Poetry and Purim on a Berkshire weekend

On Friday night at yBar, the four actors in 10x10on10 ran around the room, tossing and catching words. Climbing trees, turning cardboard boxes into castles, fighting illness, keeping patience with children, they kept asking each other what gets you out to do things? 

The script came from 16 local women, ages spanning 10 decades, writing about what inspired them in this decade of their lives. Sara Katzoff, the direcctor of Berkshire Fringe, had winnowed more than 60 pages down to this pithy, slender steel-spring show.

Giddy and grinning, I walked down North Street, looking ahead to Marie-Elizabeth Mali’s poetry reading. I would talk with her afterward about her writing and her underwater photography around the reefs in Indonesia (that story will appear in Berkshires Week next week). But now I had a free hour and a head full of words, and I realized it was the eve of Purim, a holiday full of energy and words that make things happen. So I wrote a poem for my friend the Velveteen Rabbi.

Thanks, WAM Theatre and Alchemy Initiative and Writers Room and everyone who got me moving on Friday night. Here is my poem, for you all, too.


I had no warning and no wife.
3 a.m. without a line to dawn
and I am sitting awake against the wall
the hair on my bare chest matted
with milk where she has pushed
the skin bag away. I move her up
and again in that rhythm the body makes
to quiet a baby, that unthinking movement
like meeting a wave. My body,
the leaking bag, the old hard-beaten
earth wall pulse together to soothe her.
She must drink. I have nothing now
but the purse of her mouth, groping.
She must be filled. God of Moses,
I am a man. How can I feed her?
Bless this body to thy use.
Will there be a day when I will bless
this nonwaking to let you sleep
because tonight I feel you in my arms
sticky and damp and defiantly alive?
Will a night come when I can’t find you?
Will you give me drink and anoint me with oil?
Will I sit in the doorway to watch you dance
like the riptide, and the oil gleaming
in your hair like dawn on sea foam?
As I lift her to my shoulder, refolding
the towel to a place only tacky, not wet,
propping her head in my hand,
she leans up, face in the hollow of my breast,
hand opening and closing on my chin,
and all over again I am hers. Dayenu.
Cousin-daughter, we will feed each other.

In the Bible, Mordechai took in the baby Esther, his cousin, and raised her as his daughter. Eagle file photo

(A note: Purim, a holiday in the Jewish calendar, celebrates Esther, a young woman who saved her people from an angry king. In the book of Esther, Mordechai takes in his baby cousin when her parents die and raises her as his own, and I started thinking about what that would have been like. Mordechai is signally a dad, and how many men in the Bible are celebrated as being great fathers? I have never nursed a child at 3 a.m., but I love people who have.)

4 thoughts on “Poetry and Purim on a Berkshire weekend

  1. I remember those nights, almost thirty years ago, when she would only sleep when I held her. Daughter strapped to father’s chest on the guest bed, under the ceiling fan, in an August night in Texas. And I see the woman she has become.

  2. Rachel and Tom, thank you both. I am so glad this poem speaks to you. My dad has told me about holding me, and then my younger sister, when we were nursing age … I think of photographs of him asleep with one of us napping, and I feel incredibly blessed.

  3. Pingback: 10 inspirations x more than 10 years | By the Way

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