New poem: Shacharit in the toddler house



I peek as you pretend to sleep
one eye open, watching me watching.

Dry diaper, blue striped shirt.
A cup of milk, toasted bread, jam.

Does God feel this satisfaction
providing for all our needs?

You won't let me sing blessings
or psalms of praise, preferring

your Thomas & Friends cd.
You tell me to go away, testing

the limits of what tethers us, but
you know I'm right outside the door

occluded but present, loving you
even when you turn away.

This is the latest poem in a budding series. Previous poems in the series are: Early ma'ariv in the toddler house, Havdalah in the toddler house, Shabbat in the toddler house. Shacharit means morning prayer. (And ma'ariv is evening prayer, and havdalah is the brief ritual which brings Shabbat to a close.) These are poems about parenting and prayer life. About how I'm trying to maintain an awareness of Jewish sacred time, even when I'm still not able to pray substantive liturgy most of the time.

There's much more spaciousness in my life for prayer now than there was when Drew was an infant...though now there are different challenges. Now he notices when I sing, and usually demands that I stop! He pushes boundaries and tests limits all the time, in a perfectly age-appropriate way. My challenge continues to be living with what my teachers would call "prayerful consciousness" -- can I embody the prayers even when I'm not saying them? What would that look like, what would it mean?

Becoming a parent continues to impact the way I think about God. I often think about the idea of hester panim -- that God's face may be hidden from us but is always present, always (in the theology to which I ascribe) loving us. Maybe God feels about us as I feel about Drew: sometimes exasperated, but always connected; I may be hidden, but my love for him is always there.

One of my poems appears in the new issue of Hospital Drive

I'm delighted to be able to say that I have a poem in the Winter/Spring 2012 issue of Hospital Drive: A Journal of Reflective Practice in Word & Image.

Hospital Drive, launched in Fall 2006, encourages original creative work that examines themes of health, illness, and healing.

Hospital Drive is the name of an actual road at the University of Virginia. Set between Thomas Jefferson’s original academic village and the earliest buildings of the School of Medicine, it brings visitors into a community of scholars, teachers, healers, artists, and the people they serve.

If you go to the Hospital Drive website and click on the photograph of the serpentine wall in snow, you'll be taken to issue 7, the winter/spring 2012 issue. My poem is called Change, and it's one of the mother poems in my as-yet-unpublished next collection.

I'm slowly reading my way through the issue now, and I'm really impressed -- this is powerful, thoughtful, unsentimental writing about sickness, healing, and health. What great company to be in. Go, read, enjoy!

Poem: havdalah in the toddler house






When we light the candle
you begin to wail

frightened by the unruly flame
spreading from wick to wick

(or maybe you aren't ready
for the Bride to leave us)

you refuse the strange silver tower
of cracked cinnamon curls

(at two, the extra soul
doesn't yet depart)

during the redemption song
we whirl and your face shines

This poem is the second in a small budding series (the first being Early maariv in the toddler house, written and posted at the tail-end of November.)

Havdalah means "separation;" it is this ritual which formally separates between Shabbat and workweek. It involves the lighting of a braided candle, blessing wine and blessing spices, blessing God Who creates separations, and then extinguishing the candle in the wine, after which one sings "Eliahu Hanavi" (and, in our house, "Miriam Ha-Neviah"), a song about prophets and redemption.

(At Jewish Women International there's a video of a havdalah ceremony, beginning with R' Shlomo Carlebach's melody for the prayer Hineh El Yeshuati and then moving into Debbie Friedman's melody for the havdalah blessings -- may both of their memories be for blessing. On that page you can also read my teacher R' Leila Gal-Berner's words for "Miriam Ha-Neviah.")

The scent of spice, associated with Shabbat and with Shekhinah (the immanent, indwelling Presence of God) is intended to revive one when Shabbat's extra soul departs. In our house we use a tall silver spicebox shaped like a tower.

Does Drew know what Shabbat is? He may know that sometimes he gets watered grape juice in his sippy cup instead of milk, and that on those nights, there are often candles on the table, and also challah, which is one of his favorite breads. At two, he's too young to intellectually understand concepts like Shabbat and work-week.

But in a certain way, I wonder whether babies and very young children experience life as a kind of perennial Shabbat. Shabbat is an opportunity to re-enter the garden of Eden; but before language is fully developed, I think our children may already be there, that "extra soul" and connection with the Infinite already part of who they are.

