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March 12, 2010

by Rachel Barenblat


Tradition calls
for parchment, stuff
capable of surviving
stitches made from
tendons and glue.

The body too
is a scroll, scribed
in circles. Everyone bears
marks, the pressure
of sharpened quills.

What words
will the doctors read?


Flakes and cracks
make me itch to touch,
fingers craving contact
with the rough stuff
of weathered wall.

Tethered by tubes,
monitor crying out
each time I unplug,
I want to trace the ceiling
with my bare hands.

This too-smooth room
says nothing to me.


Remarkable, the way
the senses adjust. Even
this curtained wall, these
vague and unseen voices,
begin to shine.

Look how a hint of fringe
makes every blanket
a prayer shawl.
Blood pressure cuff
a kind of tefillin,

binding heaven to earth
with every heartbeat.


Half-sleep is the most
one can hope for. Try to doze
when they dim the lights.
Let your breathing mimic
marbled cloud, sea-washed sand.

Something sharp protrudes,
leaving long shadows
in every direction. The prick
of needle shifting. But
there’s beauty in the sheen

of glass, like ice
in sunlight, gleaming.


Everything’s hazy.
Always the possibility
of precipice,
and no chance to make
a practice run.

But my liturgy, praise
offered or neglected:
for that I can mix
my own blend of ink,
probe the whole spectrum.

There’s always more
outside the frame.

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Rachel Barenblat is a student in the ALEPH rabbinic program who’s been blogging as The Velveteen Rabbi since 2003. Author of 4 chapbooks of poems (most recently chaplainbook, hospital chaplaincy poems published by Laupe House Press, 2006, and the self-published Through, a collection of miscarriage poems, 2009) she lives in Western Massachusetts with her husband and cat. She gave birth to her first child in December.

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  1. March 14, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    Rachel this is so beautiful…painful, real and completely beautiful.

  2. March 15, 2010 at 1:21 am

    Lovely, so lovely.

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