A Literary Magazine in Support of the Jewish Community

Two Poems by Jamie Wendt

To Prevent Forgetting

To Prevent Forgetting-Image 1
To Prevent Forgetting-Image 2
To Prevent Forgetting-Image 3
To Prevent Forgetting-Image 4

I shed skin—orange, brown, green.

Carrot, potato, apple.

The earth peels from my fingertips—blood, soil, breath.

 

Across centuries, we bring the same story to the table,

place it beside Elijah’s Cup, Miriam’s Cup, wine and water

spilling over pewter edges lit by candle flame.

 

My son wears sunglasses for the plague of darkness,

green for frogs, red stickers like boils over his skin,

the plagues he can reenact.

 

We dip our pinky fingers into glasses of red wine,

leave stains in the center of fine china to prevent forgetting,

the base of what we eat, touched by plague.

 

We open the door for the stranger

we once were, as we peer out for the Messiah,

the future, a welcome song we sing in quarantine.

 

We forcefully choose to remember the past.

Due to the pandemic, it seems more obvious now

to place horror on a plate next to survival.

 

My children are asking about forgiveness.

They fall asleep to folk stories

of our people’s poverty and perseverance.

 

Bone button borscht, the blind hamantaschen baker,

the mourning brothers gifting heaps of food,

the old deaf woman making latkes for the town.

 

As we read and wrestle the past,

why are we always so close to crying?

His Ladder

His Ladder-Image 1
His Ladder-Image 2
His Ladder-Image 3
His Ladder-Image 4

       for my great-grandfather, Irving Kulwin

 

Like a cracked egg, he breaks each morning

from impossible rituals: kiss on the neck,

warmth of an unmade bed,

his wife’s scent—oil, lilac, pine—buried.

 

In the sunroom, rain streaks

the dirtied windows. Or sunlight rises

like a stage curtain

too bright over Irving’s pale, aging face.

 

Covered in the tallit he married under,

he argues through divine praise:

Yitgadal v’yitkadash sh’mei raba…

A battle, one ritual he keeps.

 

Yitbarach v’yishtabach…

Leah Leah Leah

v’yit-hadar v’yitaleh v’yit-halal…

He recited the Mourner’s Kaddish,

 

a recurring headache, three times a day.

With wet lips, he whispers, searches

the heavy monotony for Leah’s voice,

her body a disappearing landscape.

 

His friends believe her ghost will enter

with the angels as he prays. Her shadow will form

a curve on the wall, her breath on his neck,

her hum in his ear. These things happen, they say.

 

And her scent will form in his nose and linger

in the laundry, her laugh will rise with steam in boiling water,

her reflection will appear next to his in mirrors

long after he removes the black sheets from the Shiva.

 

His daughters tiptoe around him.

They watch his mumbling agony, his ghostly reunion.

If they were younger, they might crawl under his tallit,

cling to his long legs, become part of the elegy.

Jamie Wendt

Jamie Wendt is the author of the poetry collection Fruit of the Earth, which won the 2019 National Federation of Press Women Book Award in Poetry. Her poems, essays, and book reviews have been published in various literary journals and anthologies, including Feminine Rising, Lilith, Jet Fuel Review, Literary Mama, the Forward, Third Wednesday, Saranac Review, and others. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Nebraska Omaha. She teaches English and lives in Chicago with her family. You can read more about her at jamiewendt.wordpress.com.

 

Jamie Wendt