January 27, 2024

Why I Cannot Speak in Full Sentences

By Moriel Rothman-Zecher

Art by Meirav Ong
I am the child 
whose parents
were shot dead
in front of her

and the young 
man who shot
them, who picks
his nose in the 
evenings, who 
still dreams at
night that he
is a Pokémon 
catcher—I am 
him too. I am 
the girl who is
afraid to walk
near windows
so she pees
in her bed as
the warplanes 
fly above her 
like imaginary 
monsters, there
to burn up her 
home, and the 
young man in
that cockpit, 
pimples near 
his nose and 
a weird ability
to remember
the lyrics to 
many foreign
pop songs—
I am him too.

I press down 
on the button,
on the trigger,
as I was told 
to and I kill 
my children, 
my siblings, 
I kill my own
grandparents,
knowing eyes,
teeth loose in
their mouths 
as they murmur
about god—

I am the news
pundit, social
media jouster,
all the leaders
of this blood-
effort, beneath
my cheering or
my edicts I am
mumbling, help
me, I try to say
but I cannot 
speak because 
my mouth is
is packed full
with the bitter
and familiar 
taste of my 
own flesh. 

Moriel Rothman-Zecher is a Jerusalem-born novelist and poet. His first novel, Sadness Is a White Bird, was a finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize and a National Jewish Book Award and was longlisted for the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize. His second novel, Before All the World, was named an NPR Best Book of 2022. His poems and essays have been published in the The American Poetry Review, Barrelhouse, Colorado Review, the New York Times, the Paris Review’s Daily, Zyzzyva, and elsewhere. He holds an MFA in poetry from the Bennington Writing Seminars, where he received a Donald Hall Scholarship for Poets. Moriel is the recipient of the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 honor and two MacDowell Fellowships for Literature. He lives in Philadelphia, and teaches creative writing at Swarthmore College. 

Meirav Ong (she/they) is an Ashkenazi-American transdisciplinary artist from Sharon, Massachusetts based in Oakland, California. Ong draws from her Jewish heritage as a framework to conceive of an embodied prayer practice that exists as an alternative to Judaism’s patriarchal structures. Her practice explores embodied prayer in relation to grief, Jewish mourning rituals, and Genetic Memory through textiles, clay, sound, performance, and social practice. Ong holds an MFA in fiber from the Cranbrook Academy of Art and a BFA from the University of Michigan. She has exhibited at The Everson Museum in Syracuse, New York, the Cranbrook Art Museum in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Mana Contemporary in Jersey City, New Jersey, among others. Her work with community organizations includes The Zekelman Holocaust Center, Lab/Shul, and JFREJ. Her work has been published by AJS Perspectives, Ayin Press, and No Tokens Journal. Ong is a cofounder of Well of Wills, a feminist collective creating art at the intersection of spirituality and activism. She is currently the artist in residence of the East Bay JCC in Oakland.