Naomi Benaron - "The Language of Water"
Written by
Khadijah Queen
April 2011
Written by
Khadijah Queen
April 2011

Naomi Benaron - "The Language of Water" from her unpublished chapbook The Bones by Which We Stand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:

Links to other poems:

Let's be friends

The Women Behind She Writes

519 articles
12 articles

Featured Members (7)

123 articles
392 articles
54 articles
60 articles

Featured Groups (7)

Trending Articles

  • Khadijah Queen

    @tinamarie: yes, she is Jewish. Her mother survived the Holocaust.

    & you're welcome!

  • Tinamarie Bernard

    Oh, this is divine. I take it the author is Jewish? Such rich imagery. Thank you for sharing.

  • lovely poem... great images, strong voice