Because we teach each other: The Deal, a mother poem



Teach me to startle
at the first crow's caw
echoing overhead

to bid farewell
to the bit of snow
along the driveway

to exult in wonder
every time
a schoolbus passes

in return I offer
a word for every thing
in the wide world

rules against hitting
or pouring crackers
on the carpet

a shoulder to rest
your head on, a song
at the end of the day.

I haven't written a mother poem in a while. (Sometimes I can hardly believe I wrote a whole manuscript during the first year of my son's life!)

This one arises out of the experience of parenting an almost-two-year-old. Every day I am amazed by his wonder at the world around us, his eagerness for language...and, okay, yes, also sometimes his age-appropriate temper tantrums!

He does greet schoolbuses, by the by -- I'm not making that up. Probably his longest sentence to date is "Bye, yellow school bus! All gone." It's incredibly charming.

I know he won't remember me singing his goodnight song every night, but I hope I never forget the sensation of his long tall body going still in my arms and his head lowering to my shoulder as I sing to him and dance him over to his crib.

Beauty parlor: a revision for Big Tent Poetry



The first haircut is a revelation.
After months of scraggly and milk-stained
suddenly I'm light as the air
whispering across my nape.

I remember turning foam curlers
into a dragon while my mother tipped her head
into the shampoo sink, regal and relaxed.
Now she jiggles my son in her lap

singing "bye bye, blackbird"
as I allow myself to be transformed.
His first time beneath the Texas sky:
What beauty will he remember?

This week's prompt at Big Tent Poetry invites us to dig through our archives and revise a poem written around this time last year. On May 6 last year I posted Taste, part of my ongoing series of mother poems; I reread it several times this week, but the thing is, I really like that poem as it stands. So I dug a bit deeper and found a poem I'd drafted on our first trip to Texas which I didn't share here.

As it happens, I'd revised "Beauty Parlor" four times already; in my "poems 2010" folder were five drafts of the poem, and the most recent draft -- version five -- struck me as actually pretty decent. But I went back and reread each revision, and used bits from the earlier drafts to spark this newest version, which is version 6. I'll share version 5 below the extended-entry cut; it'll be interesting to see which one y'all like better!

It's a little bit surreal to return to these mother poems, especially the ones from the first six months of Drew's life. I've collected the first 52 mother poems into a manuscript which I've been gently revising; sometimes as I work on revising them I catch glimpses of what it felt like to write them, but the early ones especially feel very distant from where I am now.

Here's a link to this week's Come One, Come All post so you can see how others responded to this prompt.

Continue reading "Beauty parlor: a revision for Big Tent Poetry" »

A Tu BiShvat mother poem for Big Tent Poetry: Taste and See






Next winter when you can walk
we'll make our way into the woods
at the edge of our land, trees webbed
with plastic tubing, clear
and pale green against the snow.

We'll go down to the beaver dam, pond
punctuated with cattails, and
I'll show you the rounded buckets
galvanized tin bright
against the grizzled trunks.

Dip a finger beneath the living spigot:
what drips is thin, almost tasteless, but
at every sugar shack across these hills
clouds of fragrant steam billow.
And after long boiling, this amber...

Where I grew up, the air is soft
already, impatiens and begonias thinking
about blooming. In these hills
as this winter moon waxes, this
is what rises, hidden and sweet.

This week's prompt at Big Tent Poetry invites us to write a poem about food. If you follow the Jewish seasonal calendar, and/or if you've been paying attention to recent posts here, you know that this week holds Tu BiShvat, the Jewish New Year of the Trees, which I will celebrate tomorrow by eating the fruits of many kinds of trees, from the etrog to the maple -- the subject of this poem.

The title is a reference to Psalm 34, verse 8: "Taste and see that God is good."

I haven't formally been writing mother poems since I finished a full year's worth of them at the end of November. I've been polishing and revising those poems into a manuscript, tentatively titled Waiting to Unfold, which I hope will see print someday! But this poem wound up being addressed to Drew, so I'm filing it as a mother poem even though it doesn't fit into that nascent collection.

I'll edit this post on Friday to include a link to this week's Come One, Come All post so you can see what others wrote in response to the prompt. Until then (and after then, too!) I welcome whatever response this poem calls forth from you!


Another mother poem: One Year / Mother Psalm 9





A psalm of ascent


When the doctor brought you
through my narrow places
I was as in a dream: tucked behind
my closed eyes, chanting silently
we are opening up in sweet surrender.
The night before we left the hospital
I wept: didn’t they know
I had no idea what to do with you?
Even newborn-sized clothes
loomed around you, vast and ill-fitting.
I couldn’t convince you to latch
without a nurse there to reposition.
But we got into the car, the old world
made terrifying and new, and
in time I learned your language.
I had my own narrow places ahead,
the valley of the postpartum shadow.
Nights when I would hand you over,
mutely grateful to anyone willing
to rock you down, to suffer your cries...
But those who sow in tears
will reap in joy, and you
are the joy I never knew I didn’t have.
I have paced these long hours
bearing a baby on my shoulder
and now I am home in rejoicing,
bearing you, my own harvest.

This is my 52nd mother poem. Over the last year, I've written roughly one poem each week -- some weeks, no poems; some weeks, two; but on the whole, it's been a steady pace of one weekly poem most of the time since Drew was born -- and now that first year is done.

Those of you who are here for the mother poems have said some wonderful things (thank you so much for reading them and for commenting!) and I may well continue writing them -- though I suspect I will take a few weeks' break, and spend the remainder of this year on other writing-work (like the three final papers and the poetry project I have due to various rabbinic school teachers...and also, beginning to go back over these mother poems, and sharing them with friends who can help me get perspective on the manuscript as a whole.)

This poem is one of the subset of my mother poems which draws inspiration from the psalms. Specifically, I was thinking of Psalm 126 when I wrote this. The opening lines are a reference to "When Adonai brought back those who returned to Zion, we were like dreamers." And "Those who sow in tears / will reap in joy" is a direct quote from the psalm. And the final lines are a reference to the final lines of that brief psalm, which read, "Though he goes on his way weeping, bearing seed, he shall return home in joy, bearing his sheaves."

This poem wasn't written in response to a Big Tent Poetry prompt, but here's a link to this week's Come One, Come All post so you can see what others wrote.


Another mother poem: Thanksgiving






Last year I carried you inside
to the buffet, to the table
to the big blue birth ball
where I bounced beside the fire.

Darkness falls early here
at this season: the eve of the day
I'd spend pacing the hospital,
contracting in the shower.

This year you scramble
around the living room, wind up
in Downward Dog by accident,
grab and devour bits of turkey.

Your babble, your crinkled eyes,
your hot hand slapping mine,
your gasps of laughter
even the year of staccato nights

and the painful realignments
of a marriage shifting
to new foundations:
all I can do is give thanks.

This week's mother poem is sparked by the reappearance of Thanksgiving on the calendar. Last year, I spent Thanksgiving pregnant. The following morning, we called the hospital at 6am; when they confirmed that they had a bed free for me, we drove in, and by 7am I was on the pitocin drip which eventually led to Drew's arrival on the scene.

It's pretty amazing to think that Drew will turn one this Sunday. My life has changed in ways I couldn't have imagined -- and yet, a year after his birth, I'm pleased to be able to say that some of the important parts of my pre-baby life have remained constant.

Anyway, here's this week's (first) poem. (I'm actually already working on one more poem, which I will post next week.) I can't decide whether or not to cut the second stanza; thoughts, anyone?

Here's a link to this week's Come One, Come All post so you can see what the Big Tent Poetry folks did with the prompt. (It was a wordle cloud, and ordinarily I love those -- but this week, I wound up going somewhere different instead.)


Another mother poem: grandparents' house



Your hands slap the marble floor.
Your voice fills the empty spaces
in this house I never grew up in.

You tug your sun hat off your head
and squint at the vast Texas sky.
Your hands slap the marble floor.

Clutching bits of flour tortilla
you beam, face smeary and bright.
Your voice fills the empty spaces.

Bang on the windows, little boy:
your reflection is everywhere you look
in this house I never grew up in.

This week's challenge at Big Tent Poetry invites us to write a cascade poem. The form is new to me, but I enjoyed playing with it, and I think it gave this week's poem a nifty shape.

Being in Texas with Drew is overwhelming and wonderful. I hope this poem captures a tiny glimpse of what it's like for me.

If you want to read what others wrote to this prompt, here's a link to this week's Come One, Come All post.

