SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: STEPHANIE WELLEN LEVINE

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HOPE, TRUTH, FEAR, AND MY SPIRITUAL QUEST. YES!
By Stephanie Wellen Levine


Yes, I’m on a quest for truth, but only IF.
IF there’s a story behind the stories I see, I want to know.
A line of meaning running behind them.
A beam of concern.
Something.

The man in the grimy wheelchair begging for money by the Harvard Square subway
Pushing himself right up to people with his one leg, as if to ask:
Could YOU hold a job if you had a sawed-off leg
And eyes that watered from the slightest hint of sun?

The woman staring at her cappuccino at Crema Café
Laughing at the creamy heart added by the barista.
She touches the heart with her pinky
So lightly, making sure she doesn’t ruin it
And then takes out a book called On Losing a Child.

Even the little girl in the T-shirt covered with clowns
On the first warm day of the season
Running through the sprinkler in front of her house
Again and again
Happy at first, screaming: “This is so fun!”
Each time the water sprays her face.
And then looking around
Scanning her yard, then the street
As if to ask: “Isn’t there more?”

Well, isn’t there?
That’s my question —
Hokey, grandiose, absurd, and unanswerable.
Or maybe answerable.
But do I want the answer?

Um, wow. I swear I’m not making this up.
I just saved this document and the title shocked me.
I didn’t choose it; I was being careless.
The title is yes.
Just plain yes.
Not the first several words of line one
Like it usually is when I’m careless about saving.
Just yes, no “if.”
No “but only.”

A happier, simpler person might rejoice now.
Isn’t there more?
Yes. Yes!
I got my answer, the one I wanted
In the guise of a word processing glitch.

Before this happened, I was going to say
That “yes” is the only answer I can handle.
The only one I seek.

“Yes” carries many possibilities.
God, like in the Torah.
Or an organizing energy uncapturable by any existing religion.
Or the dazzling power of individual and collective consciousness
Creating the world as we know it
Like some physicists believe
And some New Age types.

Or all of the above
Or something else entirely.
Or, or, or.

On one level, the details don’t matter
As long as “yes” is unmistakable.
As long as there’s something beyond the people in the street
Hurrying to their destinations while checking their phones
Not thinking, not once, that one day they won’t be well enough to hurry
And another day, later on, no one in any street, anywhere,
Will remember them
Or care whether they reached their appointments on time
Or even that someone cried after reading their poem.

Now, let me add a caveat, since I’m self-centered like that.
The details of “yes” don’t matter
As long as they include immortality for my consciousness
And the consciousness of everyone I love.
(And I love everyone who isn’t mean.)
I’m just not a “self pales in the face of the all” kind of soul.

But what if the true answer is “no”
Like many of the most brilliant minds insist?
No, there’s nothing mystical, or magical, or godlike, or transcendently loving.
Nothing beyond what we ourselves can do for each other, and for the earth.
The beauty of one soul reaching out to another
Doing their work, growing their passions
And then their time is up
And it’s time for a new generation.

No, there’s nothing “beyond”
No side door in the sky
No world hiding within the air
No time beyond the clock’s harsh tick
No heart beyond our smashed and battered hearts.

What if all my diligent searching brought me there
To “no”?
Would I want to realize that?
To remove all doubt?
If the actual, capital “T” truth is “no,”
Do I want to know?

NO.
No, no, no.
Some would say: Yes! Yes, of course!
Let me seize every moment with the fullness of infinity.
If that’s all I have, let me know, and savor all I can, now.
Because now is the prize, and that’s OK.
Now is good.

For me, now is only good if it carries at least a hope of then, or after.
Something else, something beyond.
Just plain now is horrifying.
It’s the man in the café rubbing his face until it bleeds
Because he’s nervous.
Because now is everything and nothing.

So why do I search?
What is my quest
If I want no part of a real possibility?

