"Betrayal by the Beloved" by Alicia Ostriker.

"Betrayal by the Beloved"

"Betrayal by the Beloved"

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A weekly poem, read by the author.
July 24 2012 6:15 AM

"Betrayal by the Beloved"


Image courtesy Ann Walston.

Click the arrow on the audio player to hear Alicia Ostriker read this poem. You can also download the recording or subscribe to Slate's Poetry Podcast on iTunes.      


            For J.V. Cunningham


To you it is a sudden betrayal
            when the beloved frowns
            pushes you away like a fatty meal

you are unaware you breathe too heavily
            you embrace too sincerely
            your fingers to the beloved are prison bars

the beloved’s hatred of you has grown mature
            it has been preparing for many years
            underground like locusts

it gathers to a greatness like the ooze of oil
When our sophomore
            English professor read


that Gerard Manly Hopkins poem
            in his alcoholic voice
            of electricity and honey

we swooned but he leaned forward over
            his April desk half-smiling
            and said "You’ll get over it."

To be betrayed by the beloved
            is an education in itself or if it is
            a poem it is a haiku it gathers

to a greatness and utters itself
            against your fleshy imperfection
            in a few perfect airy words

like an epic it crushes
            like satire it instructs
            it is like an epigram piercing.

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Alicia Ostriker’s 14th collection of poetry is The Book of Life: Selected Jewish Poems 1979-2011. She has twice been a finalist for a National Book Award, and has received the William Carlos Williams Award and the National Jewish Book Award in Poetry. Her critical work includes several books on American poetry and on the Bible. She is Professor Emerita of Rutgers University.