Don’t Tell Me: A Theology – a poem by Laurel Benjamin

Don’t Tell Me: A Theology


Forced to Sunday school
head down in the back row
I played hangman with Betsy Zeff
and during services with a choir of women 
my brother and I ran 
back and forth in the hallway
snuck out to 711 for candy
forbidden at home.

Moses called to God in the Tent of Meeting
and what’s left
flattened bread, charoset, moror, karpas
bitter Passover table reminders.

My grandmother came from Poland to Brooklyn
wore her cousin’s short trousers
hair in a bob, Yiddish in her voice
other languages left behind
Polish, Russian, and Ruthanian,
her autograph book signed by teenagers 
who wrote they would not see each other 
for a long time.

I didn’t know how to listen
to my father’s reverse sentences
symptom of his parent’s Yiddish
and too late, I didn’t know 
the Old Testament would show me the glue 
holding us together. After he died
Mom and I sat in an auditorium
reading the same prayerbook as our temple’s
same rising and falling
minor key familiar around my shoulders.

My theology is mixed together with cousins found
my mother preparing the family tree
mixed with my mother and I arguing  
without Dad to break in
salad half prepared on the counter
as I walked narrow pathways.

I’ve been trying to remember some details 
since Mom died
the shape of her lips, overbite, heavy eyebrows
and how like a crow 
she said my name
the O more round
thrusting her whole body into it.
For we need to remember the details 
and what we’ve been handed
to know what to follow.

Like Moses’ sister Miriam, I’m older to my brother
and unlike her I resist showing the way
even as I demand my rights.

No prayers will save me
and I have no veil.
I can only tell the story of Jacob, journeying 
to make amends
and how I implored Mom
to include his story in her brief Haggadah.

Is it inevitable that Jews must leave?
Can one track and be tracked?
What’s seen in absence
filters through sheer curtains,
echoes through all the borders.

Laurel Benjamin holds an MFA from Mills College. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work has appeared in Turning a Train of Thought Upside Down: An Anthology of Women’s PoetryCalifornia Quarterly, Wild Roof Journal, The Midway ReviewMac Queens Quinterly, Poetry and Places, Global Quarantine Museum Pendemics issue, Silver Burch Press, including honorable mention in the Oregon Poetry Association’s Poetry Contest 2017 and 2020, long-listed in Sunspot Literary Journal’s long list, among others.She is affiliated with the Bay Area Women’s Poetry Salon and the Port Townsend Writers. More of her work can be found at https://thebadgerpress.blogspot.com

2 Comments

  1. Beautiful and thought provoking and personal. I love all these lines-❤️
    “ I didn’t know
    the Old Testament would show me the glue
    holding us together. “
    “No prayers will save me
    and I have no veil.”
    “What’s seen in absence
    filters through sheer curtains,
    echoes through all the borders.”

    Like

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