Another mother poem: push




The nurses taught us to pin and tuck
a thin blanket into a straitjacket

each night when bedtime arrived
your dad would kneel over you on the rug

now you sleep limp like an old rag doll
your twiga and your plush rabbit akimbo

but when you're awake you push back
against baby gates and mountainous stairs

if I've chosen the wrong foods
or I'm not paying enough attention

you scatter what's on the tray
then glance at me sly and sideways

no, I don't want to clean shells
and cheese off the kitchen floor, but

secretly I love to watch you
stretch your wings

you're a chimera, half dad and half mom
and all you, from your furrowed brow

to your feet fighting to break forth
from the terrible tyranny of socks

claim your birthright and your blessing
unlock every strap and burst free

I've been working on three poems this week. One is an assignment for my feminist exegesis class; the other two are about parenting. None of them are written in resonse to this week's Big Tent Poetry prompt, though the latter two are part of my evolving manuscript of mother poems.

Drew is definitely beginning to test boundaries these days, pushing back in ways both physical (he strains to be picked up, then pushes away) and metaphorical (the bit of this poem about him scattering food? not poetic license!) It's developmentally appropriate, of course, and it's also adorable -- even when it also drives me a little bit crazy. ("Adorable but crazy-making" is probably a reasonable description of every almost-one-year-old.)

Here's a link to this week's Come One, Come All post so you can see what other poets did either with the prompt, or (like me this time around) without it.


Another mother poem: chasing the ball






The kettle on the stove whistles a low, slow tune
as you circuit from nursery to hallway to kitchen
and back again, chasing a rattling ball.

When you catch up to it, you throw it forward again
and I remember all of the goals I tossed out
then headed toward (grimly or with joy)

someday we'd be able to dress you for nightfall
in fewer than four layers of wool and fleece
as soon as your body learned how to be warm

someday you'd focus on my face, someday
the binary of sleeping or screaming would fan out
into a rainbow spectrum of possibilities...

I didn't know enough to anticipate your glee
when I pick you up, count to three, then
turn you so the world is upside-down

or your determined grip on the xylophone mallets
too big for you to wield, how you change course
and kneel up to bang on the wooden keys instead

now when you say ma-ma-ma I tell you that's my name
and look, there's daddy, that's the cat, do you want
your ball?
Soon your babble will coalesce

and then what? I can't even imagine what's coming.
The rising sun casts the hills in pink. I sip my tea.
You barrel ahead. All I can do is follow.

This week's prompt at Big Tent Poetry invites us to borrow a line from another participant and use that line to spark our own poem.

I borrowed a line from Deb of Stoney Moss: "The kettle on the stove whistles a low, slow tune[.]" It's a longer line than I usually work with these days, which shaped the prosody of this poem.

This is the latest in my ongoing series of mother poems. Drew turned eleven months old last week; we're coming up on a year of motherhood and a year of mother poems. I don't know whether I'll keep writing and posting these after his birthday, or whether I'll move to a different creative project and turn to revising the product of this first year's work.

My last big paper for rabbinic school is due right after his birthday; after that, I might take a month to let things lie fallow, and then see where the secular new year takes me. Anyway, it's not time for any of those things yet. November, here we go.

Here's a link to this week's Come One, Come All post so you can see what other poets did with this prompt...


Another mother poem: childproofing





Wooden slats. U-bolts. Swinging hinges.
Sheets of transparent plastic. Plastic plugs
pushing their way inside every socket.
Fiddly gadgets to catch doors and drawers
before they reveal their vulnerable insides. And you

trundling across the floor, chasing
the ball that plays the same three measures
of classical music again and again,
sleuthing out hidden electrical cords. We can't
pad every surface: you whack your head

on the undersides of bookshelves, on
the coffee table, on the legs of a chair
you didn't realize you'd crawled beneath.
Sometimes if you catch us watching you wail.
Sometimes you barrel on, intent

on whatever's rolled just beyond your grasp.
When you fall we offer the comfort
of familiar arms -- or distraction: look, the cat!
Too soon you push away. The world calls.
You turn the corner and recede from view.

This week's prompt at Big Tent Poetry begins by inviting us to draw the interior of our home, and then to write about the drawing, and then to mine that written work to spark this week's poem. I didn't wind up drawing a floor plan, exactly, but we have been thinking about the inside of our house and how the rooms flow one into the next a lot lately, which inspired this week's mother poem probably obvious ways.

