SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: IRIS JAMAHL DUNKLE

DAPHNE’S BROKEN SONNET
By Iris Jamahl Dunkle


Apples are imagining themselves
onto hillsides – pink petals stick out their
tongues from the dark mouths of branches 
and the forest canopy ripens overnight
until it pulses like a green heart. Spring
frankensteins us all—softens our cyborg
brains (Admit it:  you were thinking about what
mysteries your phone will sing out!
) While your
body turns like a tree toward the light. Reader,
somedays it’s just too much: powder blue sky,
light wind stirring the leaves as if they are
waving, no, beckoning me to root 
and join in. How could I not give in? Trying
to find the song that’s buried in the soil.



Today’s poem first appeared in SWWIM Every Day and is reprinted here today with permission from the poet.

Iris Jamahl Dunkle was the 2017-2018 Poet Laureate of Sonoma County, CA. Interrupted Geographies, published by Trio House Press, is her third collection of poetry. It was featured as the Rumpus Poetry Book Club selection for July 2017. Her debut poetry collection, Gold Passage, was selected by Ross Gay to win the 2012 Trio Award. Her second collection, There’s a Ghost in this Machine of Air was published in 2015. Her work has been published in numerous publications including San Francisco Chronicle, Fence, Calyx, Catamaran, Poet’s Market 2013, Women’s Studies and Chicago Quarterly Review. Dunkle teaches at Napa Valley College and is the Poetry Director of the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference. 

Guest Editor’s Note: The octave from the beginning of this beautifully imperfect sonnet presents pastoral images that set a mood disrupted by the use of frankensteins as a verb, an abruptly delightful and unexpected choice by the poet, reminding us of what humans have done to the natural world to which we are aching to return and how it has affected us. And yet, “It’s just too much” for the speaker who in answer to a final question becomes a tree, as the mythical Daphne did to escape Apollo just before he caught up to her. Escaping into the natural world is an appealing idea when faced with how things have turned out or how things are headed for disaster.

This melding of sonnet forms—traditional, modern, old, and new—offers two voltas, significant turns in meaning, and the first happens at the beginning of the sestet with a simile that compares the body to a tree as it turns toward light. This is where the sonnet leaves its mark on the reader, who is then addressed directly with an anguish of images that lure the speaker to dig deep “to find the song that’s buried in the soil.” The second turn is the speaker’s response to the leaves and their beckoning. Once the speaker has taken root, this “broken sonnet” ends in a line of perfect iambic pentameter, repairing itself.

Want to read more by and about Iris Jamahl Dunkle?
Iris Jamahl Dunkle’s Official Website


Guest Editor Anne Graue is the author of Fig Tree in Winter (Dancing Girl Press), and has published poems in literary journals and anthologies, including The Book of Donuts (Terrapin Books), Blood and Roses: A Devotional for Aphrodite and Venus (Bibliotheca Alexandrina), Gluttony (Pure Slush Books), The Plath Poetry Project, One Sentence Poems, Random Sample Review, Into the Void Magazine, Allegro Poetry Magazine, and Rivet Journal.

A NOTE FROM THE MANAGING EDITOR:

After nearly ten years as Contributing Editor of this series, it is an honor and a unique opportunity to share this space with a number of guest editors, including the editor featured here today. I am thrilled to usher in an era of new voices in poetry as the Managing Editor of this series.

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


SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: HEATHER WHITED

A MAY EVENING, EVERYTHING IS OK
By Heather Whited


A pink and white bloom
Split open
splayed to look
like a pair
Of lungs breathing
on the sidewalk.
All cars
are diamonds
in glittering rows.
It is the sun
tonight;
It is the
lift
of my dog’s ears.


Today’s poem first appeared in the winter 2018 issue of The Broke Bohemian and appears here today with permission from the poet.

