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Drowning/ Life in Jerusalem/ To Play a Part/ Under the Waves/ Visions from RennFest/ WAC Life/ Walking Sideways


The other day, Professor Cousineau
Talked about how Virginia Woolfe
Filled her pockets with stones
And walked into the river.
As we sat silent a moment
I remembered Ophelia—
Fictional, yes, but overflowing
With such emotion
That only the still waters
Could contain her.
Such sadness spilled
By clear blood, and life quelled
By silence.

Last winter, a bunch of us went
To Chester River, frozen
By the frigid cold
And Mali dared to
Slip and slide across
The cold, smooth ice.
My frosty breath
Bit at my nose as
I tried to call her back.
Always in fear I live.

I used to fear
The Ocean
Ruthlessly erasing
My marks upon the sand
Like graduation slowly wiping
The Earth clear again.
Our petty lives, our petty accomplishments,
Our mere existences,
Mean nothing.

Jaki hates metaphors
About “the downpour of sadness”
But with age, I’ve come to
How easily water
Washes us away,
Because who really
Wants to stay
On the precarious ice,
Specific grievances
Stabbing us painfully
Like a mere pin into too-soft flesh.

I imagine the pain
Numbed and smoothed over
I imagine defeat at last
As the ice breaks
And their hands fly up
To greet life for the last time.

Life in Jerusalem

“So this is life in Jerusalem,”
Deborah types to us.
Stray cats and bad tech support and halachic Judaism.
And, of course, the bombings.
They pollute Western TVs,
But it’s not the same
As someone you know,
Held hands with in Israeli Dance,
Admitting to hearing the explosion
Eight blocks from her apartment,
A café she used to frequent.
“Am I supposed to stop going to bars too?”
Deborah asks us,
Poor little Canadian that she is,
In Israel to study and learn by choice,
The natives will have to answer her.

How ironic
That this email popped into my inbox
On September 11. 2003.
“Deborah,” I could type her,
“I remember the cold dread at school,
When they told us the Towers had fallen.
Family members clumped together like bees,
I ran to find my sister, and
She broke down in my arms.
This is what I know of tragedy.”

But it took archived journal entries
To remember that
Classes had continued that day.
In Psych, Rachel fell to the floor,
With very un-dancerlike movements,
And in a panic, crawled to my side,
Me, who she deemed
“Not a real Jew” in middle school.
“What if it was the Palestinians?”
She whispered in my ear,
“What if they attack Israel next?”
And I, knowing no Israelis back then,
Could only pat her on the back and pray
That we’d make it through High Holidays.

Two years later
High Holidays are on us again.
I stare at Deborah’s email
From all these miles away,
An ocean and a quaint little college
In an American cornfield
Separating me from…reality?
Cuz I can’t feel her panic,
Even with the added weight
Of two years’ knowledge.
I just want her to take my hand
And lead me through the steps
Of the Hasidic Wedding Dance.

To Play a Part

My sister used to don a costume,
And prance around a well-lit stage,
“This is it; I wanna be an actress.”

I started reporting my freshmen year,
Mostly because I’m a writer,
An introverted, little fiction writer,
And what other career path can such a one take?

My sister would practice for hours,
Standing by mirrors, highlighting scripts,
But when the curtain came down, nothing could stop
Her from becoming her again.

I’d write out questions,
And pace my room,
Sputtering on phone lines,
“I-I’m a r-reporter. C-can I i-interview you?”

So why would she give up
The chance to escape,
Discarding old dreams,
And staying stuck in the pain?

I’d be stuck in the pain,
If I didn’t put on an act.
Suck in my breath, plaster a smile,
Enter foreign rooms, notepad clutched in hand.

And when the curtain comes down,
And I take off my costume,
I continue to act,
Proclaiming, “I’m just fine.”

Under the Waves

We stand upon some turbulent waves,
Not like Jesus to the Christians,
No holy miracle to save us from our sins,
Just us.
The human race.
Struggling to stay aloft in midair,
Falling, falling towards the depths...

The waves wash over us in numbing strokes,
A mere punch to the shoulder-
You ate three doughnuts today-
Then back-
You gained five pounds today.
Or yesterday...