Why am I not one of those who leap and sing
At every piece of evidence,
Who embrace all those pride-filled spiritual leaders
High-fiving them and joining their circles?
Why am I the one who sits in the corner
Stewing, questioning, finding holes in all their answers
Alienating myself from all the peaceful souls?

I want the truth that I want
But I want it to actually be the truth.
I want to cross-examine and put it through a million paces
And then I want to smile. And know.

I’ll take the “yes” I received today as a hint.
Not proof. That would be crazy.
But a hint. A piece of hope.
It’s not the first I’ve received.
All those slices of hope add up to something.
Not proof, not peace, not joy
But a real thing
As real as, say, your memory of the wind against your face
On a warm night, at a barbecue, while your aunt told you tales
Of her first year at college.

Was the wind actually cool like you remember it?
Was your aunt really eating a chicken thigh and laughing about her roommate
While you battled a bee that came dangerously close to your plate?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Regardless, there’s truth in the overall flavor your mind creates
As it conjures the scene.

Hope is like that.
It carries a kind of truth.
Not provable. Not logical.
But sane and even precious.

Hope is the wind that carries my dreams
Even in the harshest weather.



Today’s poem previously appeared in Hevria, and appears here today with permission from the poet.


Stephanie Wellen Levine is the author of Mystics, Mavericks, And Merrymakers: An Intimate Journey Among Hasidic Girls: winner of the Moment Magazine Emerging Writer Book Award. She contributes regularly to the online magazines Hevria and The Wisdom Daily. Stephanie brings lifelong passion to her current book project, which explores her spiritual quest. She teaches at Tufts University and lives in Cambridge, MA, but she misses NYC more and more.

Editor’s Note: Today’s poem is an honest inquisition, probing into the depths of existence while admitting there is only so much we are willing to know, to learn, to hear. I am particularly taken in by the vignette stanzas early in the poem, the vivid little moments that so clearly illustrate how human it is to wonder, in life, whether there is more than this. The poet’s inquiry is urgent, insistent; “Isn’t there more?”

Want more Stephanie Wellen Levine?
Buy Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers: An Intimate Journey among Hasidic Girls from Amazon
Hevria
The Wisdom Daily
Facebook

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: RIVER ELECTRIC WITH LIGHT

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From RIVER ELECTRIC WITH LIGHT
By Sarah Wetzel:


A WORSHIP OF RIVERS

If I must choose a word for you,
let it be river. Not the river’s smoothed banks
that, like skin, give form
to breath and blood, the throb
of twenty trillion red cells wildly
ferrying their burdens.
If I must choose a word for you,
let it be the word
for what flows. Down one river,
a ruined house, down another,
eight empty boats bobbing. Inside a ninth,
there is a girl on her knees, knife
in hand. A kind of river
is running through her.
Because the worship of rivers
is also the worship of a chimney
for smoke, the needle its thread
as it closes the wound, of the wire
for its extra electron.
Because all three are worships
of motion, which is why
I race after rainclouds and trains, the postman
and bicycle messengers. Why I think
wind speaks to me. You,
you don’t speak. Yet you take
whatever I throw in. Which is why
I will always live close to water
but never again by the sea
from which everything eventually
finds its way shore again—
arthritic driftwood, the bones
of dogfish and dogs, and Mr. Levi,
the wristwatch still on his wrist. Which is why
I believe the girl puts down the knife
and she rises, the river
                                          electric with light.



THIRD VERSION

The rain leaves fingerprints
in last summer’s
window dust,

while just off shore, anchored
and waiting,
the barge that will ferry the lucky.

In one version of my story,
I sell my hair
and the good skin of my stomach.

In one version, I carry you
from the burning car
and this time you don’t die.

The sea with the rubber hose of a river
down its throat
is swallowing as fast as it can.

If you watch long enough, you’ll see that rain
shapes a path in the pane
for what falls behind it—

yet if you put a hand
to the glass,
the water will fall toward you.