Heather Whited graduated from Western Kentucky University in 2006 with a BA in creative writing. She lived in Japan and Ireland before returning to her hometown of Nashville, Tennessee to get her graduate degree. She now lives in Portland, Oregon. She has been published in the literary magazines Straylight, Lingerpost, The Timberline Review, A Door is Ajar, Allegro, Foliate Oak, Adelaide Literary Magazine, Windmill; The Hofstra Journal of Art and Literature, Chantwood Literary Magazine, Cricket, Storm CellarForge, Gravel, and soon The Hungry Chimera and The Broke Bohemian. In 2015, she was an honorable mention in Gemini Magazine’s annual short story contest. She is a contributor to The Drunken Odyssey podcast and Secondhand Stories Podcast.

Guest Editor’s Note: Matthew Zapruder in Why Poetry writes, “A poem, literally, makes a space to move through. To read a poem is to move through that constructed space of ideas and thinking.” Whited has constructed such a space with short lines packed with sensory impressions of air, heat, color, and light. The speaker takes the lead from a position of sharpened perceptions of what someone else might pass by without noticing. Sound plays a significant role too, and the words progress in a softness: “Split… splayed… sidewalk… sun.” These and the ending s’s of the plural nouns make walking through this poem’s space a spontaneous and instinctive experience.

Reminiscent of H.D., imagery breathes through every line. Whited guides readers through familiar visuals, such as “A pink and white bloom” and “diamonds/ in glittering rows,” that in combination instruct a post-spring feeling following the discovery of a flower forgotten on a sidewalk. Simile and metaphor arrive smoothly in succession like a warm breeze at sunset. The speaker appears only at the end, and the final effect is far reaching.

Want to read more by and about Heather Whited?
Storm Cellar
The Timberline Review


Guest Editor Anne Graue is the author of Fig Tree in Winter (Dancing Girl Press, 2017), and has published poems in literary journals and anthologies, including The Book of Donuts (Terrapin Books), the Plath Poetry Project, One Sentence Poems, and Rivet Journal.

A NOTE FROM THE MANAGING EDITOR:

After nearly ten years as Contributing Editor of this series, the time has come for change. 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 share this series with a number of guest editors, including the editor featured here today.

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


SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: THE TREASURES THAT PREVAIL




From THE TREASURES THAT PREVAIL
By Jen Karetnick:


ADVISE AND CONSENT

It seems to fall to men to create
disasters and women to mop up after.

The first thing people have to forget

is their sense of the senatorial

desk, the deep leather armchair.

There’s always
somebody screaming

off stage or window-shopping for the ridiculous,
arm in arm. Sooner or later these moments come.

We have seen this happen and cannot refrain.



UNDER MANGO CAMOUFLAGE

They bloomed too soon, pistils coral,
hung green like left-behind seawater
well into the sodden fall, ripened
into a bilirubinous yellow.

Falling, they broke themselves
open into Cyrillic letters on the unearthed
limestone as if they were envelopes
stuffed too full of possibilities.

Now marked only with a flag of memory,
this is where we buried the bits
of flesh snipped as easily as a stem
from an eight-day-old son, disguising

the dreams that in the wrong hands
could have been so readily rewritten.



THE OPPOSITE OF MECCA

Oh, the darkness of it all—black cat, black dog,
black monkey on the black-eyed woman’s shoulder,

rocking on a boat dock over water so absent of light
even our dreams have lost their shadows. In this house

made of books and planks, under the art of thatch
and weave, we are birds nesting together who have closed

our throats to song. This is where, without definition, we pin
the horizon as the center on a map of our always new world.



Today’s poems are from The Treasures That Prevail (Whitepoint Press, 2016), copyright © 2016 by Jen Karetnick, and appear here today with permission from the poet.


The Treasures That Prevail is about climate change and its effects on Miami; the poems in this collection confront the ills of modern society in general, mourn both public and personal losses, and predict the difficulties of a post-modern life in a flooded, Atlantis-like lost city. The narrators are two unnamed women, married with a teenage daughter and a teenage son, who live in a part of Miami that will be underwater unless action is taken. The Treasures That Prevail is a parable about what could happen to any of our low-lying coastal cities if we don’t start to make changes now.

