Yiskah Rosenfeld received an MFA in poetry from Mills College and an MA in jurisprudence and social policy from UC Berkeley. Poetry awards include the Reuben Rose Memorial Prize and the Anna Davidson Rosenberg Prize for poems on the Jewish experience; her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her poetry appear in publications such as Lilith Magazine, The Bitter Oleander, The Seattle Review, Yentl’s Revenge: The Next Wave of Jewish Feminism, Bridges, Kerem, and Maggid. Yiskah taught Jewish literature and writing at Temple University, and served as poet-in-residence at the Brandeis Collegiate Institute in Los Angeles and on the Arad Arts Project in Israel. Yiskah serves on the faculty at the Tauber Center for Jewish Studies in San Francisco and teaches workshops combining Jewish text, mysticism, and creative writing around the Bay Area and beyond.
The way a snap and two chewed pistachios gave us these.
The way they resemble teeth, but husked and unmouthed.
The way I need five to make a flower but they come in pairs.
The way my son looks to me for instruction, to know why.
The way we hold them to our heads and call them ears.
The way we hold them over our eyes and call them eyes.
The random urge to paint pupils on them.
The soft fingertip rub of their backs.
The way they stay on the table for weeks, reconfiguring,
now in a row, now scattered, now stacked.
The way we are told to cast them off, our klippot,
but they are rain coats, they are wings,
they tell the story of the nut that was, they cradle
emptiness in their baskets as well as any mother.
Cinderella’s shoe, a cap for a mouse, castanets,
my son and I quiet in their presence; we know holiness.
The way I say shell as if it were fact.
The way he says it, like a ship at sea.
*Klippot is the Hebrew word for shells or husks. It is also a Kabbalist term, denoting the places that block us from Divine light.
Two by two the words step out
of your mouth’s arc
testing the dry invitation of air.
Your tongue sets out in search of peace
licks the tender under-salt of olives
returns a messenger, a god, a bird.
When home is a boat
to settle is to set sail
what feels like gentle rocking is a slow lilt
in some tidal direction
no matter how hard your palms press
no matter how still you become.
When home is a red cabin on a hill
its windows bowing in three directions
and the river stretched on her back below
like a lazy cat, you will unanchor
the glass sheeted with autumn rains
all your languages wiped clean.
One morning you will awaken,
alive, alive, go down to the river
rest your fertile body against
the one made of light—
male and female, sky and sea
Yahweh and Elohim, raven and dove—
two into one into two into one,
embraced, all, in the water’s soft lullabies
feathered into one heartbeat by your hands’
joyful swift-slapping on the drum
steady and quick like the old women fashioning bread
on the side of the road to Beersheba.
Did you think you would end where you started?
Did you think it was that kind of door?
Come through, come close, come home,
kiss that complexity back to its rooted whole.
O Righteous One,
then you, too, will walk with G-d.
*Naamah, in Jewish lore, was the name of the wife of Noah.
How the Sun Makes Love to the Moon
Your fingers trail sleepy and long like saxophone notes.
Songs slip under my skin.
Nerves on the soft insides of my arms
wake up slow and innocent like children.
I dream in your bones, hear my body the way you do:
a rounded, silken hum in the dark.
Everything in the suitcase of your skin belongs to me.
The rest of you goes on traveling, missing us.
In your country, the moon called to you like a lover.
Here you sleep even when the moon is full.
That radiant fullness, that pale beauty—
you think you see it in me.