The Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle thanks everyone who submitted poems to its third poetry contest. Again, our judge was Yehoshua November.
Yehoshua November is the author of two collections of poetry, “God’s Optimism” (finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize) and “Two Worlds Exist” (finalist for the National Jewish Book Award and the Paterson Poetry Prize). Her work has been featured in The New York Times Magazine, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, The Sun, Virginia Quarterly Review, and on National Public Radio and the On Being’s Poetry Unbound podcast program. Here is a link to one of his poems analyzed on a recent episode of On Being.
Three winners were selected: “Freedom” by Cathleen Cohen; “Immigrant” by Daniel Shapiro; and “The One Word You Need…” by ae dickter.
Poets were invited to write on the theme of freedom. In addition to their poems posted below, each winning poet will receive a $54 gift card to Pinsker’s Judaica, courtesy of an anonymous donor for whose generosity we are grateful.
By Cathleen Cohen
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This year we lost an oak tree
to the disease that withers the grass,
leech sap from the trunks in drops of amber
until the court is whitened with green,
deep purple sienna
like the vital sap. lantern festival,
wither the willow that our neighbors have planted
when their daughter was born.
And we had storms,
dark, out of season, changeable
how we look at the sky
for signs. All this freedom
was given, choices
in the way of life.
Is the landscape playing
old stories, old lessons
that we forgot –
plagues, stormy waters,
virus, wars, emerald borers
in the ash trees?
Our neighbors wrap willow branches
with nets and adhesive tape
to trap the swarming nymphs.
We rush to help them.
By Daniel Shapiro
When Mae thinks of her homeland
it has the shape of a scarf
wrapped around his head. Once
she believed there was more
More than a way to set foot in freedom
and hands to dreams. The Old Country
and the Singer sewing machine
made his life tight.
Both gone, she wears scarves like dust.
Sam, part-time machinist
never took a rail pass;
“A waste – no time for fun,” she said
and walked beside him
back to the beet fields.
Horse sculpture for kids
he promised more than lice
on a fine comb, raw earth.
The only child born here
breathed blood. mae
returned to the fields
buried the child in a black sling;
the milk in her breasts, the unused dreams.
Now she breastfeeds at night. Survivor
with tightly shrinking scarves
under his chin.
The only word you need…
By ae dickter
I know a word in Ukrainian…
Taught me by my friend’s old mother
when I asked him to
please teach me some ukrainian words,
like please and thank you or hello and goodbye because
I remembered his homemade pickles and his borscht and
pierogis and stuffed cabbage and
black bread spread out in a feast and they
were as good as those of my Jewish grandmother…
As she waited to be placed in a “home” where
“my language” and no one knew
“my religion” and she could no longer access
“my church” and where she would have ample time to
remembering the destruction of his village
when the borders changed and the years of slavery
worker in Nazi Germany and
the death of a beloved baby from lack of medicine and
the family left behind and still in Ukraine and the
travel to a new country and learn yet another language and
start all over again and factory work and….
she replied with a single word:
Свобода / Svoboda / Freedom
It should have been his birthright
May his memory be for a blessing and may
the word rings out, loud and fast, these days… PJC