Exodusby Pamela Wax
My brother-in-law insisted they are free
agents, doing it willingly. That’s not slavery,
he said, accusing me of spreading fake news
across the divided sea of my seder table,
along with the vegetarian chopped liver.
The statistics were sitting there next to the four
questions and the ten plagues in the Slavery Today
section of my xeroxed haggadah: how many
girls and women are sex-trafficked, shipped
across borders to service randy men
at Super Bowls and conventions—
Democratic, Republican, you name it.
I stared at Elijah’s untouched cup of wine
as my other guests swirled horseradish
on their plates, holding their breath.
Sitting next to his father, my nephew, nearly
adult, the one who hadn’t thought to remove,
or be embarrassed by, the bare-breasted
posters on his otherwise naked wall when I’d
dropped by his dorm the previous month.
I wondered if they were complicit in the lie
of willing female flesh, if my nephew
had been egged on by his father
to get some, that I was threatening their bond.
I’d told my nephew then, nodding at his fleshy
walls, You know women are more
than tits and ass. He’d snorted at my crassness,
averted his eyes. I had to say something
to his father, whom I know to be a good and decent
man, devoted to his children, to my sister, to me.
It was Passover, the night of defying fetters of
bondage. I didn’t want to play nice to Pharaoh.
My other company surely expected
a seasoning of decorum with their salt water
and kugels. Seder means “order,” after all.
But I was thinking about those women,
on planes with well-dressed handlers
or sardined in vans crossing state lines.
And about the Hebrew slaves whose exodus
would be hollow if not to instruct us in vigilance
even now, don’t you think? But what I managed
was, Let’s open the door for Elijah, the Prophet.
And there, the sky, full-mooned and bright, pierced
me, eternity in space and time, its bigness,
thinking of the evil that would go on forever
despite me, ancient like the desert and the Red Sea.
Pamela Wax is the author of Walking the Labyrinth (Main Street Rag, 2022) and the forthcoming chapbook, Starter Mothers (Finishing Line Press). Her poems have received awards from Crosswinds Poetry Journal, Paterson Literary Review, Oberon Poetry Magazine and the Robinson Jeffers Tor House and have been published in literary journals including Barrow Street, Connecticut River Review, Naugatuck River Review, The Poets’ Billow, Pedestal, Tupelo Quarterly, Sixfold, and Passengers Journal. Her essays on Judaism, spirituality, and women’s issues have also been published broadly. Pam, an ordained rabbi, facilitates online spiritual poetry writing and spiritual journeying workshops from her home in the Northern Berkshires of Massachusetts.