Back to Issue Forty-Six


Sixth Grade



Sometimes they relent and send us off from the pages of thorns.

They release us into the November fields—I become prophetess of the crabapple tree,
sitting high in the branches and revealing the strange sayings of boys and their shifty alliances
to the girls who would traverse the baseball diamond like it was a boundless steppe.

Cold bathroom with tile the color of a skinned knee. Commentaries of adolescents
heady with Lysol stink all over the stalls—monstrous penises floating over cities,
disembodied erections passing through sacrificial stick men.

Don’t you know that God the strongman is everywhere, in every hidden place, that over the whole world
there is nowhere to hide yourself from him?

Binding my arm in cords of calf skin, picking the required blessing from its thicket of text with clean
doing all this barely awake and swaying on my feet at daybreak in the multipurpose room singing
Blessed are you lord our god king of the world who did not make me woman
And the words writhe, unreadable.

In a separate wing and down several staircases they keep the old rabbis, rebbes, and other assorted ravs.
Bricked in behind the bookshelves of the law, they send out their responsum through cracks in the paper
walls, burrowing past millions of queries about blood spots in egg yolks.

The model of a scholar: my fingers should be long and amphibian, with pads perfect for turning
blanched as white as the November fields.

From the tree I can see without being seen, packs of boys playing war and forgetting the buttermilk
placidity of our teachings,
their faces flushed, digging through the roots and dirt, escape plans underway,
and I will live up here in the crotch of branches now, and not come down until the warriors ask.

with a line by Rokhl Brokhes

Joseph Reisberg is a Ph.D student in Jewish Languages and Literatures at Johns Hopkins University. He was formerly an Applebaum Family Fellow in the Bibliography and Translation departments of the Yiddish Book Center. His poems and translations appear or are forthcoming in Jewish, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, and The Loch Raven Review.

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