Jen Karetnick is the author of seven poetry collections, including American Sentencing (Winter Goose Publishing, May 2016)–which was a long-list finalist for the Julie Suk Award from Jacar Press–and The Treasures That Prevail (Whitepoint Press, September 2016). She received an MFA in poetry from University of California, Irvine and an MFA in fiction from University of Miami. Her poetry, prose, playwriting and interviews have appeared recently or are forthcoming in TheAtlantic.com, The Evansville Review, Foreword Reviews, Guernica, The McNeese Review, Negative Capability, One, Painted Bride Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, Spillway, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Waxwing and Verse Daily. She is co-director for the reading series, SWWIM (Supporting Women Writers in Miami). Jen works as the Creative Writing Director for Miami Arts Charter School and as a freelance writer, dining critic and cookbook author. She lives in Miami Shores on the remaining acre of a historic mango plantation with her husband, two teenagers, three dogs, three cats and fourteen mango trees.

Editor’s Note: How fearfully prescient this collection has proven to be as California is burning, as large swathes of the world are recovering from hurricanes and earthquakes, as Harvey Weinstein has been outed as a sexual predator, as man after man shows us what it really mean to be “senatorial” in his “deep leather armchair,” as the world is melting and our future threatens to emerge underwater.

With The Treasures That Prevail Jen Karetnick has penned a collection that is beautiful and terrifying, that is lyric and devastating, that rings of Cassandra in the ways its truths fall upon deaf, ignorant, or apathetic ears. The language within these pages is thick and malleable, painting with words a picture that you might cut back with a machete in a valiant effort to combat the vengeful wrath of a raped and battered Mother Earth. For even the best among us — in the age of capitalism and consumerism and selfish, self-destructive climate change — are but “birds nesting together who have closed // our throats to song.”

Want more from Jen Karetnick?
Buy The Treasures That Prevail from Amazon
Jen Karetnick’s Writing Portfolio
Buy American Sentencing from Amazon

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: SUFGANIYOT BY RABBI RACHEL BARENBLAT

A version of this post was previously featured on the Saturday Poetry Series.

Sufganiyot homemade by your favorite Saturday Poetry Series editor

Homemade sufganiyot from the kitchen of your favorite Saturday Poetry Series editor


SUFGANIYOT
By Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

In oil, pale circles roll and flip,
doughy moons inflating.

The fun part: poking a finger
inside, giving a wiggle and twist,
pushing a dollop of jam
knuckle-deep, then two, ’til
the cavity gleams raspberry.

Latkes are pedestrian.
These puff like a breath held.

There, and here,
a million women finger
these cupped curves,
probe the soft center,
push the sticky treat inside.

We glance at each other, faces hot.
We lick the sweet from our hands.


(Today’s poem originally appeared in Zeek and was reprinted on the Saturday Poetry Series with permission from the poet.)


Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, named in 2016 by the Forward as one of America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis, was ordained by ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal as a rabbi in 2011 and as a mashpi’ah ruchanit (spiritual director) in 2012, and now serves as co-chair, with Rabbi David Evan Markus, of ALEPH. She holds a BA in religion from Williams College and an MFA in Writing and Literature from the Bennington Writing Seminars. She is author of four book-length collections of poetry: 70 faces: Torah poems (Phoenicia Publishing, 2011), Waiting to Unfold (Phoenicia, 2013),Toward Sinai: Omer poems (Velveteen Rabbi, 2016) and Open My Lips (Ben Yehuda Press, 2016), as well as several poetry chapbooks.

Editor’s Note: Each year for Hanukkah I make sufganiyot. Measuring out the ingredients from my mother’s recipe, I will myself to have the patience necessary to wait for yeast to rise. I knead the dough with equal parts pressure and love then apply more patience, more waiting, before rolling and cutting “pale circles,” transforming them in oil into “doughy moons inflating.” Each year I make sufganiyot, and each year when I do, I think of this poem. It has been four years since I first featured this poem on the Saturday Poetry Series, and it has been with me each year since, an indelible part of my Hanukkah tradition.

