January 26, 2022

The Biblical Garden & Other Poems

By Alicia Jo Rabins

Jessica Tamar Deutsch, Lost Princess Portrait, acrylic on canvas, 2020

The Biblical Garden

Intention: to operate from love and boundaries
And the infinite balance between them
As we head into the second half
Of fire season. My heart sings show tunes
In the desert tonight, the salmon hills,
Always lyrical when 
Faced with the greatness of 
Expanse. And still our smallish
White rectangle carries us
Across the pavement,
Heads down for love.
 
My teacher's house 
Burns, but he and his husband
Are ok. How about rewiring all this: 
A utopian swerve,
Leaving out the creation of poison ivy, 
Folding up the flood
And tucking it in an envelope?
In the waning days of fertility
I begin to have visions.
I see other forms of birth.
Remember when we sat at the long wooden plank
With hot liquid to pour down our throats,
Remember the woman with curly black hair
Who threw her head back 
And gave me her feather when I asked?
 
Remember the peacocks in the Biblical garden
And how we swore we'd never forget them?
Oh youth, so prescient, knowing even then
One day I'd be here with a thousand eyes on my back,
Still writing to you.
I used to think I was a peacock,
Now I am a snail at heart.
I used to fling so outward,
Now I just want to crawl.
I'm happy in my slime
By the mossy hearth.
The year of the snail: to be slippery
To cancel engagements and feel time
 
As velvet against skin.
All the boxes dissolve,
This is wisdom, my body
Spreading in all directions at once.
They say failure is the best way to learn who you are,
Sort of like peeling a banana.
That's the kicker: you get born into some random place
And the food there, the way the words feel in your mouth
Ruin you for the rest of the world
But also you know you don't belong there
And never will.
We used to stand together in prayer
Like eagles, peacocks.
 
We chairs in shawls,
We mountains wearing hats.
We rocked back and forth on the carpet
Sorting ourselves into small piles.
Now we measure the feet between us.
A voice in my heart keeps saying,
Why can't you let it go? All of it.
Why paint your eyelids the color of compost
When sooner or later, the earth will do that for you?
And another voice answers, free me from this language,
I never asked to live here.
And another voice answers,
This is how it feels 
 
When a new era begins.

Yom Kippur Nusach

I.
 
Hey it’s
 
I know we haven’t talked in
 
I was just thinking about when we
 
Hope it’s ok to
 
Is this still
 
 
II.
 
I remember your soft pink sweater or was that your body 
I do notice when you are quiet
Aries the first house, Keter the first sephirah
We sip our blackberry sour and get into it deep
I pay for your drinks and apologize to the bartender
Renaissance moon outside
A sneeze so brave it blows my fear away
Brave belly to be so soft
Among all this hatred of women
 
III.
 
Mother’s Day, oh hell
Crying in bed with seven-year-old
That’s the line: we all affect each other
But a mother has to hold her own self
My daughter helps me understand
Your loneliness, God
 
IV.
 
Sorry I am such a bad texter G-d
I’m not mad I promise just
Busy busy like busybusy 
You know like the 
Begonia cutting growing its 
Little white legs into the water
Newborn rooting for his
Mama’s dark nipple-coin 
Busybusy and I keep forgetting to breathe
Your lessening air 
 
V.
 
You were vain 
You thought I was better than I was
You thought I was on this earth to love you
You thought we were made for each other
You thought I was your mother
You thought you were my mother
You unfriended me
You blocked me
You left
Still I can’t forget you
Still I can’t stop thinking about you

My Green Shul

My firstborn you came into the world
On the night of the Double Left
 
Boundaries of boundaries, you refused to leave
So they pulled you from my belly

Little Galila even then you were so stubborn
Now we have completed nine cycles together

Animal love overlaid with the texture of hours
Spent in each other’s rage and sweetness

Together we have studied
The Night Torah
 
And who is Lilith but you and I, love
Some secrets can only be learned in refusal
 
Some secrets can only be learned after midnight
Liminal ears of corn standing at attention
 
In the moonlight
A field of the letter vav
 
O Heavens, lift me up
So my shoulders will stop hurting

Watch over my Galila
Let me live to see grandchildren 
 
I will bring them into my small green shul
Teach them holy letters and plants and stars
 
With Galila beside me
We’ll get it half-right like everybody does

Alicia Jo Rabins is an award-winning writer, musician, performer, and Torah teacher. She is the author of two poetry books, Divinity School (APR/Honickman First Book Prize) and Fruit Geode (an NYTBR New & Notable selection), and a forthcoming book of essays about Jewish texts and early parenthood, Even God Had Bad Parenting Days (Behrman House). As a musician, Rabins is the creator and performer of Girls in Trouble, an indie-folk song cycle about women in Torah with three albums and accompanying study guides. Most recently she is the creator, star, and composer of A Kaddish for Bernie Madoff, an independent feature film which The Atlantic calls “a blessing.” Visit her at www.aliciajo.com