Our lives are always half over.
There’s still time.



SAYING JERUSALEM

It’s become tricky to talk about Jerusalem
these days. Tricky, that is, without saying
cinnamon trees and narrow alleys, overfed
sparrows
, or Hasidic boys in metal spectacles.

I’ve nothing to say about trees or sparrows
or quaint Jerusalem characters, mustached men
selling talismans. Why don’t you like Arabs,
one asked, when I tried to bargain. Some Israelis joke

all we really need is Tel Aviv and the freeway
to Ben Gurion airport. Let the Arabs and fanatics
fight over everything else. From the roof
of my Tel Aviv house, I can sometimes glimpse

Jerusalem, the gleaming tip of al-Haram ash-Sharif.
Let them have everything else. Everything.



Today’s poems are from River Electric With Light (Red Hen Press, 2015), copyright © 2015 by Sarah Wetzel, and appear here today with permission from the poet.



River Electric With Light: Sarah Wetzel’s stunning second collection of poems, River Electric with Light, is a work of pilgrimage, a work in search of the sacred and the spiritually significant. Touching down in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Kabul, New York, and Rome, Wetzel’s poems, ranging from lyric meditations to discursive drama, weave themselves from her life as wife, lover, stepmother, and traveler. She names the force propelling her River—“If I must choose a word for you, / let it be the word / for what flows,” she writes. At times joyful, at times grief-ridden, Wetzel’s poems accumulate associatively pulling slivers of secular solace from a world where violence infuses the body, the landscape, and even dreams, recognizing that while: “Our lives are always half over. / There’s still time.” – See more at Red Hen Press


Sarah Wetzel is the author of River Electric with Light, which won the AROHO Poetry Publication Prize and was published by Red Hen Press in 2015, and Bathsheba Transatlantic, which won the Philip Levine Prize for Poetry and was published in 2010. Sarah currently teaches creative writing at The American University of Rome, Italy. She still spends a lot of time on planes, however, dividing time between Manhattan, Rome, and Tel Aviv, Israel. Sarah holds an engineering degree from Georgia Institute of Technology and a MBA from the University of California, Berkeley. More importantly for her poetry, Sarah completed a MFA in Creative Writing at Bennington College in January 2009. You can read samples of her work at www.sarahwetzel.com. ​​


Editor’s Note: Sarah Wetzel’s River Electric With Light is enigmatic, transversive, transformative. There is a motion within its pages–between sections and poems, between concepts and experiences–that is reminiscent of the Italian notion of attraversiamo; crossing over, moving on, getting to another place. Be it that of the smallest rain drop or the greatest ocean, be it that of trains, planes, or automobiles, this collection is electric with movement, even in its deepest and most sacred moments of quiet contemplation.

There is water–and the life water ensures–running through this book. Rivers that carry words, ideas, people. “If I must choose a word for you, / let it be the word / for what flows.” And along with this motion comes an unsettled feeling underlying the life of these poems: “Which is why / I will always live close to water / but never again by the sea.”

This collection hums with a delicate, thoughtful lyricism that lulls the reader so that we float along easily–though shifting locales, through political commentary, through mindful meditations on religion, relationship, life and death. Never set or singular–because life is never as black and white as one experience or perspective–we are reminded that “Our lives are always half over,” but, in the same breath, “There’s still time.”


Want to see more from Sarah Wetzel?
Superstition Review
Poetrynet.org
Ilanot Review
Recours au Poeme

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: LOUDER THAN EVERYTHING YOU LOVE


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From LOUDER THAN EVERYTHING YOU LOVE
By Nicole Rollender:


SCATTERING

I remember your clavicle pressed like a blade
under your skin, the moon

pooling in your cheeks’ hollows. You wanted
to be buried in the green dress

you always wore with pearls. We’d sit outside your back
door, watching bats swing over the lake.