Because time means nothing
As the ocean tries to drown you.
Because in the interim of that one wave,
Pushed gently back by guilt,
Others gather,
To remind you in whispered hisses,
Failing grades.
Straining voice.
Self-absorbed life.
Break from Judaism... meaning,
Break from your father- the Catholic,
Break from your sister- indifferent,
Break from your mother- controlling,
Break from your friends- fear.
Fear of abandonment,
Fear of yourself,
When they let go of our hands,
And you truly must face this ocean alone.

You're already numb and you're already sinking,
And you start to think
Ophelia, Virginia... take pity...
Reach out your hands...
Pull me into the water...
The ice cold water...
Below the turbulent waves...
Where I will sink... down, down...
Propelled by my failures,
Propelled by my desire...

Under the waves where the numbness washes over,
Under the waves where the sunlight fades,
And the darkness that you are envelops you whole.

Visions from RennFest

The woman impersonating “the king’s cook”
Greeted us from inside the RennFest gates,
Her posture was perfect, she gossiped authentically about
King Henry VIII and his “wonderful” new wife,
Followed by “today, there’s some productions by Shakespeare…”
My lips were upturned
Because he didn’t write ‘til Queen Elizabeth’s time.
And I retained that bit of quirky knowledge,
Like my friends in their costumes and accents.

Around midday, I was gazing around
At all the archaically modeled structures,
When my eye caught sight of a girl on a stretcher, levitated
By modern-dressed medics,
Like the Hebrews carrying Joseph’s corpse out of Egypt.
I remembered my sister saw an old man die in Pompeii,
I was too busy, staring, open-mouthed,
At stone-trapped relics of old
To realize, as she did, how viciously past and present can clash,
Heat and delirium forcing modern-day patrons to their knees,
Just as the plague and Vesuvius destroyed far-off times,
And drew future-gaping eyes to their memories forever.

But once, as my head was buried in a RennFest pamphlet,
My friend stretched her arms across my back,
Said she missed seeing me around,
And as we walked and sat, connected,
Her limbs warmed mine.
My eyes fluttered away for a second,
As I remembered my own body,
For one second not needing
Factoids or escapes into dead pasts
To sustain me.

WAC Life

Sitting across from Steve,
In the deserted Hynson Lounge,
Sitting across from Steve,
With Hillel ideas clutched in my hand,
But not the nerve to suggest them.

Sneaking into Middle Hall,
Jaki and Lauren sit suspended at their computers,
Sneaking into Middle Hall,
As they argue and angst over entertaining me,
And I clutch onto Cletus, too terrified to leave.

Sitting across from Steve,
When Mali comes in with
An exuberant shirt and exuberant ideas.
Sitting across from Steve
As he asks questions,
But I know
Hillel won't go into a co-partnership,
Look at our invisible members,
Look at our invisible support.

Sneaking into Middle Hall,
To hear Mali gripe about hatred in religion,
As she grasps her sheets and spaces out,
Sneaking into Middle Hall,
Feeling like the lone Jew,
The lone Rachel,
Reaching out,
But too afraid to grasp.

In five years, will I be at the RRC?
In five years, will I dav'n with rabbinical students?
In five years, will I feel like I belong?

But what about this WAC life?
Can I shirk it off,
The flimsy Hillel, and shake it to the ground?
Or will I always blame myself?
Will I keep up with those I consider "close friends"?
Or will I always blame myself,
For opening my mouth,
But only letting fear come out?
For running... always running...
...even leaving the good behind...

Sitting across from no one,
In the deserted Hynson Lounge,
Steve has left,
Mali has left,
All who remain,
Are the invisible members,
And me,
Burrowing into this chair,
Burrowing into my scarf,
Burrowing into nothingness...

Walking Sideways

Walking sideways
Around people,
Their bodies like
Wisps of air, like ash,
To disintegrate in a few short years,
So I,
Jut around,
The political issues,
With their color-coded teams,
Red for Conservative, Blue for Liberal,
You know, donkeys and elephants,
Make for fucking ugly mascots.

I sense the,
Stench of hypocrisy, so I,
Wheel away,
From the people I reach out to,
Those who matter, those who don’t,
Unable to tell them,
Their places in my mind—,
“You’re too needy,” to Girl X. or,
“I’m halfway in love with you,” to Girl Y.

And time moves like water,
In ripples, kicking up sand.
But I’m the rock,
Lodged at the bottom,
Turning summersaults, trying—,
To walk sideways,
And avoid,
The pain of twirling emotions,
The euphoria of the human touch.

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