As sensual as this poem is — as hot — it is very much a poem about tradition, about ritual, and about the coming together of women. For it is women who have traditionally ruled the domain of the Jewish kitchen, and women who, year in and year out since time immemorial, have applied their pressure and patience, their love and their care, to wright the delicious sustenance that is Jewish holiday food. And what, really, brings us together in our rituals and traditions more than food?

Each year as my best friend and I make our sufganiyot together, my mother makes the same recipe 2,500 miles away. Meanwhile, women all over the world are doing the same: “There, and here, / a million women finger / these cupped curves.” Each year, today’s poem reminds me of that disparate togetherness of women. This year I reprint this poem in honor of the women all over the world who do the work necessary to make the holiday season what it is.

May this season of light be a beacon in the darkness, and may the new year be better than the last.

Want to read more by and about Rabbi Rachel Barenblat?
The Velveteen Rabbi – Rabbi Rachel Barenblat’s Official Website

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: A ROSH HASHANAH POEM BY SARAH MARCUS

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By Sarah Marcus:


ROSH HASHANAH, 5774

The moon was a sliver of itself
the first night I thought of you
combing a new year’s honey
through our hair.

We are taught to repent, but
it’s a poor translation,
for Teshuvah is to return
to ourselves,
to come back to who we really are,
to return
to an original state

where we have nothing
but possibility laid before us.

And it is written
as everything will be:

someone’s grandmother’s hands
smelling of cinnamon and clove,
a testament to a world
created as an expression
of limitless love,
of refinement.

The Rabbi says that when you share your words
you are sharing a part of your soul. Each moment
has the potential to be deeply spiritual, my children,
stand in the hugeness of it all.

Autumn has lingered years
for your arrival,
each leaf turned
in anticipation,
even the branches
held their breath

              waiting for us to ask the right questions,
                      for us to stop looking to the sky.



Today’s poem originally appeared in the Green Briar Review and appears here today with permission from the poet.


Sarah Marcus is the author of Nothing Good Ever Happens After Midnight (2016, GTK Press) and the chapbooks BACKCOUNTRY (2013) and Every Bird, To You (2013). Her next book, They Were Bears, is forthcoming from Sundress Publications in 2017. She is an editor at Gazing Grain Press, a spirited VIDA: Women in Literary Arts volunteer, and the Series Editor for As Is Ought To Be’s High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race. Find her at sarahannmarcus.com.

Editor’s Note: But this is so much more than a Rosh Hashanah poem. This is a poem of the sacred and the secular. Of belief and being. Of awareness and action. This is the moment when memory becomes contemplation, when contemplation becomes questioning, when questioning demands more from us. Yes, this poem is stunning in its imagery and lyric. Yes, it is evocative and moving. Yes it is visceral and philosophical and spiritual. But it is so much more than that. For while “we have nothing / but possibility laid before us,” the very leaves hold their breath “waiting for us to ask the right questions, // for us to stop looking to the sky.”

Shanah Tovah u’Metukah to you, the faithful readers of this series. May the new year be sweet, and may you be the change you want to see in the world.

Want to see more from Sarah Marcus?
Spork Press
Booth
Nashville Review
The EstablishmentHuffington Post

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: TWO SUMMER POEMS

"England - English Summer Woods" courtesy of Jacopo Werther via Creative Commons: http://bit.ly/1qRZ81t

“England – English Summer Woods” courtesy of Jacopo Werther via Creative Commons: http://bit.ly/1qRZ81t



LILY-BELL AND THISTLEDOWN SONG
By Louisa May Alcott

Awake! Awake! for the earliest gleam 

Of golden sunlight shines 

On the rippling waves, that brightly flow 

Beneath the flowering vines. 

Awake! Awake! for the low, sweet chant 

Of the wild-birds’ morning hymn
Comes floating by on the fragrant air, 

Through the forest cool and dim; 

Then spread each wing, 

And work, and sing, 

Through the long, bright sunny hours; 

O’er the pleasant earth 

We journey forth, 

For a day among the flowers.

