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Sample Poems by Naomi Feigelson Chase
On the Judgment Day, Found Wanting
Gittel hears the Rabbi through a screen.
He coughs, smokes too much, needs a good night’s sleep.
How long since he made love with his wife?
Who would touch him
with his scratchy throat, kiss
her with her gray face, her big behind?
Their son Joseph is a different story.
When he smiles,
Gittel tastes his breath.
A puzzle in arithmetic: how two sours make a sweet.
For such thoughts, on what scales will she be weighed?
Scales on the iced fish, eyes dulled
by the sun’s ring stared at too long?
All these are mysteries:
like the sacred Hebrew alphabet,
so many letters veiled, unknown.
She will weigh herself and want.
“Do you ever hear voices?” Gittel asks Joseph.
Stroking her hair, he says, “My mother’s voice.
It says, ‘Do this, do that, lazy bones.’
My blood. It says, ‘Gittel.’”
“I hear God’s voice.
It says, ‘I will anoint you
and send you on a journey.’”
Joseph covers her mouth.
“How do you know it’s God, not the devil?”
“The same way God knows Gittel.
Would a devil anoint me?”
“What do you talk about?”
“Why the ram should die for Isaac,
why Isaac should die for God.
Why I won’t eat dinner.
Why God is choosing me.”
“Talk as you please.
Eat what you choose.
I’ll go where you go.”
”I’ll walk on wires
like those Lublin acrobats we saw,
just arms for balance.”
Not So Pretty She Won’t Need a Dowry
The matchmaker licks his forefinger, pages a book.
“Ah! Here’s a scholar to make you proud.
His father is honored, sits at the East Wall.
A glass of tea, maybe? With something sweet?
Here’s the contract.
For the groom:
a gold watch,
a Romm Talmud printed in Vilna,
two silk caftans.
If the bride is deformed or ugly, the dowry allows.
And for the couple, while he studies,
a chicken a week,
two years’ room and board.
“What? You’ll take someone not so learned?
Let’s think how we sail this cat over the wall.”
“In the bride’s contract:
A husband who washes his undergarments, rids
the house of chometz for Pesach.
The wife makes the Sabbath.
The husband mends his socks, his coat, unless
he hires a male bondsman to do his work.
A husband who milks the goats
and weeds the wife’s garden.
A husband who leaves the room
when she talks to God
and doesn’t ask ‘where’ when she leaves.
A husband who loves her,
body and soul
and lies under her
when she wishes.”