Once you were like a weather vane twisting
at the edge of a field as you watched tornados spin

toward your house, your mother asleep on the couch.
I suppose you couldn’t tell me you wanted

her dead. But now you’re gone like she is.
I listen for your voice in the church

inside me, where a priest’s hands outline the shape
of a death. Yes, he believes vertebrae have ghosts.

This luminous pew, where a bird can earn a spot
in paradise—but I’m told the earth

can’t perform the miracle of giving you back.
I know the music your bone shards

make in the urn. You could be an old woman
shaking fish skeletons to conjure the dead.

You could be this fish skeleton.
I should know when a body need not be resurrected—

when the ways we said our names between us,
quietly near the azaleas, trying not to startle

robins (now, now they’re singing on your spine),
stop being music I can hear in my mind,

but become something other: how I scatter
the notes, adagio, pianissimo, and what answers

as the wind scatters white feathers into the lake.



PSALM TO BE READ WHILE MY DAUGHTER CONSIDERS MARY

A swaddling, a manger: but what happened before all this, my
daughter says: when Mary was a girl: I said yes: did she feel an
undersea tug on her spirit: did she think she might be able to move
jugs of water with her mind: I said yes: to birth a man who would
walk on water: a man who would tattoo his image in blood and sweat
on a shroud: did she, in the night fields, look for a star that would
lead seven shadows as colors into her life: what is wine: what are
these fishes, these loaves: for, he entered and exited her as light: her
waters stayed intact: yet, she swaddled a baby who would nurse, laid
him in prickly hay next to goats’ stiff fur: I said yes: listen to this: your
great-grandmother saw Mary appear next to my mother’s crib: my
mother caught measles as a baby: your great-grandmother was a seer:
she walked with Mary back to the stable: comets circling as angels in
a flock overhead: Joseph, wondering: I said yes: Mary, whose baby
pierced through her as light: holding a boy who’d be lanced with a
sword: who would bleed, pee, sweat and groan: who contained God:
who contained her blood: who contained everything in the world:
yet, held out his hand and cried for her milk.



THE LIGHT MAKES MY GRANDMOTHER CRY

Her stories still smoke up the kitchen, a dead woman
cooking peasant soup. Pigeons, lightning boiling

for the living. What kind of truth-telling do we expect
to fall off bird bones? Her death was supposed to be

a leaving, except it wasn’t. Her mutterings clack on
the backs of my teeth. She’s learning what dead women

do: swim the blood of their daughters, spread themselves
on ceilings like giant moths radiating light. The solstice

lights the halo-less among us. Her gap-teeth swallow ashes
in the urn. The coffee grounds won’t settle. She pushes

her hands up into mine, slides her ghost bones under
my skin, and watches my fingers dance the shadow-

-woman-waltz-grasping-at-spoons. She remembers
the day Pinky the poodle was nabbed from her front

yard, pretends to pet his wooled head. That’s why you
need fences to keep the dark ones out
. She uses her skull

as a pot, hissing up, Give back the life I gave you. The sink
runs red angry water. She tiptoes up my spine in her

old slippers, knocking on every vertebra she sees.
It’s true that the dead get younger. Some nights she’s

a skinny girl waking from a bad dream, calling for
a winged mother, the saint of lost dogs, to come down

from a parapet. It’s this girl I let stay, because she also
cries at the stars, whose light goes right through her,

for the dead woman she will grow up to be. That new
blaze, coming from as far away as blue stars going nova,

the lesson in the death-light: The dead learn
to smell what’s sweetest among all the rotting.



Today’s poems are from Louder Than Everything You Love (ELJ Publications, 2015), copyright © 2015 by Nicole Rollender, and appear here today with permission from the poet.



