Winning Poems for December 2012
Judged by Polina Barskova
My hair was my badge. I found joy and took pride in it, but the women came on my wedding night and shaved my head. I had seen pictures of what could have been me in the Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem, and felt I was dying when they led me to my umschlagplatz bridal canopy.
Once every cycle they drove me to the ritual bath to purify myself. They might as well have pumped the exhaust gas back into the car, for all I cared.
My husband was a Hasid whose idea of marriage was to get drunk with his Rebbe every night, and to mate with the Shechinah in a stuporous crescendo, instead of with me, on Friday night. I felt I was already dead.
By a miracle, I fell pregnant. It did not go well with me, and at times I was close to death, going from emaciated to bloated, from flushing borscht-red with fever to shivering with cold, from nausea to nausea to vomiting ad nauseam until I wished I were dead.
They gave names to my suffering: toxoplasmosis and gestational diabetes; insomnia, hormonal lunacy and hypertension. I made a mad pact with the dread Angel of Death:
If my baby lived, I would name the newborn after him. They brought in the great Doctor Assaf, who diagnosed that I was in mortal danger and prescribed putting an end to my pregnancy. I acted frantically, broke into a rash and threatened violent suicide.
They brought in a wise Rabbi to try to persuade me – he should grow like an onion with his head in the ground. He preached it was God’s commandment to abort my baby to save myself from death.
It was at that precise moment I gave up all of God’s commandments. I informed that particular wise Rabbi of Moloch that I would eat pork and rabbits and burn in Gehenna before I sacrificed my baby to his God. He cried – God forbid – and said no more.
It should stay that way. How beautiful is the silence of the wise. If the Temple in Jerusalem was still standing, may it never be rebuilt in my time, I would have brought a dove-sacrifice when my baby girl Dreaddetta Hester was born: Dreaddetta, to pay my dues to the dread angel; Hester, for my mother who was shot in the back of the head and tumbled down a ravine by the Nazis.
what a wild feast of a poem! it combines bitterness with laughter, personal and universal histories, and establishes very intense relationship with one's language/s --Polina Barskova
FreeWrights Peer Review
My short, serrated wood-handled knife slices
into pear-flesh soft as Camembert: the skin
of the fruit scarred like a map of the Somme
— shell craters, churned, disinterred No Man’s Land;
peeling away puttees, sodden khaki trousers,
a surgeon’s knife dissects a private’s leg.
To ghost machine gun fire, I savor sweet
overripe fruit: care-package from home.
This poem is exciting due it's being so specific, so precise, so dry-- one really can see, sense that moment of pleasure, moment of the Earth's kindness --Polina Barskova
the pride it must have taken,
in gristle and sway,
its pure muscle, and fine linkage,
finer than all the goldwork
fabrications. The way it was
so simply pelted, quietly
celebratory, over nothing at all,
empty of all that was unseemly
a reed at home
in a world of void.
How seamlessly it was attached!
Nothing extraneous, or showy,
the tail always behind me, as
a good tail ought to be.
Only occasionally did it rear up,
pull back against itself,
then arch out, sinuously,
a slight pain at the s-tip a show of love
of loon woman, with her neck
Or naga-style as when it spread
its sunlike rays in the manner of the sacred
umbrella of Mucalinda, that hooded
Siddhartha, that long night
he battled Mara,
never batting an eye. Respect
the tail, the tail said, as you would
a serpent. It doesn’t matter
that it’s no longer here.
This poem strikes one thru combination of its intonations/registers: it starts as absurd/funny little thing and then grows into grotesque magic vision--never becoming heavy, too serious. It's a masterpiece of a serious play --Polina Barskova