Awake! Awake! for the summer wind 

Hath bidden the blossoms unclose, 

Hath opened the violet’s soft blue eye, 

And awakened the sleeping rose. 

And lightly they wave on their slender stems 

Fragrant, and fresh, and fair, 

Waiting for us, as we singing come 

To gather our honey-dew there. 

Then spread each wing, 

And work, and sing, 

Through the long, bright sunny hours; 

O’er the pleasant earth 

We journey forth, 

For a day among the flowers.


SUMMER RAIN
By Fannie Isabel Sherrick

Oh, what is so pure as the glad summer rain,
That falls on the grass where the sunlight has lain?
And what is so fair as the flowers that lie
All bathed in the tears of the soft summer sky?

The blue of the heavens is dimmed by the rain
That wears away sorrow and washes out pain;
But we know that the flowers we cherish would die
Were it not for the tears of the cloud-laden sky.

The rose is the sweeter when kissed by the rain,
And hearts are the dearer where sorrow has lain;
The sky is the fairer that rain-clouds have swept,
And no eyes are so bright as the eyes that have wept.

Oh, they are so happy, these flowers that die,
They laugh in the sunshine, oh, why cannot I?
They droop in the shadow, they smile in the sun,
Yet they die in the winter when summer is done.

The lily is lovely, and fragrant her breath,
But the beauty she wears is the emblem of death;
The rain is so fair as it falls on the flowers,
But the clouds are the shadows of sunnier hours.

Why laugh in the sunshine, why smile in the rain?
The world is a shadow and life is a pain;
Why live in the summer, why dream in the sun,
To die in the winter, when summer is done?

Oh, there is the truth that each life underlies,
That baffles the poets and sages so wise;
Ah! there is the bitter that lies in the sweet
As we gather the roses that bloom at our feet.

Oh, flowers forgive me, I’m willful to-day,
Oh, take back the lesson you gave me I pray;
For I slept in the sunshine, I woke in the rain
And it banished forever my sorrow and pain.


(Today’s poems are in the public domain, belong to the masses, and appear here today accordingly.)


Louisa May Alcott: (1832-1888) was an American novelist and poet best known as the author of the novel Little Women (1868). Raised by her transcendentalist parents, Abigail May and Amos Bronson Alcott in New England, she grew up among many of the well-known intellectuals of her day. (Annotated biography of Louisa May Alcott courtesy of Wikipedia, with edits.)

Fannie Isabel Sherrick: (Lived circa mid-to-late 19th c.) was a native of St. Louis. Much of her early life was spent in California and Colorado, where many of her best productions in verse were written. Her collected poems were published in 1888, in a volume entitled Star Dust. Poor health caused her–at least temporarily–to give up literary endeavors. (Annotated biography of Fannie Isabel Sherrick courtesy of Evenings with Colorado Poets: an Anthology of Colorado Verse, with edits.)

Editor’s Note: Technically summer is not for another month yet, but here in New York the sun is shining, and Memorial Day weekend is the official start of our summer season, so “O’er the pleasant earth 
/ We journey forth, 
/ For a day among the flowers.” And, while summer rain was not a common occurrence in California–from whence I came–here in New York the sky opens up to quench the grasses, the flowers, the rivers and streams, all summer long: “Oh, what is so pure as the glad summer rain, / That falls on the grass where the sunlight has lain? / And what is so fair as the flowers that lie / All bathed in the tears of the soft summer sky?”

Want to read more summer poetry?
The Poetry Foundation

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: D.H. LAWRENCE ON SPRING

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THE ENKINDLED SPRING
By D.H. Lawrence

This spring as it comes bursts up in bonfires green,
Wild puffing of emerald trees, and flame-filled bushes,
Thorn-blossom lifting in wreaths of smoke between
Where the wood fumes up and the watery, flickering rushes.

I am amazed at this spring, this conflagration
Of green fires lit on the soil of the earth, this blaze
Of growing, and sparks that puff in wild gyration,
Faces of people streaming across my gaze.

