Tag : alicia ostriker

October 23, 2020 by

Poem: My Grandmother’s Dishes

My Grandmother’s Dishes


are shaped like kidneys.
I don’t know why
they have been boxed up

in my musty basement
for the past seven years
useless and forgotten

like my grandmother at the end
tucked away in the dreaded
nursing home. God’s waiting

room, she called it, patting
my hand as if I were the one
in need of comfort.

“It takes a long time
to die, Mameleh,” she said,
and she was right

it took her more than 99
years. But she is not gone
exactly. I inherited

her flat feet, her widow’s
peak, her heart-shaped
locket complete

with a photo of my dashing
grandpa whom I never met
but was named for

and her kidney-shaped dish
set the color of Coney
Island’s cold wet sand.

I dreamed of them last night
smooth and heavy in my hand
like they are this morning

when I set the table with them,
and suddenly I am sitting
in the one-tuchus kitchen

of my grandmother’s fifth floor
walk-up. I can feel the yellow
vinyl seat of the chair

that always stuck to the back
of my thighs, I can hear
the honk and screech

of the Brooklyn traffic down
below, I can see my grandmother
in her rolled-down stockings

wearing her flowered apron
over her flowered housecoat,
her back to me as she stirs

something on the stove
that smells like the world
to come. But as she always

said, “Enough is enough.”
It’s time to give these dishes
to someone who could use them,

it’s what she would want,
right? Wrong, says my dead mother
whose voice is never far

from my ear. If you don’t
have to feed them and they aren’t
hurting anybody, leave them

alone. Which is what she did
and which is why I have
the dishes that sat in her basement

for twenty-five years
now sitting in mine
which makes me wonder

where they will sit 
after this daughterless
daughter is gone

Poetry Editor Alicia Ostriker comments:

“My Grandma’s Dishes” is humorous and elegiac at the same time. Her affectionate tenderness for her grandmother and mother rises like cream to the surface of this poem,
partly by quoting them, partly by gesture. Grandmother “patting my hand” is irresistible, and so is the “one-tuchus” kitchen, and the smell of her cooking “like the world to come,” which gently reminds us that the grandmother is now herself in that world.

But what charms me most is the description of the dishes themselves, not only “shaped like kidneys” but also “the color of Coney Island’s cold wet sand.” It takes a truly gifted poet to come up with that image.

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The Lilith Blog

August 10, 2020 by

Countering Isolation with Poetry

Over the last few months, I have found myself attending fewer and fewer of the Zoom live-streamed events that keep popping up on my Facebook page. What at first seemed like an exciting way to connect to new and old faces in the age of social distancing has started to feel like more of a chore, a less-than-pleasant activity to be avoided whenever possible. Time and time again, I exit these Zoom events feeling even more isolated than before.

Screen Shot 2020-08-07 at 12.21.34 PM

“Poetry in Times of Peril,” presented by Hebrew College-Interfaith Youth Core PsalmSeason project, with co-sponsors Jewish Women’s Archive and Lilith magazine, could have added to that feeling of isolation. Instead, it addressed those feelings of isolation head-on, and as a result, actually left me feeling more connected to the rest of the world.

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July 9, 2019 by

Run to Them: A Poem by Desiree O’Clair

I ran so fast,

I couldn’t look over my shoulder. I ran so fast,
I didn’t feel my legs.
I ran so fast,

the child clinging to my hip thought we, like birds, were flying.
I ran so fast I out-ran my fear.

When we reached the sea,
I just kept running.
We were running for our lives,
with nothing more than what we could carry on our backs. We left our homes, our community, everything we knew. Always the stranger.

That was long ago,
but you must not forget.
When you see the refugee
washed ashore on rafts through waters that did not part, Remember me, your ancestor, a slave.
Remember the people of your tribe.
When you see the refugee children,
hungry for the mothers and fathers who did not survive, looking to the sky for manna that does not fall, Remember where you came from.
The Eternal freed us from Egypt by a mighty hand,
by an outstretched arm.
When you see the refugee today, remember this.
They are the strangers, and you are free.
The hands of free people are mighty
And yours are the outstretched arms.
Run to them.

-Desiree O’Clair 

Lilith Poetry Editor Alicia Ostriker comments:

This poem begins as a midrash on Exodus, bringing to vivid life what it was for a Hebrew woman escaping slavery to run for her life.

We are then asked to imagine what it is like for today’s refugees, people lacking miracles to save them. No sea parted by a divine hand—and many, we know, drown. No manna from heaven—and many are hungry. We are reminded, at the poem’s ending, that the divine “mighty hand” and “outstretched arm” are ours. The imperative to us as free people who were once slaves, is not to walk away from today’s desperate refugees, not to look away; “Run to them.”

