A Literary Magazine in Support of the Jewish Community

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Four Poems by Sarah Etlinger

Poem with Husband and Turtle

My husband told me he helped a turtle cross the road this morning.

I asked, Are you supposed to do that?


Because the world is often in need of explanation.


Sometimes we need permission for kindness.


Tikkun olam is a funny thing—

sometimes repairing the world is a need so ocean-like

we can’t get around it.


Sometimes it feels monstrous and holy,

and other times I don’t even know who or what it is,

or how it holds itself along my body.


Sometimes it is invisible, often small

and insignificant, like the scent of a fresh peach.


Other times, it is unwieldy and unyielding,

unexplainable but pulsing

with the blood of its own existence


just entirely, wholly there.


Shouldn’t we let things that are wholly what they are be

what they are?


He replies, It could have been killed by a car.

So I carried it across, in the direction it was going, and waited for it.


What happened then? I asked.


It waited for me to get out of the way,

and then kept going.

Yom Kippur

I watch the garden slowly die.


The air tapers, leaves almost ready to fall.


Evening’s dampness darkens before it spreads.


We have waited for the late tomatoes,

scarlet, bulbous, brooding

until we pull them from their vines.


Whatever comes, comes slowly.


Only the fox appears suddenly.


What have we given this season?


What have we filled

with breath and light?

pomegranate / seeded apple / beginnings

ancient fruit / of the dead / the fertile crescent

                            birthed civilizations / fertile fruits of the land / its seeds

                                                like blood / like the blood of the women who bring forth


At Rosh Hashanah / we eat its bloody flesh / new beginning New year / open like a wound /

                            a world / of bloody teeth


Jews say when you kill a man you kill a world / you extinguish

                 his children and his children’s children / when a woman

                                  is in the womb / she has all the eggs she will ever have / imagine

                                                                             civilizations / 6 million Jews died in the camps /


when my father first showed me a pomegranate

                                         he let me hold the seeds in my hands /

                                                                        I put one in my mouth and sucked the fruit

/ my lips and tongue and hands stained /

                                     with their juice / a bloody covenant

                                                                          / like Persephone’s


her bloody covenant: she ate / these seeds / of life and death /

                                     to seal her fate / to mark her queen / of the dead

                                                                        born of life / within her both worlds /


within me within us worlds upon worlds

                                  each seed is a world / its promise continuance / I used to think

                                                                                      altruism / now I know

                 even seeds are selfish / one singular purpose: grow (only) into itself

                                                                                      / its undoing / its whole life / its beauty for itself /

                                                                for propagation / to nourish it / self


but us too and when we eat the seeds / we continue / what we eat we are

                                     what seeds we eat leave us / empty /

                                                                          of promise now /

                                  their whole worlds inside of us / to begin

                                                                            again its cycle / its birth /

                                                                         its death                             whole myth

Learning to Be Brave

Have you ever seen a thrust of wind

cut a tree branch to the quick,

leaving a bright wound open to the sky?


See what happens after.


A crew comes to seal the branch,

stanch the bleeding.


The light fills.


A new shoot grows.


Someone takes a picture

of the tree’s new shape and says, now

it looks like my mother, that time

she stood at the beach,

arms wide out,

reaching for us

waiting to be taken in.

Sarah Etlinger

Sarah A. Etlinger is an English professor who lives in Milwaukee, WI, with her family. A Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee, she is the author of three books: Never One for Promises (Kelsay Books, 2018), Little Human Things (Clare Songbirds, 2020), and the forthcoming The Weather Gods (Fernwood Press, 2022). Her work can be found in Rattle, Rust & Moth, SWWIM Miami, PANK (Poems of the Jewish Diaspora), The West, Neologism, and Kissing Dynamite. Interests include cooking, baking, traveling, and spending time by the lake with her family. Find her at @drsaephd or at www.sarahetlinger.com.


Sarah Etlinger
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