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Bridges: A Jewish Feminist Journal 12.1 (2007) 35-40

from the Book of Miriam the Prophetess
Kazim Ali

1. the prayer at the river bank

this hand made hard by work & slavery has never
yet turned against its own blood.     this hand though
chattel has never murdered.     here at the edge
of the river     ankles choked with water-reeds &
eyes burning and

thirteen I am dripping with my first blood &
now my first murder.

        in the name of my blood
dropping to the river-bank & in the name of blood

let this small basket of my
brother sink like a stone and
the deep rush him to
death quickly [End Page 35]

oh let Miriam the slave-daughter of Hebrews walk
from this cold sacrifice into freedom.

let even the waves part to make way for us.

oh dear One let never again in the history of the world
a slave woman be at odds with the tide.

oh One of the rushing water
let never again in the history of slave-women
        the waters swallow up our babies.

2. the plagues

bat toothed & frog winged the pyramids remember
Joseph's dream.     seven years abundance.     seven
years famine.

seven times seven of wandering under the empty sky.

something's always falling out of the sky:

cockroaches hitting the stones like coconuts.
frogs slapping down with quiet burps.     manna & quail for heaven's sake.


I wait for the time our savior might rise up out of the good ground.
when the bush won't burn.     when the river won't bleed.

3. the river turns red

I had hoped to terrify
by our fierce & dreadful
miracles. [End Page 36] but my brother turned the river red &
the Queen's face flowered.

she leaned over & hissed
in Fir'aun's ear:

there. now your quarrel with
the Hebrew God is over.

let these people go.

even the Goddess of the Nile is giving you
her Sacred sign.

4. he came down from the mountain

I will take the stones in my small strong hands.

I will teach my brother to stammer out those words.

And I will try and try and try
to forget:

it was Fir'aun who first
said to us:

he that shall not live
by the law

        shall die

by the law.

5. the lament of Miriam the Prophetess

while he was on the mountain receiving God's ear
I was on the ground sweating in my toe-length robe,
the stretch of burlap & the back of my neck wet
under the badly tied hair. [End Page 37]

while he put aside his sandals to walk on sacred ground
I walked in mine through manure to pen the cows.     smelling
like a horse.     soothing thousands of anxious wanderers
who left their slave-homes to come where? here?

the holy desert of wandering?

& when he stood up & called manna down from the sky
I kneaded dough.     for hours.     to bake bread.
he brought the quail I tore off the feathers.     chopped
off each head.     squeezed the neck with my fist.     draining the blood.
he was so far away at the head of the column.     he never
seemed to notice we were getting older.     dying. I cleaned each
body.     shaved their heads.     clipped their nails. shrouded
them in sheets.     & covered them gently in sand.

those who came after might look at the mounds & know that Israel
came this way.     that Miriam lived.     that under each sand dune
was a forgotten Hebrew who stumbled towards her last end wanting
only such a small thing before her quiet death:

to hear God whispering in her ears the sure way home.

6. the Promise

this land is your Promise to the sky
which gave bread that you might
live.     on this place build a temple.
where exile will end & every wanderer
comes home.

let even Cain and all the condemned
come home.     let even Hagar &
Ishmael come home. [End Page 38]

7. Miriam remembers the last plague

oh Fir'aun.     after all these years lay...


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pp. 35-40
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2012
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