Drew's increased (and increasing) desire for independence is the subtext of this poem. He loves to crawl at a rapid pace down the hallway, from one room to the next, though often he stops to look back and make sure we're still there. He's becoming increasingly adept at flipping over, kneeling up to reach for things, and other physical tricks which would have been inconceivable even just  few weeks ago -- though he also ends almost every day with at least one good bonk, usually to the head as he gets tired and loses his balance or misjudges the distance between himself and some obstacle he intends to pass.

Anyway, it's fun to watch him explore his world.

I'll revise this post on Friday to include a link to this week's Come One, Come All post so you can see how others responded to this prompt.


Another mother poem: Fears





I can't wrap you in gauze.
The world is sharp.

Someone will hurt you
and I won't be there to swoop you up.

Your tender heart will be broken
in ways no one can repair.

Or we'll hurt each other.
You'll yell that I don't understand.

The words "I hate you"
will be your rusty knife.

Long after you leave the room
I'll be dazed from what I've lost.

This week's prompt at Big Tent Poetry invites us to write a poem with something scary in it. I suspect the suggestion was meant to get us thinking along Halloween-y lines, but when I started thinking about what's scary to me now that I'm a mother, my thoughts went in a more personal direction.

Here's a link to this week's Come One, Come All post so you can see what others wrote in response to this prompt.


Another mother poem: mother psalm 8





When all else fails, a stroll will put you to sleep.
We walk beneath trees still mostly green, here
and there a branch burst into purple flame, until
Whole Foods looms glossy at the sidewalk's end.
We load into the basket beneath your sleeping form
a pumpkin and a gourd hooked like a swan's neck.
All the way there my sister and I talk about marriage
and I wonder with whom you'll walk like this someday
remembering aloud the house you grew up in, our
spiral staircases, the boxes of dolls in the basement.
The minute we stop, you wake; I pepper your head
with kisses, try to adjust your already-drooping socks.
It's autumn in Newton. My muddy iced coffee is the last
of the season. Little man, you can move yourself now
across the floor with intent, though you pause and sit
contemplating whether the ball that's rolled away
is worth the effort of the journey. It's always worth
the effort of the journey: the ball, the book, the child
you may someday try to raise, as clueless as we.
Make your way across the room. Pluck sweetness
from every interaction, extract smiles from strangers.
Go get it: we're cheering each painstaking step you take.

This week's prompt at Big Tent Poetry is a wordle word cloud, from which I chose the words gourd, hook, purple, kiss, drooping, staircase, muddy, doll, extract, glossy, and pluck (the only word I didn't manage to work in was "bitter.")

This is the latest in my series of mother poems. Of the forty-three mother poems I've written so far, eight take the form of  psalms, and this is the latest of those.

I'm really loving the experience of writing one mother poem each week. Recently I've been working on my Torah poems manuscript (stay tuned for more information on that, later this fall) and it seems to me that this is a really good way for me to work. The discipline of writing one poem each week is good for me, and the desire to find something new each week stretches me in good ways. Plus, of course, I enjoy knowing that I get to share a draft with all of y'all!

Here's this week's Come one, come all post -- check out the comments to see what others did with this wordle prompt.


Another mother poem, with a line borrowed from Erdrich





In the beginning we had to choose
to open my body to possibility

to move furniture, paint walls
fold implausibly small kimono shirts

try to shelve our uncertainty
and number our anticipated losses...

I can barely remember. The solid fact
of you clapping your hands

has overwritten those old files
leaving no trace of what was beneath.

This week your syllable is ma-ma-ma
the new name I inherited

when I wrestled with labor
and you, little blessing, slipped free.

This week's challenge at Big Tent Poetry invites us to borrow a line from another poet's work, and to use that line as a springboard into our own work. I knew immediately what I wanted to reread in search of a starting point: Heid E. Erdrich's The Mother's Tongue.

My friend Tisha (herself a pretty dazzling poet -- her chapbook Getting Out Alive is one of the most powerful collections I know) sent me a copy of The Mother's Tongue shortly after Drew was born. The third section of the book, titled "Milk Sour," features a set of sixteen poems about parenting a newborn. I read them with tiny Drew in my arms or on my shoulder or at the breast, gobsmacked by how deeply they spoke to my own experience. It felt as though Erdrich had slipped inside my heart and written the words I wasn't yet capable of setting down.