And I, what fountain of fire am I among
This leaping combustion of spring? My spirit is tossed
About like a shadow buffeted in the throng
Of flames, a shadow that’s gone astray, and is lost.


(Today’s poem is in the public domain, belongs to the masses, and appears here today accordingly.)


David Herbert Richards Lawrence (1885 – 1930) was an English novelist, poet, playwright, essayist, literary critic and painter who published as D. H. Lawrence. His collected works, among other things, represent an extended reflection upon the dehumanising effects of modernity and industrialisation. Although best known for his novels, Lawrence wrote almost 800 poems, most of them relatively short. His first poems were written in 1904 and two of his poems, “Dreams Old” and “Dreams Nascent,” were among his earliest published works in The English Review. His early works clearly place him in the school of Georgian poets, a group not only named after the reigning monarch but also to the romantic poets of the previous Georgian period whose work they were trying to emulate. (Annotated biography of Yehuda Amichai courtesy of Wikipedia, with edits.)

Editor’s Note: Lyric gyrations, thick alliteration, words and images like blossoms and wildfire. D.H. Lawrence helps us welcome spring while questioning the I amidst such a season.

Want to read more by and about D.H. Lawrence?
The world of DH Lawrence
Biography.com
Academy of American Poets

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
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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: A WINTER POEM BY ALFRED AUSTIN

"Mit Reif vom Nebel belegte Rose." Photographer: Armin Kübelbeck, CC-BY-SA, Wikimedia Commons

“Mit Reif vom Nebel belegte Rose.” Photographer: Armin Kübelbeck, CC-BY-SA, Wikimedia Commons

MY WINTER ROSE
By Alfred Austin

Why did you come when the trees were bare?
Why did you come with the wintry air?
When the faint note dies in the robin’s throat,
And the gables drip and the white flakes float?

What a strange, strange season to choose to come,
When the heavens are blind and the earth is dumb:
When nought is left living to dirge the dead,
And even the snowdrop keeps its bed!

Could you not come when woods are green?
Could you not come when lambs are seen?
When the primrose laughs from its childlike sleep,
And the violets hide and the bluebells peep?

When the air as your breath is sweet, and skies
Have all but the soul of your limpid eyes,
And the year, growing confident day by day,
Weans lusty June from the breast of May?

Yet had you come then, the lark had lent
In vain his music, the thorn its scent,
In vain the woodbine budded, in vain
The rippling smile of the April rain.

Your voice would have silenced merle and thrush,
And the rose outbloomed would have blushed to blush,
And Summer, seeing you, paused, and known
That the glow of your beauty outshone its own.

So, timely you came, and well you chose,
You came when most needed, my winter rose.
From the snow I pluck you, and fondly press
Your leaves ‘twixt the leaves of my leaflessness.


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


Alfred Austin (1835 – 1913) was an English poet and journalist who succeeded Alfred, Lord Tennyson, as poet laureate. His acerbic criticism and jingoistic verse in the 1870s led Robert Browning to dismiss him as a “Banjo-Byron,” and his appointment to the laureateship in 1896 was much mocked. He also published a series of stiff verse dramas, some novels, and a good deal of lyrical but very minor nature poetry. A patriotic poet of the most confident phase of the British Empire, his work lacked the resonance of Rudyard Kipling’s. (Annotated biography courtesy of Encyclopedia Britannica, with edits.)


Editor’s Note: I love the use of metaphor in today’s poem, and the playful way language is paired with it. Moments like “And the year, growing confident day by day, / Weans lusty June from the breast of May.” I am taken, as well, by the allusion to the beloved, depicted as a winter rose arriving at what appears to be an inopportune time. But the poet eventually realizes that love–as it inevitably does–arrived exactly when it was most needed, occupying a space that had been waiting for just such an arrival: “You came when most needed, my winter rose. / From the snow I pluck you, and fondly press / Your leaves ‘twixt the leaves of my leaflessness.”


Want to read more winter poetry?
The Academy of American Poets
The Poetry Foundation