Poem That Begins With a Prayer by the 14th-Century Hebrew Author and Translator Qalonymos ben Qalonymos

Poem That Begins With a Prayer by the 14th-Century Hebrew Author and Translator Qalonymos ben Qalonymos

Poem That Begins With a Prayer by the 14th-Century Hebrew Author and Translator Qalonymos ben Qalonymos

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A weekly poem, read by the author.
July 18 2001 3:00 AM

Poem That Begins With a Prayer by the 14th-Century Hebrew Author and Translator Qalonymos ben Qalonymos

Our Father in Heaven!
You who did miracles to our fathers
by fire and water; you who turned
the furnace in Ur of the Chaldees
cold to stop it from burning Abraham;
you who turned Dinah in her mother's womb into a girl;
you who turned the rod of Moses into a serpent
in front of tens of thousands;
you who turned Moses' pure arm into a leper's white arm;
you who turned the Red Sea into land,
and the sea floor into solid and dried-up earth;
you who turned rock into lake, cliff into fountain—
if only you would turn me
from male to female! If only
I were worthy of this grace of yours,
I could have long been the lady
of flower and fern, cup and bowl.
I could have been grace instead of hulk,
necklace instead of knot at the neck.
I could have listened far down the dark
corridor of a dictator's heart
and heard the faint beating of a wing
in the secret room there.
I could have been surprise instead of routine
aboard a commuter train.
The age of miracles has passed. Heaven
is an armed compound at the end
of a private road through woods
where trees have ears, stones eyes. Human
ingenuity turns skin into soap.
My whole being could have flown into the grain
of the wood floor and returned
with advice on how to bear
the weight of angry and sad men.
I could have been a tall secret
in the company of federal agents.
The hours are empty cabinets
because I have not been blown
into the shape of goblet or vase.
I could have been glamorous
instead of brawny, boastful, dangerous, dumb.
I could have been pool rather than falls,
moss rather than bark, but I think I would not
have favored being the target
a swift, feathered arrow seeks.
Because I am commanded to,
every morning after I've soaped and rinsed
my defect, I meekly say, Blessed art Thou
who did not make me a woman.
I could have been tranquil instead of rattle and roar.

Richard Chess is director of the Center for Jewish Studies at the University of North Carolina-Asheville. He is the author of Chair in the Desert and Tekiah.