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THESE BE THE WORDS...

PRAYER TO THE SHEKHINAH

THE WINGS OF THE SHEKHINAH

Alicia Ostriker

February 26, 2024

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Exodus 2. /Rosabel Rosalind/ 

THESE  BE THE WORDS…

--Deuteronomy 1, KJV  

 

The words of an old woman shuffling the cards of her own decline   the decline 

of her husband   the decline of her nation   her plague-smitten world

 

virus that has slain its millions    rage and despair driving the body politic 

into violent writhings     knotted upheavings   drama I watch from the wings  

 

telling myself:  These too are the wings of the Shekhinah beneath which I arise 

and shower   dress in the morning   undress at night    in my house of many doors

 

many windows little sky   

song reversed to clanging   alarm   alarm

 

Write if you can find words I tell myself   write what you are afraid to write

lay down your cards   step over the lintel through that door:    Write or die.



 

PRAYER TO THE SHEKHINAH 

 

In my prayers night and day 

is the hope that you will visit me 

which possibly you have been doing

all the while inside my skin

producing hymnodies of birth   of lamentation

lifted from every mass grave in the world

scratching me      pinching me from inside

calling me an idiot

since I do not know how to reach you

by myself in the carapace of this body

struggling like the turtle

to move as fast as I can

and not get run over crossing the street

 

you at a distance beloved my mother my daughter

you at a distance my soul who remains at a distance 

they say you will travel to meet me    

if I travel to meet you    pity I am so slow

but am grateful for the handful of past 

moments you have spoken with me      the fool

who hoped to be counted among the poets

weeping along the path to her own soul



THE WINGS OF THE SHEKHINAH (THIS AFTERNOON WHILE I WORK AT MY DESK)

 

She is standing there

at my painted door

 

whenever I glance over  she seems

at ease   unagitated    patient

 

she looks back at me

affectionately smiling

 

the way grownups smile

at a child learning to walk

 

or aim a spoon at its mouth

or hold a crayon

 

:

 

Years ago at times

while trying to meditate

or to improve a poem I sensed

a trio of young women who seemed

to belong to the spirit world

standing behind my chair

giggling a little

I guessed they were her daughters

I never saw them but I knew

they were there

gently laughing at me

 

:

 

the dress she wears is green

and loose   her hair is white

 

her wings are invisible

like my wound

Alicia Ostriker

Alicia Ostriker has published seventeen volumes of poetry, including The Volcano and After; Waiting for the Light; The Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog; The Book of Life: Selected Jewish Poems 1979-2011; and The Imaginary Lover, winner of the William Carlos Williams Award. She was twice a National Book Award Finalist, for The Little Space (1998) andThe Crack in Everything (1996), and twice a National Jewish Book Award winner. Her poetry has appeared in The New Yorker, American Poetry Review, The Atlantic, Paris Review, Best American Poetry, The Pushcart Anthology, and many other journals and anthologies, and has been translated into numerous languages including Hebrew and Arabic. Ostriker’s critical work includes the now-classic Stealing the Language: the Emergence of Women’s Poetry in America, and other books on American poetry and on the Bible.

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