Jochebed – a poem by Vanessa Stein


It’s not natural
being away from your child
when your child is ill
you’d rather eat your own flesh.

My daughter’s therapist has set
clear goals for her patient:
dig tunnels, keep her mind intact,

stand up to the world.

That’s exactly what I want
for her, for me too.

I tried but I failed
to build a wall around my garden
to build a garden at all,

break open, crack, and then forty days in the desert
but did you know that at the end
you have to make a whole lot of noise to celebrate?

I have never celebrated anything,
been too busy eating my own flesh
been too busy digging tunnels,
worrying at them

(breathing has always been difficult)

but you can hold them in your mind
and they you in theirs.

The law cuts deep. I’ll put my baby
in a basket made of reeds any old time,

but people don’t just disappear
into the ether, into deep voids
that fall away like galaxies.

After the session,
I walk out slowly into the spring night,

(it is now possible to breathe)

carve out a space for the golden calf
in the face of great cruelty.

If they are still there, not fallen,
I’ll learn to blast some trumpets then
I’ll even drink some vino in a cafe window
and praise god, hallelujah
as I sip and slip into dream.

You’ve got to be noisy
the Pharaoh bids us work quietly
so you’ve got to be noisy
(pleasure is your birthright).

What feels intolerable? I ask everybody
who comes to me for advice,
speak up.

I really need to fall off my soapbox
the fight or flight response
is primitive, the therapist informs me.
She’s lost her voice
still she wants me to know
that I should put down my weapons,
that a greater care of me is needed.

But how do you hold someone in mind?

Put down your weapons
lie in the weeds and soak
up the hot Egyptian sun;
some lovely princess
come to take care of them
some lovely soul
come to nurse my darlings.


Vanessa Stein is an actress with extensive experience in the theatre . She currently teaches acting and is working on her first full length play and a collection of poems. Vanessa is based in Cambridge, in the UK.

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