The Loudest Self
In memory of Andrea Dworkin
Now Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses…is it solely through Moses that God speaks? Is it not also through us that he speaks? And God heard (Numbers 12:1-2).
Some remember the reed and pitch basket
set afloat in the Nile, my cleverness in addressing the daughter
of Pharaoh with a voice melodic as rippling tides,
modest enough to temper my brother’s cruel fate
We keep calling this war normal life.
& some remember the rhapsodic celebration
before the parted sea, a women’s chorus of yearning,
skin salty from the passage, bodies exhausted from
the dance, tongues trembling with freedom.
I dreamt that love without tyranny is possible.
Some remember my flowing wells in the desert,
how I brought forth sustenance from my aching heart,
how the people cast their buckets low, how perfume
and billowy phlox sprung from the arid land
My love of women is the soil in which my life is rooted.
& others remember what was lost in a moment’s misstep
(the love of brothers, the comfortable bed),
God’s taunts penetrating to the bone, silly girl, loud girl,
how bitter still waters can become.
The worst immorality is to believe in nothing.
But what I cherish is the feel of truth burning,
burning crimson in my head, the rush of words released.
The question is not how many rapes there are, but how many rapists.
Our possession of our own face is denied us.
The sexual colonization of women’s bodies is a material reality.
In the borderland between revelation and exile
that has become home, I sit alone in my room writing,
(I have been asked why I am myself.)
relishing the wilderness this new covenant bestows.
There is nothing sweeter in this whole narrow world.
My work typically comes out of deep engagement with text of some sort - everything from newspaper articles to religious tracts. I get lost in the words & the tricky part is to faithfully capture my full-body response. To improvise on the inherent meaning. This piece started out as one draft in a manuscript-in-process addressing 54 different readings from the Torah (the 1st five books of the "Old Testament"), commenting on a moment in Numbers when Miriam, the Bible's first prophetess, criticizes her brother Moses & is summarily punished with a case of Divine leprosy. Is speaking worth it? That's what I was trying to figure out. But the poem sat, unsatisfied, until a friend mentioned that Andrea Dworkin died in 2005 - a fact which, I am humbled to say, I did not know. I hadn't read much of Dworkin for almost a decade and this allowed me to read large parts of Heartbreak & re-read much of her earlier work. I also studied some of the traditional rabbinic commentary describing Miriam as a woman with a big heart and a commitment to justice. It all seemed to fit. Good quotes from Dworkin. Satisfying poem. No leprosy yet.
about the author
Sue Swartz lives in Bloomington, Indiana, where she teaches and consults on social change. Her poetry can be found in Cutthroat, Isotope, Smartish Pace, Jews., Lilith Magazine, and elsewhere. She was the winner of the 2006 Joy Harjo Poetry Competition and the 2nd place winner in the 2004 Charlotte Newberger Jewish Women’s Poetry contest. Much of her poetry uses Biblical text to explore current events and the human condition. She is totally obsessed with ballroom dancing, Middle East peace politics, and her 2 grandsons.
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