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.
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?
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
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.
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 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.”
As April mist blew chill against the rocky beach,
the wishing pines, the trembling birch and cedars
leaned out as if to catch a glimpse of Mary Lake’s
ice petticoat swept to shore on last night’s tempest.
Divining rod in hand, stem pointing at the lake,
Y hugging at my hips, I felt no tug;
I thought the misty air, the soggy forest floor
must be too drenched to dowse a single source.
But when I looked again and saw the leaning birches
reach out their limbs, each one a pair of arms
held out to greet the lake, I turned the stem to point
toward me and felt the tug as it divined a hidden spring.
Today’s poem appears here today with permission from the poet.
Rose Nielsen is a writer, poet, musician, and a physical therapist in a small mountain town in British Columbia, Canada. She also teaches biology and English at the local community college. She recently received her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia. Her work has appeared or will be appearing in RiverLit and CV2; and she is working on a novel and on a collection of poems about water and the bonds humans hold with it.
Editor’s Note: Rose Nielsen’s poetry reminds me of Alaska’s Poet Laureate, Peggy Shumaker, a favorite here on this series. These poets share a love of the interconnectivity of nature and the written word. Simple, yet rich, and working on the micro level, with sounds lulling and inspiring us, with images clear as if painted by brushstroke.
As tomorrow is Mother’s Day, I dedicate today’s selection to my Mama. The woman who taught me the wonders of water, witchcraft, nature, and poetry alike. For my mother, and for Mother Earth, the Great Mother of us all.