The first line of this poem is borrowed from one of those poems, a poem called "New Born." (That poem isn't online, though you can read some excerpts from the book here at Google Books.) Erdrich's poems were a big piece of the inspiration for my own mother poems -- of which, of course, this is one!

It is strange now to remember a time before Drew was a simple fact of our lives. Once upon a time we chose to open ourselves to change. We didn't know what it would be like, but we trusted that it was a leap worth taking. Now there's this little person in our lives, and I can't imagine my world without him. I remember life without him, and it was grand, but life without him now would have a great big Drew-shaped hole. Once he was a choice; now he's a reality, like gravity.

Here's a link to this week's "Come One, Come All" post so you can see what the other poets in this crowd did with the prompt.


A mother poem which is also a Sukkot poem

The permeable world




All the world is a room made of windows
with different views through every pane

sit with me, knock two bowls together
hold an etrog carefully in both hands

watch me gather palm, myrtle and willow
and turn in four directions, hoping for gifts

from the winds that quake the aspen,
from the earth, from the spiraling fire

last Sukkot you were snug inside
but now you've joined the permeable world

when the rains come the roof leaks
but you're safe in my arms

and at night we're surrounded by angels
twinkling on all sides, escorting us through

This week's prompt at Big Tent Poetry invites us to get out of our houses. As it happens, this week is the Jewish festival of Sukkot, when we're commanded to, well, get out of our houses! We build little temporary huts in our backyards and inhabit those instead. (If you're coming to this blog via Big Tent Poetry, and/or if Sukkot is unfamiliar to you, you're welcome to check out my Sukkot posts from the last several years.)

Anyway, this week's mother poem is my response to the Big Tent Poetry prompt and to the experience of introducing Drew to our sukkah.

Drew, sitting in our sukkah.You can see more of our sukkah here, and more of Drew here.

Part of what was fun about writing this poem was trying to figure out how to make the images work on two levels at once. For instance, the reference to angels at the end of the poem comes out of the twinkling lights strung around the sukkah's roof and also out of the the angel song I sing to Drew most nights before bed. And the line about spiraling fire is meant to suggest both the maple leaves falling from the trees overhead, and my friend Daniel spinning LED poi (which I've now learned is also called glowstringing) outside the sukkah on Sunday night. Of course, Drew missed that; it was well after his bedtime. But it's one of my sweet Sukkot memories from this year anyway.

Here's a link to this week's Come One, Come All post so you can see how others responded to this prompt.



Edited to add: this poem is now available in Waiting to Unfold, my collection of motherhood poems, published by Phoenicia Publishing, 2013.

Another mother poem: Weaning






You push me away
and reach for the bottle.

Once in Scotland I parted
spongy turf with my fingers

and water welled up like sorrow
its source unknown.

In my childhood playhouse
the table was always set

for guests who never came.
Already my body is shrinking.

You settle like a little king
into the crook of my arm

one hand seizing
the plush belt of my bathrobe

the other splayed
across the warm cylinder.

Your lashes drift down
and your restless legs still

exactly as they did
when I was everything.

This week's prompt at Big Tent Poetry was to write a haibun. So I did. It was an interesting exercise, but the form felt artificial to me; I wasn't sure I had used it well. So I kept revising, and wound up with a poem which has a more familiar shape. I think I like the verse version better, but I'm sharing both versions of the poem here in case anyone's interested in how they differ. (To read the haibun version, and a bit more commentary on the poem, go beneath the extended-entry tag...)

Continue reading "Another mother poem: Weaning" »

Another mother poem: mother psalm 8


Three times a day I lift the tray table
from its moorings, unsnap your plastic bib
and carry them both to the same kitchen sink
where I bathe you. A few swipes of soapy sponge
and both come clean, half-eaten blueberries
and fallen cheerios (dinner's debris, evidence
of the excited swipe of your fist) swirling
into the drain's aluminum basket. This week
you prefer rotini to purees. You answer us
with chanted vowels, embellishing with trills.
You tip your head to one side, beaming, then
wave to your breakfast, to your mother,
to the colored bowls you like to knock together
to hear their percussive sounds. Some days
grind like a broken mobile from the start:
barely out of the crib and you're already cranky,
refusing sleep's comfort because you can't bear
the world going on without you. But we make it
to the finish line (pear yogurt, open mouth)
and then the slate's washed, you're in PJs
and I remember again that everything's temporary.
Your tired tears may endure for the night
but breakfast comes in the morning. Child,
I dress you in gladness; sing praises, open wide.

