Naomi Benaron - "The Language of Water" from her unpublished chapbook The Bones by Which We Stand
Aside from being a celebrated and virtuosic prose writer, Naomi Benaron is an accomplished poet who delivers a deep sense of awareness and social conscience in her work. She manages to make sweeping and beautiful the most painful of subjects, rendering cinematically the best and worst of the human condition and the legacies of the past. And, as in the following poem, she shows how memory can serve as an unflinching mirror for the travails of the present.
The Language of Water
Because my father’s grandfather did
not know his name he became a body
of water floating like a cloud
above the swan’s head of the Black Sea.
Twenty years of wars and only the word
Jew in his heart, he walked to a place
of tall grass swept with the broom of the wind
and took the name of the sea, Azov, for his own.
Because my mother was conceived from the flame
of a Yahrzeit candle, the hum of the Kaddish in her ears,
she was born with fire under her fingernails,
her dead brother’s name singing in her heart.
In her mother’s womb she learned to sleep
with the sway of a horse-drawn wagon, the fever
of loss and flight. It would not be the last of either.
Behind her, the first Great War boiled like a furious sea.
The brother she would never know slept
in the earth. Her grandmother slept
on the living room floor in a lake of blood,
the dent of her Shabbas candlestick in her skull.
Because I was born speaking the language of water
Because I was born swallowing flame
I am destined to dig on my knees in the earth
seeking the world’s veined taproot, its tender viscera.
There are too many wars and there is too much
suffering to hold in my hands. Too much death.
I was even afraid to hold my mother when she died.
And to think! I could have soothed her fever with the sea.
Link to a recent interview: http://storiesonstagesacramento.wordpress.com/2011/03/15/dorine-jen...
Links to other poems: http://protestpoemsdotorg.blogspot.com/2008/11/naomi-benaron.html