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The Lilith Blog

August 2, 2018 by

What the Lilith Staff is Reading Now

Welcome to another installment of this occasional recurring feature in which Lilith staffers reveal what books are on our nightstands, our e-readers and tucked in our bags for the commute. Share your own summer reads in the comments!

Kira Yates, Intern:

This summer I’ve decided to read two books at once: The Guide for the Perplexed by the Rambam himself, Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. Though one was written in 1190 Spain and the other in 1940s Georgia, the theological treatise and the novel explore God and the actions of human kind. In his investigation of Jewish philosophy, ben Maimon seeks to prove that God does not have a body–an assertion that became a scholarly sensation across Europe. McCullers, on the other hand, tells the story of four struggling people in a small Georgia town, a reminder of what it feels like to be forgotten and in search of human connection. Published 750 years apart, these books present parallels about the human need for understanding and unity with something greater than the self. 

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July 15, 2014 by

Great (Jewish, Feminist) American Poetry

Four new collections of poetry by Ellen Bass, Robin Becker, Alicia Ostriker, and Maxine Kumin demonstrate how powerful Jewish feminism is in the consciousness of American poetry.

Ellen Bass, co-editor of the ground- breaking anthology of women’s poetry No More Masks! and self-help best-seller The Courage to Heal, reminds us of the vast universe that poets create from small, sharply-observed moments. In her third collection, Like a Beggar, Bass builds the epic from the ordinary and celebrates the ordinary as exceptional. Filled with odes and lyrical, prayer-like meditations, Like a Beggar “love[s] the truth.” In the first poem “Relax,” Bass warned, “Bad things are going to happen;” and they do, in this book, in life, but Bass renders them livable and beautiful. After gruesome details describing the killing of a chicken, Bass reminds us, “looking straight at the terrible,” of the “one-sided accord we make with the living of this world.” Like a Beggar is an exuberant celebration of living in the world.

Couplets, tercets, and quatrains order the pages of Robin Becker’s eighth collection Tiger Heron, but the emotions they contain are unruly. In one beautiful poem about her mother, “A Last Go,” Becker confides, “Now that medical studies show/ the skinny live longer, she’s gained/the sweet taste of being right all along.” Still, Becker encourages her to “try the ginger scones, / the lemon poppy seed cake,” not- ing, “there’s time for a last / go at pleasure.” Grief and loss punctuate pleasure in Tiger Heron, but through this dizzying emotional landscape, Becker’s technical prowess dazzles. In “The Sounds of Yiddish,” she moves seamlessly between lighthearted bromides, like “when a schlimazel sells an umbrella the sun comes up,” to grim reflections on her Bubbe leaving a shtetl with the Yiddish aphorism “Spare us what we can learn to endure.”

Alicia Ostriker creates a new cosmology in The Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog, interrogating what makes the world operate for the salty old woman, the comely tulip, and the flippant dog. A sequence of persona poems, often ending with a joke, this collection differs from Ostriker’s previous work, which featured her strong confessional voice and lyrical narratives. In The Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog, Ostriker summons William Blake as an intellectual companion, infusing his voice with her Jewish, feminist sensibility. For example, in “The Wind That Blows Through Me,” the old woman posits that God is inside her hand when she writes, while the tulip says she feels “the presence / of the goddess inside me.” The dog rejects theology as “bunk” but while running in the park affirms “the springtime wind is real.” The Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog is a joyous, accessible engagement.

Maxine Kumin finalized And Short the Season just before her death, at age 88, in February 2014. The collection confirms her formidable poetic talents as well as the wide range of ideas that occupied her as a poet and public intellectual. Reprinting “The Revisionist Dream,” Kumin gestures to her storied friendship with Anne Sexton; she grapples with reports of torture at Guantánamo Bay and celebrates the natural world. In “Purim and the Beetles of Our Lady,” Kumin considers beetles that “emerge in a moment of melt / to slip into our homes through crevices too slight / for a whisper.” In spite of her delight with nature, Kumin confides that these beetles “eat holes in my love for this earth.” While Kumin’s love of nature may be frayed, it is persistent—and visionary. In And Short the Season, Kumin explores catastrophic climate change, explaining its effects in “Going Down:” “they call it climigration, these / experts in vast shoreline loss / and islands swept by rising seas.” She also warns of losses, command- ing “Blow a kiss to this drowned world.” 

Most spectacular in this collection is Kumin’s series “Sonnets Uncorseted.” Ten linked sonnets meditate on seventeenth-century poet Margaret Cavendish and the progress women made in poetry during Kumin’s lifetime. This triumphant narrative lessens the pain readers feel from Kumin’s loss. In “Allow Me,” she portends her own death, imploring a godlike reader to make it “sudden and quiet, surrounded by friends.” She then recognizes “But who gets to choose this ordered end / Trim and untattered, loved ones at hand?” Kumin’s life may have come to an end, but at least we can keep her books at hand. 

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