This week's mother poem was written in response to a wordle prompt at Big Tent Poetry. From that wordle cloud I chose the words debris, child, evidence, chant, half-eaten, embellish, answer, and temporary. The end of the poem contains allusions to psalm 30, one of my favorite psalms.

Before Drew was born, I spent a couple of years writing and sharing weekly Torah poems (all of which are linked from my VR Torah Commentary page.) When I started writing these mother poems last December, I didn't realize I was entering into a new weekly discipline. But I've come to look forward each week to seeing where my mother poem will take me, much as I used to look forward to seeing what would arise for me in studying the weekly parsha. I hope to write Torah poems again someday, but for now, I'm immersed in the lived Torah of the experience of motherhood, and these weekly lines are my way of celebrating this experience as it unfolds.

I've started collecting these mother poems into a new manuscript. (Would you believe that this is the 39th mother poem so far?) Taken together, they offer an amazing chronicle of the journey. As I collect the poems, I'm beginning to revise here and there; a few poems have new titles, and others have changed shape slightly. The one thing I'm not doing, at least not yet, is changing the order of the poems. I like having them in chronological order, a mirror held up to Drew's changes -- and mine.

I'll edit this post on Friday to include a link to this week's "Come One, Come All" post so you can see what other folks did with this wordle prompt.


Another mother poem: a sweet year


No honey until you're a year old, but
I can pop the seal on a pint
of last year's applesauce.

The afternoon light was thick and gold
the day we cored a bushel and a peck,
hands sticky and kitchen fragrant.

The jars were earmarked: for latkes,
for breakfast, and for you --
whoever you might turn out to be.

I remember resting my palm on my belly.
I can't remember not knowing
your voice, your eyes, my expanded heart.

This week's mother poem arises out of the fact that Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins tonight at sundown. It's traditional in many Ashkenazic communities to eat slices of apple dipped in honey as an embodied prayer for a sweet year to come.

Tonight as we ring in the new year, Drew will (God willing!) be comfortably asleep in his crib at home while I serve my congregation as co-shaliach tzibbur (prayer leader.) 5770 has been a pretty incredible ride; here's to 5771!

This poem wasn't written in response to a Big Tent Poetry prompt, and I won't be able to edit this post on Friday to link to the "Come One, Come All" post (I'll be in synagogue for the second day of the festival -- though my sermon for Friday morning is slated to auto-post, I can't auto-update this post because I don't know the link of the Come One, Come All post.) So if you want to see what others wrote this week, you'll have to navigate over there yourself.

Another mother poem: Fever



You're on fire beneath my lips,
hot as the coal that Moshe grabbed
when the angel forced his hand.
As we rock in the dark
I want to pray for healing
but I'm muddled with sleep.
I sing to you in two holy tongues.
You whimper. My eyes are closed
but I have known your face
since it first appeared, blurred
and grainy, on the ultrasound screen.
When I replace you on cool sheets
you cry out once and then curl
clutching yellow bunny in one hot hand.
The white noise machine croons.
What do your fever dreams show you?
How long will you remain a furnace,
incandescent in my arms
and exhausted from the burning?

This week's mother poem arises out of the experience of Drew's first summer virus. The opening lines are a reference to the midrash which says that Pharaoh resented the infant Moses and feared that Moses might someday seek to depose him. So Pharaoh placed a jewel and a hot coal in front of the baby, with the intention of killing him if he reached for the jewel (which would be a sign of his ultimate desire for Pharaoh's riches.) According to the story, an angel pushed Moshe's hand to the coal in order to save his life. When Moshe lifted it to his lips, he burned himself, which is why he was (as Torah tells us) slow of speech.

There's no need to worry about Drew, by the way; his high fever has broken, and while he's not quite his usual happy self, he's doing okay. (Now if only he would nap...)

This poem isn't written in response to this week's prompt at Big Tent Poetry, but here's a link to the "Come One, Come All" post so you can see what others wrote in response to this week's challenge.