Louder Than Everything You Love: Nicole Rollender’s poems balance on the uneasy boundary between third eye and communion wafer. Beside an “old woman shaking fish skeletons to conjure the dead,” the poet as body becomes a conduit for the generations in both directions, such that her “body is full of holes the dead / look in and out,” while of her daughter she says, “my ribs / were her scaffolding.” Rollender alternately glories and suffocates in her holy entanglement with her lineage, with her God. And when she comes up for air, she ululates a hauntingly familiar song. —Jessica Goodfellow, author of Mendeleev’s Mandala


Nicole Rollender’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Adroit Journal, Alaska Quarterly Review, Best New Poets, The Journal, Memorious, THRUSH Poetry Journal, West Branch, Word Riot and others. Her first full-length collection, Louder Than Everything You Love, was published by ELJ Publications in 2015. She’s the author of the poetry chapbooks Arrangement of Desire (Pudding House Publications, 2007), Absence of Stars (dancing girl press & studio, 2015), Bone of My Bone, a winner in Blood Pudding Press’s 2015 Chapbook Contest, and Ghost Tongue (Porkbelly Press, 2016). She has received poetry prizes from CALYX Journal, Ruminate Magazine and Princemere Journal. ​​


Editor’s Note: Nicole Rollender’s first full-length collection is haunting and haunted, tender and tendrils, eye of newt and mother’s milk. The poems contemplate generations and generation. Death and little deaths. The ways we go on, the ways we are remembered. How birds alight on our remnants after we are gone. Its pages are rife with the inheritance of seers and magic, wisdom and sight. With what is passed down amongst women through the ages, from mother to daughter again and again and beyond.

The book’s moments of stunning lyric are interwoven with its major themes so that they become “the music… bone shards // make in the urn.” On the theme of death, the poet writes: “I listen for your voice in the church // inside me, where a priest’s hands outline the shape / of a death” and “I’m told the earth // can’t perform the miracle of giving you back.” When contemplating Mary as mother, she notes the real miracle, that Mary birthed a god “who contained her blood: who contained everything in the world: / yet, held out his hand and cried for her milk.”


Want to see more from Nicole Rollender?
Author Website
Author Blog
Order a signed copy of Louder Than Everything You Love and get a bonus broadside
“How to Stop Drowning” in Muzzle Magazine
“Aperture” in A-Minor Magazine

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: OLAM, SHANA, NEFESH

Etching on chapbook cover by Andi Arnovitz
Etching on chapbook cover by Andi Arnovitz

From OLAM SHANA NEFESH
By Jane Medved:


SIRENS

They think it is the young girls singing
you see, we pull them to us as smoothly

as oiled rope uncurls into golden braids.
It only takes a few minutes before everything

they see is woman. The pale skin of the sails
spreading like thighs, the thick knots

that tie the anchor turning to strands
of dampened hair held by a lover

before she shakes it free. The salt tastes
as sweet as sweat and soon the ship’s thrust

into the sea becomes unbearable.
This would be enough for galley slaves,

soldiers who tattoo fortunes on their scars,
the simple, parched sailors. But they are not

the ones we want. When we see the heroes
whose fierce deeds fall like hammers, we lay

aside our nocturne of desire. We sing instead
as a mother holds a dying child until

the horizon is the circle of our arms, the wind
a cloth wrapping them in its whisper, the waves

a gentle hush upon each creaking of the deck.
“Do not be afraid. You will be remembered and reborn.”



WHITE FIRE

There is a cable and it reaches
from the side of loving kindness

to the cold window across the room
taking over the function of your heart

which is tired of trying to make blood
out of air. Some days it’s just too hard

to keep on lifting, to appear in a robe
which keeps on falling, exposing

all sorts of intimate matters and the
little whispers beneath. Do not worry.

You are the hand, the page, the white fire
and you cannot be erased. The black letters

will burn and sing and declare themselves
but they are nothing without your silence;

which is not the absence of words, empty
as the howl of a bowl, but the promise made

between all words before they are spoken,
that they will reach across the black lines

and know each other again, even
if they no longer recognize themselves.



