She is the recipient of a Wallace Stegner Fellowship, a Rona Jaffe Writer’s Award, and a Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. A high school teacher and English department chair in Los Angeles, she is also the Poetry Director of the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference.
Editor’s Note: Simple, yet revelatory. A personal experience that belongs to one and to many. The day you will likely not remember. The apricot that is like all the others–unique. “The particular joy in my heart she cannot imagine.” The way that line bowls you over. How unadorned it is, yet how stunning. This poem. This poem. This poem.
Want to read more by and about Nan Cohen?
Nan Cohen’s Blog
“The Fear of the Dark” (with audio) at Slate
“Storm” at The New Republic
“Girder” at Verse Daily
“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