The Arty Semite

National Poetry Month: Two Passover Poems

By Jake Marmer

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Courtesy Bracha Meschaninov

Charles Bernstein has effectively argued that National Poetry Month celebrations tend to focus on establishment-endorsed, “blockbuster poets,” and he has reminded us just how much great poetry exists outside of well-known publishing houses and literary journals.

Bernstein’s dictum came to mind when I came across Bracha Meschaninov’s poetry collection “Tender Skin,” published over a decade ago. The collection features gentle, pensive, wonderfully crafted works that appear to be written without much concern for contemporary trends. It is simply good, soulful work, the kind poets write “for themselves,” if for no other reason than to commit to paper the emotional world, spirit’s stirrings, and above all, a certain degree of pain that poetry can’t quite heal, but does illuminate and uplift.

The gravity center of Meschaninov’s inspiration is domestic poetry, ruminations on matters surrounding family life. And so, the two poems we’re featuring today on The Arty Semite are domestic Passover poems. The first piece is a light-hearted, ironic play that brings together “kitchen surfaces” and the “experience of redemption” into one sentence — as indeed tends to happen in the frenzy of holiday logistics. The second poem creates a juxtaposition between outer appearances — “the front” — and the depths concealed behind such appearances. The use of the Hebrew word for Egypt, “Mitzraim,” at the end, hints at the old hermeneutical pun that connects “Mitzraim” with “meitzar” — “confines.” However much confines were broken at the Seder, the poet seems to imply, certain kinds of pain or melancholy simply cannot be transcended, or perhaps even have nothing to do with the experience of redemption as such, but are the very territory of being inescapably human.

Hailing from South Africa, Bracha Meschaninov now lives in Monsey, N.Y. with her husband Ilya and their six children. She’s the founder of the Women’s Torah Learning Circle. Those interested in her book should contact the poet directly.


Pesach

House cleaned
more or less
kitchen surfaces covered
more or less
food ready
more or less
an experience of redemption
more or less


The Seder

We chewed the hand-made bread
of redemption
and wine specially made
children primed for performance… performed
and wonderful guests came and prayed
yet his eyes were sad and her skin showed strain

We left Mitzraim
but in pain we stayed.


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