LEAVING A NOTE AT THE WESTERN WALL

There is a splintered door leading
nowhere and a lot of women crying
today I can’t even get near the wall.
Luckily I have my own tricks.
I place my arm over a young girl’s shoulder,
sigh sympathetically as she bends
her head in prayer, then edge myself
into her space. Everyone wants to touch
God’s face, to press their forehead
against his slippery cheek and brush
the pitted marks beneath, thank you
for my eyes, my legs, my arms, my breath
.
Herod did a good job, the ancient stones
hold solid. They outweigh the base
of the great pyramids and nothing moves
them, perhaps they are even held up
by pleading, since every crack is filled
with scraps of blue-lined paper, torn
index cards, a piece of yellow legal pad,
a folded napkin, sealed envelopes, airmail,
express, please, listen, thank you for my eyes,
my legs, my arms, my breath, excuse me
,
a woman pushes past me, excuse me please,
when she reaches for the wall a handful
of notes loosen and fall at our feet.
The chair behind me is piled with prayers
as morning, evening and darkness
make their requests, songs from the sons
of Korach even though their father moans
in the earth thank you for my arms,
my legs, my eyes, my breath
, women beg
the matriarchs and children press letters
into fists of stone while God sends back his answers
– No and no and no.



Today’s poems are from Olam, Shana, Nefesh (Finishing Line Press, 2014), copyright © 2014 by Jane Medved, and appear here today with permission from the poet.



Olam, Shana, Nefesh: “‘Olam, Shana, Nefesh’ is a Kabbalistic phrase used to describe the three dimensions of Place, Time and Person. Olam is most commonly translated as ‘world.’ But in Hebrew olam comes from the root of the word ‘hidden.’ This implies that place always has an unrevealed element to it; that we are surrounded by a reality beyond what is immediately visible. Shana literally means ‘year.’ It invokes an image of repetition, re-visiting, return, a never -ending cycle of months. In the Jewish calendar time is not a passive backdrop to human endeavor, but an active force whose windows of opportunity open and close, blossom and die just like the seasons. Nefesh can be translated as ‘person’ but it refers to the spirit as well as the body; the infusion of the divine into the physical. This is an inherently volatile combination, since a human being always contains a push and pull between the material and the spiritual, the body with its appetites and fears and the spirit. This is ‘person’ as the container of the animal and the divine.” – From Olam, Shana, Nefesh (Finishing Line Press, 2014)


Jane Medved is the poetry editor of the Ilanot Review, the on-line literary magazine of Bar Ilan University, Tel Aviv. Her chapbook, Olam, Shana, Nefesh, was released by Finishing Line Press in 2014. Her recent essays and poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Lilith Magazine, Mudlark, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Cimarron Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, Tupelo Quarterly and New American Writing. A native of Chicago, Illinois, she has lived for the last 25 years in Jerusalem, Israel.


Editor’s Note: Olam, Shana, Nefesh is an absolutely stunning collection. A rare assortment of meditations on myth and history, religion, spirituality, sensuality, gender and place. The questions posed are epic, the answers as small and as critical as breath. The poems themselves are absolutely gorgeous in their own right; lyric delights that any reader would feel indulgent slipping into, with moments like “The salt tastes / as sweet as sweat and soon the ship’s thrust // into the sea becomes unbearable,” “The black letters // will burn and sing and declare themselves / but they are nothing without your silence,” and “Everyone wants to touch / God’s face.” But this book is even more rewarding for those readers familiar with the rich landscapes the poems call and respond to. How rewarding is “Sirens” for those well-versed in Greek mythology, how brilliant “White Fire” for those who know and love midrash, and how masterful “Leaving a Note at the Western Wall” for students of religion and history, for Jewish women, for those who have been to Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall, who have “press[ed] their forehead[s]/ against [God’s] slippery cheek and brush[ed] / the pitted marks beneath, [saying] thank you / for my eyes, my legs, my arms, my breath.”


