April 12, 2006

An Egyptian speaks of Passover

There's a Passover Seder tradition that as we name the ten plagues we remove a drop of wine from our glasses for each one to symbolize that our joy can not be complete as long as others had to suffer for it. A friend of mine has written a haunting poem on that theme. Break it out at your Seder this year if things are getting dull.

By Naomi Rothberg
(Originally appeared in Jewish Currents, March/April 2006)

It turned out they were devils after all.
I had never believed it.
I never even spared the time to consider it.
Now I cannot say or think her name,
whose hand touched me quick when she had a story to whisper at the well,
whose voice was leaven that made laughter rise
from hot, flat hours of work,
whose little daughter, Miriam, I taught to spin.

I saw her mark the door with blood.
I saw her.
I saw all of them.
There was a full moon and
because I was so close could I see the color.
It took me a long time to understand what I was seeing.
I went back inside the dark of my home cold.
I was so cold,
My heart could scarcely move my blood.

The cattle dead on every hillside.
The monstrous red sores
people covered with salves, which did not help,
sores making the young girls hideous,
making people cry in their pain as they tried to work —
to no avail, the locusts eating the wheat,
the frogs fouling the remaining water,
the people bleeding from their mouths,
that sudden, terrifying flux of blood.

I saw that it was true.

I went to the basket of dried figs she had given me
because our harvest had been so poor —
my friend —
and quickly so the hungry children would not wake and see,
I rushed them out my unmarked door and through the night to the midden heap.
Even as I threw them in I wondered if that was far enough.
Were they poisoned merely,
or cursed.
Could their curse rise and come back to my house.
Was it in the figs only, or in other things she had touched.
How could I count the things in my home she had touched.
How could I separate them out.
My very cook pots.
My water vessels.
I was so cold.

I did not look at my children when I crawled back into my bed.
I had taken food from them.
A betrayal maybe worse than a curse.
Maybe itself a curse.
My husband was like a cook stove in his sleep, but
though I laid my hands on his hot back,
I could not get warm.

I should have died that night.

In the silent morning, I knew before I went to look.

And I knew everything that would follow,
that after the screaming grief,
after the boil of rage,
no one, after all,
would dare to kill them,
because of the other children,
because of the terror that lay now on top of all the
slowly building pain of affliction.
Instead the people slipped through the night to lay offerings
at those bloodstained doors.
Their sad, meagre property they laid there.

I did not.
I sat at night in the dark of my threshold,
staring at her house,
listening to my other children breathing in their hungry sleep.
I saw her family emerge whispering,
joined by the others,
a murmuring, excited crowd of them,
packing their donkeys and their own backs
with everything they owned
and everything that had been left for them.
I saw my milk goat untied from her tether in the yard and led away,
not by her,
not by my friend,
by her sly daughter,

Posted by Daniel Radosh

Post a comment

Powered by
Movable Type 3.2