“Ten measures of beauty came down into the world;
Nine were taken by Jerusalem, one by the rest of the world.”
“Ten parts of suffering came down into the world; nine
were taken by Jerusalem, one by the rest of the world.”
Avot d’Rabbi Natan
Had Rachel not looked up
Jacob would not have seen her.
There would have been no water,
no winding dream,
no tribe or unrelenting
portion of sadness
dispersed on his land, his Jerusalem,
and I would not have promised
to gather then home. But Rachel
saw him and he loved her.
She was barren and she suffered
and she followed him.
So I have this heaviness
to bear. Her life before him
had also the dailiness of lives,
an hour at which she would rise and go
to the well. Then out of the blue
her future came crashing against her lids
when she looked up, those hours changed,
and I was moved to his, another well.
Linda Stern Zisquit has published four full-length collections of poetry, most recently Havoc: New & Selected Poems (Sheep Meadow Press, 2013). Return from Elsewhere, her fifth volume of poetry, will be published in Spring 2014. Her other books are The Face in the Window (2004), Unopened Letters (1996), and Ritual Bath (1993). Ghazal-Mazal, a chapbook, appeared in 2011. Her translations from Hebrew poetry include These Mountains: Selected Poems of Rivka Miriam (2010), a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award, Let the Words: Selected Poems of Yona Wallach (2006), Wild Light: Selected Poems of Yona Wallach (1997), for which she received an NEA Translation Grant and was shortlisted for the PEN Translation Award, and Desert Poems of Yehuda Amichai (1991). Her work has appeared in journals including The Denver Quarterly, Harvard Review, Paris Review, Ploughshares, The Southern Review, Salmagundi and the Virginia Quarterly Review. Born in Buffalo, NY, Zisquit has lived in Jerusalem with her husband and five children since 1978; she is Associate Professor and Poetry Coordinator for the MA in Creative Writing Program at Bar Ilan University, and runs ARTSPACE, an art gallery in Jerusalem representing contemporary artists.
The Ilanot Review, where today’s poem recently appeared, is a biannual journal of creative writing which publishes a stellar selection of poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and literary interviews. The journal publishes two themed issues a year, inviting submissions from English-language poets and writers from anywhere in the world. The Ilanot Review is currently seeking submissions for its winter 2014 edition, through November 30th. The theme of the winter 2014 issue is sacred words.
Editor’s Note: Today’s selection contemplates the question so many of us are wont to ask: “What if?” In today’s piece the poet straddles two worlds; her own life and the biblical tales that shape so much of our modern lives. Within the poet’s words her own life is inextricably linked with the biblical love story of Rachel and Jacob. “Had Rachel not looked up / Jacob would not have seen her,” the poet posits, “But Rachel / saw him and he loved her,” and “So I have this heaviness / to bear.” Had the stories of our people unfolded differently, the poet seems to say, so, too, would our own lives now be different. Time, place, religion, literature, and the poet’s own path are conflated as the poem considers the universal themes of belonging, suffering, love, home, and self.