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 Poetry, California Quarterly, Wild Roof Journal, The Midway Review, Mac 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