Riffing with My Daughters after the Sharansky-Douglas Show

This poem came about after hearing Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident who spent nine years in jail, and Michael Douglas, the American movie star, speak recently about their Jewish pasts. Anti-Israel students were shouting outside the hall at Brown University, trying to drown out their conversation. My daughters and I were talking at home afterwards; the poem unfolded a week or two later.

Riffing with My Daughters after the Sharansky-Douglas Show

One evening after seeing Natan Sharansky,
I was telling my girls who he was when he was
famous, brilliant, mythic, admired.
We were drinking tea, it was late.

But the excitement of the day – rushing
towards an illegal spot, jostling the crowd,
seeing Michael Douglas – a thrill even if it
was a bit of a horse and pony show –

must have made me ditzy. Not to mention
the absurdity of protests– a couple of old
Jews sitting around kibitzing?
Police with guns had been called in.

So I told them, When Natan was finally released
from prison, about to board a plane,
he sat down, refusing to move.
The Soviets wouldn’t give him back his book of palms.

Palms? I’d been mixing up words a lot.
We howled. I’d meant psalms, ones that he’d
read over and over during those nine dark
years of being a refusnik.

We laughed harder about my
mistake, knowing that the book he’d held in his hands
had become part of his body, the front and back
covers like left and right hand.

Or the reverse: his thin body had become part
of the book. Open-hearted, open-palmed like an
eternal harp song.   He’d become free;
prison was merely an encumbrance.

Mandelshtam wrote, You left me my lips,
and they shape words, even in silence.

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One Response to Riffing with My Daughters after the Sharansky-Douglas Show

  1. Tom D'Evelyn says:

    Wow! Here I am studying T S Eliot and Jill does this amazing thing with words. Dazzling!

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