- Familiar Strangers
It is extraordinary that out of all the poets Clare suggested, I chose you. We have uncovered so many commonalities as Jewish women writers as well as striking differences, particularly in our views relating to the role of patriarchy in Judaism. This is from Beshert, a sonnet I wrote for you after the first time we talked:
two strangers, two women, two Jews, two liveshave traveled. Both alternately blessed and cursed,we chose to be like the swimmer who dives,will keep on diving until our lungs burst
with awe, with wisdom, with the precious airthat will renew our limbs, the aims we share.
When I first saw the description of your play, Rasa, I couldn't believe it as I feel like I've been living a futuristic life during the past year in my own efforts to have a baby, investigating IVF, IUI, and other acronyms. I thought it all very ancient and very biblical—trying to negotiate the desire for a child, with biological imperatives, adoption options, donor egg options and frozen blastocyst options. Sitting in a doctor's waiting room with other women waiting to get blood taken can be a cold, unsettling process—a woman can feel like her body is failing her, that she's not a woman because she cannot give birth, she can feel unfeminine as she is bloated with fertility drugs, and not sexual as she's been synchronizing sex with her ovulation cycle. [End Page 221] Where is my soul in all this? Why am I putting my body through this? What does it mean to have a child?
So I read about Rasa's plight with great interest—for it is a human story at heart that is full of humor, pathos and drama. Here is an excerpt from a prose poem I wrote during this time period:
From "Listening to Isabel Allende While Driving"
I am driving home from the fertility clinic where I've given blood and been entered a thousand times, the nurses my lovers now—I haven't shaved my legs in months since the injections started, four in the morning to be repeated at night at the same time each day, in the abdomen below the belly or in the thigh, someplace fleshy, Charlotte, my favorite nurse told me ...the doctor looks at the screen which shows the lining of my uterus, good it's exactly where it should be at 8 mm—a good soft cushion for us to implant the embryo—the doctor says for mature eggs I am doing so well—mature means old . . Dr. Something hugs me, without panties or mascara, me, 40 and scared, me who misses her mother . . .
Allende says in accented English, for language is bloody and I nod yes yes. . . I'm trying to remember everything about this, the shape of the bruise on my belly, the last time I made love and took pleasure in it. . . why the impulse to hold a child, to be a mother—how do you lose a child—how do you survive the morning, regret—how do you sit on a bench, any surface, without leaving it full of blood?
I loved your book, Yiddish Yoga. Ruthie's "voice" as a recently widowed Jewish grandmother is open, honest, loving, "hip," and funny. Were you trying to break the stereotype of the kvetching older Jewish woman?
The voice of Ruthie (originally named after my mother, Rachel, but my publisher was concerned that readers in Iowa wouldn't be able to pronounce the hard "ch" sound) came to me once after a long week. I had a freshly minted doctorate from the University of Chicago Divinity School but couldn't make ends meet as an adjunct professor, so I was teaching yoga classes. I was standing on my head and heard my mother, who had died years before, say, "For this you got a Ph.D., to stand on your head!" So my feisty fearless Ruthie was born.
Ruthie is inspired by own mother Rachel's pragmatic sensibility. My mother was born in British mandate Palestine in...