Arts & Culture

Poem: “Miriam and Her Brothers”

MIRIAM AND HER BROTHERS And the Lord said unto Moses: ‘If her father had but spit in her face, should she not hide in shame seven days? Let her be shut up without the camp seven days, and after that … Read More

By / June 26, 2008

MIRIAM AND HER BROTHERS And the Lord said unto Moses: ‘If her father had but spit in her face, should she not hide in shame seven days? Let her be shut up without the camp seven days, and after that she shall be brought in again.’ And Miriam was shut up without the camp seven days; and the people journeyed not until Miriam was brought in again. (Numbers 12:14-15) Beyond the camp in her tent, she lies, A leper, whiter than the moonlight Slanting in. She cannot catch The bleating of babies, of sheep, The blast of trumpets. Too far to hear Goldsmiths hammering Flowers and vines on the seven-branched lamp, She is spared the seventy Old men babbling prophecies, The chorus weeping for Egyptian Fish, cucumbers, melons, Garlic, whining for meat. Their retching from the rotten quail Does not reach her. She hears no men Grunting, no women snoring She itches, aches, burns, Yet the desert wind, hoarse and relentless, Sings to her. With sand, it cools Her wounds. She will heal, Away from Aaron, who also Whispered against the dark wife Of meek Moses, perfect Moses, Favored by the Pillar of Cloud. Face-to-face, God singled her out From her brothers— “If her father had But spit in her face!” Let Aaron Beseech Moses, and Moses beg God for her sake! Oh, family! Shamed? Unruly daughter, She finds her voice.

 

Kathryn Hellerstein teaches Yiddish at the University of Pennsylvania. Her books include a translation and study of Moyshe-Leyb Halpern’s poems, In New York: A Selection, (Jewish Publication Society, 1982), Paper Bridges: Selected Poems of Kadya Molodowsky (Wayne State University Press, 1999), and Jewish American Literature: A Norton Anthology, of which she is co-editor (W. W. Norton, 2001). She is working on Anthology of Women Yiddish Poets, to be published by Stanford University Press. Her recent poems and translations have appeared in many places, including Prairie Schooner, The Drunken Boat, Tikkun, and Four Centuries of Jewish Women’s Spirituality.

Image: Yemenite Ketubah by Archie Granot. Archie’s Hagadah project can be seen online at http://www.haggadah.co.il.