The Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle thanks all those who submitted poems to its third poetry contest. Once again, our judge was Yehoshua November.
Yehoshua November is the author of two poetry collections, “God’s Optimism” (a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize) and “Two Worlds Exist” (a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award and the Paterson Poetry Prize). His work has been featured in The New York Times Magazine, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, The Sun, Virginia Quarterly Review, and on National Public Radio and On Being’s Poetry Unbound podcast program. Here is a link to one of his poems analyzed on a recent episode of On Being.
Three winners were selected: “Freedom” by Cathleen Cohen; “Immigrant” by Daniel Shapiro; and “The only word you need…” by a.e. dickter.
Poets were asked to write on the theme of freedom. In addition to their poems being published below, each winning poet will receive a $54 gift card to Pinsker’s Judaica, courtesy of an anonymous donor for whose generosity we are grateful.
By Cathleen Cohen
This year we lost an oak
to illness that withered the grasses,
leeched sap from trunks in amber drops
until the yard was bleached of green,
deep sienna and crimson
like lifeblood. Lantern flies feast,
wilt the willow our neighbors planted
when their daughter was born.
And we’ve had storms,
dark, out of season, changing
how we watch the sky
for signs. All this freedom
was given, choices
in how to live.
Is landscape enacting
old stories, old lessons
that we’ve forgotten –
plagues, storming waters,
viruses, wars, emerald borers
in the ash trees?
Our neighbors wrap willow branches
with nets and tape
to trap swarming nymphs.
We rush to help them.
By Daniel Shapiro
When Mae thinks of her homeland
it is in the shape of a scarf
wrapped around her head. Once
she believed there was more
than one way to give feet to freedom
and hands to dreams. The Old Country
and the Singer sewing machine
made her life tight.
Both gone, she wears scarves like dust.
Sam, part-time machinist
never took rail-way passes;
“A waste – no time for pleasure,” she said
and walked beside him
back into the beet fields.
Carving horses for the children
he promised more than lice
on a fine-tooth comb, the raw earth.
The only child born here
breathed blood. Mae
went back to the fields
buried the child in a black scarf;
the milk in her breasts, the unused dreams.
Now she nurses the night. Survivor
with shrinking scarves pulled tight
under her chin.
The only word you need…
By a.e. dickter
I know one word in Ukrainian …
Taught to me by my friend’s aged mother
when I asked her to
please teach me some Ukrainian words,
such as please and thank you or hello and good-bye because
I remembered her homemade pickles and borscht and
pierogis and stuffed cabbage and
the black bread spread out in a feast and they
were as good as my Jewish grandmother’s …
As she waited for placement in a “home” where
no one knew
“my language” and no one knew
“my religion” and she could no longer get to
“my church” and where she would have ample time to
remember the destruction of her village
when borders changed and the years as a slave
laborer in Nazi Germany and the
death of a beloved baby from lack of medicine and
the family left behind and still in Ukraine and the
trip to a new land and learning yet another language and
starting all over again and the factory work and ….
she answered with a single word:
Свобода / Svoboda / Freedom
It should have been her birthright
May her memory be for a blessing and may
the word ring out, loudly and speedily, in our day … PJC