Want to see more from Jane Medved?
Tinderbox Poetry Journal
Lilith Magazine
Buy Olam, Shana, Nefesh from Amazon

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: VALERIE BACHARACH


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GENESIS
By Valerie Bacharach

I flew across the international
date line to yesterday.
Stayed on the plane,
circumnavigated the world,
arrived at time’s beginning.

A garden of wildness.

No need of that man
whose rib I stole,
no need of knowledge,
or apples,
or snakes,
or God…

Only this—
solitude
grace
pure air

before pain found me.



Today’s poem was originally published in Poetica‘s “Poem of the Week” series and appears here today with permission from the poet.



Valerie Bacharach is a poet and teacher in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She is a member of Carlow University’s Madwomen in the Attic poetry workshops and has attended Chatham University’s Summer Community of Writers. In 2015, she participated in Chautauqua Institution’s Writers Festival, and worked with the poet, Tony Hoagland. She conducts weekly poetry workshops with the women of Power House, a halfway house for women in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Voices from the Attic, Pittsburgh City Paper Chapter and Verse, Uppagus, U. S. 1 Worksheets, and Poetica.

Editor’s Note: Today’s poem is epic in its sparse simplicity. Rife with the unsaid, with what does not need to be written. At the same time, the poem is laden with intertextuality, the Bible doing the heavy lifting of connectivity and association, allowing what appears on the page to be ripe with the weight of ancient tales. Amid these rich layers, a lyric beauty emerges: “[I] circumnavigated the world, / arrived at time’s beginning,” “A garden of wildness,” “before pain found me.”

Want to read more from Valerie Bacharach?
Uppagus
Pittsburgh City Paper

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: ALAN TOLTZIS

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FORTY-TWO PLACES
By Alan Toltzis

As time passed,
they didn’t need to study love,
pray for it,
or even speak its name.

Instead,
they lived their love
silently.
Secrets remained secret

as love sank into unbending bones,
fused with supple corpuscles,
and seeped through soft skin
beneath their fingernails.

Only by looking back
and naming each
of the 42 places (in order)
they had journeyed

did they realize they had grown
into an old couple
who survived a long-forgotten stopover
of bickering and concession

and the should-
and should-not-have-saids
they should never
have crossed

leaving only unspoken love
perpetuated by the comfort and intimacy
of taking each other
for granted.


Today’s poem is from the collection The Last Commandment, published by Poetica Publishing, copyright © 2015 by Alan Toltzis, and appears here today with permission from the poet.


Alan Toltzis is the author of the book of poems, The Last Commandment (Poetica Publishing, 2015). His work appears in print and online publications including The Provo Canyon Review, Poetica Magazine, Burningword Literary Journal, Soul-Lit, and Red Wolf Journal. Alan is working on his second book of poems and is developing The Psalm Project, to teach poetry to middle- and high-school students.

Editor’s Note: There is something of a prayer in today’s poem. A thanksgiving. Something quiet, humble, and honest. Something lived, understood, known. What it is to journey throughout a lifetime of relationship. What it is to look back and reflect upon “the should- / and should-not-have-saids … leaving only unspoken love / perpetuated by the comfort and intimacy / of taking each other / for granted.”

Want to read more from Alan Toltzis?
Alan Toltzis’ Official Website
“Miles Away” in the Red Wolf Journal
The Provo Canyon Review
“Noah” in the Red Wolf Journal
“Elegy for 107696” via Poetica Publishing

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: EMMA LAZARUS


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By Emma Lazarus

Thou two-faced year, Mother of Change and Fate,
Didst weep when Spain cast forth with flaming sword,
The children of the prophets of the Lord,
Prince, priest, and people, spurned by zealot hate.
Hounded from sea to sea, from state to state,
The West refused them, and the East abhorred.
No anchorage the known world could afford,
Close-locked was every port, barred every gate.
Then smiling, thou unveil’dst, O two-faced year,
A virgin world where doors of sunset part,
Saying, “Ho, all who weary, enter here!
There falls each ancient barrier that the art
Of race or creed or rank devised, to rear
Grim bulwarked hatred between heart and heart!”


