The Shekhinah as Exile

This poem is appropriate to mark Tisha B'Av, and may also be used to mark 1 Tammuz, 17 Tammuz, or 1 Av.

hidden one: when the temple fell
when Jerusalem arose and fell and whenever
we were persecuted and scattered
by the nations,
to follow us in pain in exile
you folded wings patched coats
dragged mattresses pans in peasant carts, lived your life
laboring praying and giving birth, you also
swam across the hard atlantic
landed in the golden land
they called you greenhorn
you danced in cafes
you went in the factory
bargained pushcart goods ice shoes Hester Street
put on makeup threw away wigs
and you learned new languages
now you speak everything
lady, but part of you is earth
part of you is wounds
part of you is words
and part is smoke
because whoever was burned over there, you were burned
you died forever with the sheep
whoever survived, you speak in our tongues
open your wings, instruct us
say what we are
do not confuse us
with the sanhedrin of the loudspeakers
who have no ear for your voice
but we who thirst for your new
instructions, source of life
come into our thoughts
our mouth. Speak to us
voice of the beloved

help us
say what we are
say what we are to do

Alicia Ostriker is a renowed writer, poet, and midrashist. Two of her books are The Nakedness of the Fathers: Biblical Visions and Revisions and The Volcano Sequence. This poem, used with permission, comes from The Volcano Sequence.

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