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An excerpt from Judy Belsky's "What We Flee With" appears in vol. 7 no. 2 of The Deronda Review.  Below is the poem in its entirety.


What We Flee With


at the Passover Seder I fall asleep

I dream I am a small child fleeing Spain



we flee at night

we board a ship

my father worries about old Lateen sails

and worn clinker-built hulls

are they sea worthy?

was he duped?


there are so many people on board

I am afraid we will sink

afraid they will overtake us

afraid they will take Father

afraid they will torture him

he has already told us if he is caught

we are never

never to

bow down to idols

I rehearse refusal

even under a whip


the ship sails despite rotten hulls

God navigates

He gently tacks the old triangular sail against the current

He skims us past the Spanish Armada

who have orders to shoot


stars look down

and speak in a language we have not yet learned



on the ship

my father studies the Abarbanel

after he flees Portugal for Spain

Spain for Naples

Naples for Corfu and Venice

he will write Passover Offering

a commentary on the Haggaddah

father lays its maps over our voyage

he reads through three maps

one bleeds through the other





my mother gathers all the small children to Ship School

there are few books

it is a singing school

where there are no dungeons

where we are free to be ourselves

we can scream Adon Olam if we want to

I want to


sound refracted by water radiates faster than on land

sound rays rush forward

form an acoustic cloud

if someone speaks on deck

his conversation can carry miles away


in Granada, a priest eats his breakfast in the garden

he sighs enjoying the silence

nothing about his job is silent

then he hears it

is he hallucinating?

Jewish children sing Adon Olam

he has kidnapped hundreds of Jewish children for the Church

but these singing children are not in monasteries

they are free to sing to their God


he begins to question his calling

he stifles doubt

a crisis of faith would demand energy

the plum jam excels today


on ship I dream that my family flees to the harbor

enemy priests grab the hem of my cloak

I escape

I run faster than I think I can

I run to the beat

I will not bow down

I will not


always I feel someone behind me








what people flee with

a widow runs to the cemetery

she lays parchment over her husbandís headstone

she rubs chalk over it

to preserve a ghost image

she cannot carry both her shrouds

and her Messiah dress heavily trimmed in gold

she chooses her Messiah dress


what people flee with

the last baking of Sabbath bread

when it is too hard to eat

my mother breaks the heel

and flings it up to a gull

he swoops down to catch it

and flies higher and still higher

rising on the blessing in the dough


as we eat

some pumpkin seeds

roll off the table onto the deck

seabirds pick them up

who knows how far a seed will travel

before a bird drops one from its beak?

in which latitude will people gather

to discuss an exotic plant?


what people flee with

one man takes the mezuzah

from the main entrance to his house

handed down five generations

a protection against forced conversion

the consensus regarding the removal of the mezuzah:

he may take it

no Jew will inhabit the abandoned house


what people flee with

unfinished manuscripts rolled tight in stone jars

a jug of wine from a babyís naming

saved for her wedding





what people flee with

Shechita knives

Challah knives

Brit Milah knives

an empty Spice Box

still scented with cloves


what people flee with

a bridal gown

a new bride repairs it for her sisters

she mends small rips and replaces missing seed pearls

that bounced off when she danced with her mother


what people flee with

a map of Holy sites in Israel couched in gold

a compass that reads East

folding candlesticks for Sabbath 

to be lit wherever we find ourselves  

a childís first aleph bet reader

a remedy for healing wounds with honey



what people flee with

a man risks his life twice

he conceals a Sefer Torah in his wine cellar

then when they flee he winds it around and around himself

his wife fastens a belt

and a cloak made of two cloaks sewn together


after midnight he dances alone on deck

vayehi binsoa ha-aron/and it was when the ark travels

Let your enemies be scattered

Arise God to your dwelling place

You and the Ark of your might


tonight he is the ark


what people flee with

a papercut of Shiviti

I place God before me always

last hung in the Succah

the ship is a Succah

the stars our temporary shelter


Godís protection shines through



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