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.
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?
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
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 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.