Each Thursday, The Arty Semite features excerpts and reviews of the best contemporary Jewish poetry. This week, Jake Marmer introduces two poems by Eve Grubin.
“I am certain of nothing but the holiness,” writes Eve Grubin in one of the poems published in her 2005 debut collection “Morning Prayer.” Both uncertainty and holiness are key ingredients in her writing, intertwining co-dependents, often sharing the space of a poem’s single line. As the book’s title implies, prayer — or failed attempts at it — is among Grubin’s chief concerns, and morning is the recurring setting for it, where leftover bits of dreams are lifted against the morning light in a moment of encounter with the divine. Writing is also an extension of the poet’s prayer, a religious practice of persistent observation of the life of the soul. Moments of piety often mingle with the voice of desire, yet the work is not about sensationalist juxtapositions or paradoxes — it is more about quiet meditation on the totality of human experience. It is religious poetry at its best.
This week, we’re featuring two of Grubin’s works from “Morning Prayer,” both of them re-imagining the poet’s biblical namesake, Eve. Although the first poem explicitly references verses from the Tanach, it is hardly hermeneutics or even midrash, but rather a mythic, archetypal mirror held up against the poet’s deeply personal inner world. The second poem achieves its poignancy in the two final lines, where amnesia meets the unspoken and yearning ripens into frankness.
God unpoured the wine out of Eve
to create delay, the gap between wanting
and the wanted.
Before, with the wine pouring through her,
desire for touch blazed simultaneous with touch, flame to flame.
My desire lags, without speech.
Mute, a weight in my eyes, a whistling cavern in my knees.
Your desire will be to your husband and he will rule over you.
God unpoured the wine out of Eve and the birds began yearning.
A woman desires her husband as the rain wants the earth
to need it, as my transgressions hope I will seek them, as God
wants me to pray.
I have been told
that force has no significance. No soul moves by force.
What I want will not come to me just because I desire it.
I have been told that I cannot force.
I don’t know how this will end.
God unpoured the wine out of Eve. I don’t know the end to this story.
I can’t remember
what this brush between my legs is for.
I used to know. And the purpose
of these breasts, of this
tongue, this palm.
It had something to do with.
Now I want.
Watch Eve Grubin perform at the Bowery Poetry Club: