Mountaintop (Alicia Ostriker)

From “Jephthah’s Daughter: A Lament,” a poem-cycle telling the legend of Jephthah’s daughter, who was sacrificed by her father as an offering because he made an oath: ‘If you deliver the Ammonites [my enemies] into my hands, then whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me on my safe return…shall be offered by me as a burnt offering.” The daughter asked that before her sacrifice she be allowed to go with her friends for two months to the mountaintops. After her death, the daughters of Israel went to lament her for four days a year. This poem about wind/voice/angel, the conclusion of Ostriker's lament for Jephthah's daughter, is appropriate for ceremonies of greiving and rebuilding.

“I desired mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.”
Hosea 6:6

Going forth in mourning
returning in joy

From the forest of our lives
into the clearing
weeds grow on the mountaintop
between the stones
the ancient breathing of God
is strong here barbed jagged relentless

Wind increases
shiver and listen
is it the wind
is it a voice

You who lament
you are the one
you are my angel
beloved messenger
you stop the warrior’s hand

it will take ages
it will begin today
you will die many times
you will slip in blood
you will be humbled
you will fail
it will take all your strength
it will appear to take forever
it will begin today

we must go forth in mourning
we will return
in joy

From Bridges: A Journal for Jewish Feminists and Our Friends, vol. 9, p. 36. Printed with permission of the author. Alicia Ostriker is a renowned poet, essayist, and midrashist, and the author of many books of prose and poetry, including Nakedness of the Fathers and The Volcano Sequence.

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