The Deronda Review

a journal of poetry and thought

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Judy Belsky


Grandmotherís Text

(the poem I left at home)

The first time I cross an ocean
I am an onion
My grandmother hides me in the hold of the ship
She combs wayward ends of silk
tucks my tender skin
in velvet folds
She inverts me roots first
She smoothes protective membranes
around the cell
where the code to my identity is stored
To the rhythm of surf
she sings a lullaby
Somos Judios/we are Jews
Her face is a map
engraved with longitudes of exile
Gravity pulls her back
Wind pushes her forward
She hovers in the air
over two small graves
shaded by willow branch
She leans over me while I sleep
She teaches me the circular dialect of her arms
Small sentries
guard a citadel
The steps in her dance
move away
move away another way home
She leans over me while I sleep
to enter my dreams
Somos Judios
Through her skin
I smell the aromatic earth
wild roses in her garden
She is happier on land
The ocean erodes memories
with no embankment to settle against
On a road she can leave markers
encode footprints in the earth
When the Jews leave Egypt
there is a road
even where there had been a sea
She scatters breadcrumbs in the air
a gull catches them in his beak
He soars higher on the blessing in her dough
On deck my grandfather
stands beneath the moon
His evening prayers glint like silver seeds
in the dark loam of the ocean
Kavana moves constellations
The captain keeps tacking tacking to compensate
On the final dawn
across a porous horizon
trees begin to name themselves
The customs official asks my grandmother
what is that wrapped in velvet?
Just paper
I dissolve into paper
For twenty years I am her text
stained with her breath
the secret of her intentions
the leitmotif of her prayer
her sacred architecture
bone white arches
light slips past
memory of the Temple
blue, purple and scarlet silks
fine twined linen
patterns for embroidery
the necessity of beauty
remedies for healing
her bone chant over the dead
how to wash away sin
and leave innocence swathed in white
the rhythm of birth
the quickening of anticipation
written over the history of terror
the history of wandering
What to leave
What to take
How to ease yourself from a landscape
boundaries intact
How to ease your thoughts away from one language
And into another
With no loss of divekut
How to embed an urgent message
Under your tongue
Somos Judios
Holy texts written in flight
inscribed in parchment
the rise and fall of her cursive
in spaces between births
snatches of psalms
u le Zion yaomer/and of Zion who will say
ish v ish ulad bah
For each one born in Jerusalem
another longs for her
Snatches of psalms
like bits of conversation
between volumes of Talmud
I sleep for twenty years

I awaken as a girl


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