Today poem is in the public domain, belongs to the masses, and appears here accordingly.


Emma Lazarus (1849 – 1887): A descendant of Sephardic Jews who immigrated to the United States from Portugal around the time of the American Revolution, Emma Lazarus was born in New York City on July 22, 1849. Before Lazarus, the only Jewish poets published in the United States were humor and hymnal writers. Her book Songs of a Semite was the first collection of poetry to explore Jewish-American identity while struggling with the problems of modern poetics. (Annotated biography courtesy of The Academy of American Poets.)


Editor’s Note: I wanted to share with you today a poem for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Rosh Hashanah is a celebration of newness, ushered in by sweet wishes of the year to come. But we spend the days that follow in contemplation of those regrets we have from the year past, in asking for forgiveness, and in letting go. When I came across today’s poem I thought of the Syrian refugees, of how the plight of exile has plagued my own people in the past, and how others are suffering from it today.

5776, the Jewish year that begins at sundown on Sunday September 13th, will be a “two-faced year, Mother of Change and Fate” for countless Syrian refugees. That fate that my own people have suffered in the past is today their reality: “The West refused them, and the East abhorred. / No anchorage the known world could afford, / Close-locked was every port, barred every gate.”

Emma Lazarus is most famous for penning the words that appear at the base of the Statue of Liberty, wherein the “Mother of Exiles” declares, “Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, / I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” As we celebrate a new year, may the words of the Mother of Exiles find their way into the hearts and minds of ports and borders across Europe and throughout the world, “Saying, ‘Ho, all who weary, enter here!'”


Want to read more by and about Emma Lazarus?
The Academy of American Poets
Jewish Women’s Archive
The Poetry Foundation

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: PATRICK PHILLIPS

Photo by Marion Ettlinger
Photo by Marion Ettlinger


HEAVEN
By Patrick Phillips

It will be the past
and we’ll live there together.

Not as it was to live
but as it is remembered.

It will be the past.
We’ll all go back together.

Everyone we ever loved,
and lost, and must remember.

It will be the past.
And it will last forever.


Today’s poem is from the collection Boy (The University of Georgia Press, 2008, © Patrick Phillips), and appears here today with permission from the poet.


Patrick PhillipsElegy for a Broken Machine was published in 2015 by Alfred A. Knopf. A recent Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellow in poetry, he is the author of two earlier collections, Boy and Chattahoochee, and translator of When We Leave Each Other: Selected Poems of Henrik Nordbrandt. His work has appeared in many magazines, including Poetry, Ploughshares, and The Nation, and his honors include the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, a Pushcart Prize, and the Lyric Poetry Award from the Poetry Society of America. He lives in Brooklyn and teaches at Drew University.

Editor’s Note: I came across today’s poem on the New York subway as part of the MTA/Poetry Society of America collaboration, “Poetry in Motion.” Whenever I see a poem on the subway I read it. Of course I do. How often does one come across poetry in public spaces in America these days? But not since I came across Reznikoff’s “If There is a Scheme” on the PATH train has a poem in a public space so moved me.

What is so wonderful about today’s poem? Is it the way it plays with time, making the future of the past? “It will be the past / and we’ll live there together.” Is it the subtle way the poet uses rhyme and repetition, as if the poem were a lullaby — “together / remembered / together / remember / forever”? Or is it the promise of the poem? That within our future lies our past, that heaven is where we might relive our memories over and over, that we will be reunited there with everyone we ever loved, “And it will last forever.”

Want more from Patrick Phillips?
Buy Elegy for a Broken Machine from Amazon
Patrick Phillips’ Official Website