“Miriam” by Rachel Barenblat (poem)

Herman, Bruce_Called
Bruce Herman (American, 1953–), Called, from the Woman series, 2007. Oil, alkyd resin, and 23k gold and silver leaf on wood, 58 3/4 × 48 3/4 in. Collection of Bjorn and Barbara Iwarsson, Lakeville, Minnesota.

My parents named me
    for the daughter of Amram
        and the Levite woman Yocheved:

prophetess with a timbrel
    who cast her baby brother
        on the mercies of the Nile.

Our name means Bitter Waters
    like the salt-encrusted sea
        into which the Jordan flows.

Or perhaps Sea of Myrrh—
    that sticky precious resin
        scenting the anointing oil

which Moshe once used
    to consecrate the Mishkan,
        the place where Presence dwelled.

My namesake had a well
    which followed the Israelites
        in all their wandering,*

a sweet spring in the desert
    bringing clarity to the heart
        of anyone who cupped their hands

and drank. Will I too
    be a wellspring of Torah,
        a source of living waters,

or will I stagnate here
    in this backwater town
        never hearing the voice of God?

* According to the Mishnah (Talmud, Taanit 9a), a well of fresh water miraculously followed Miriam, Moses’s sister, as she wandered with her people through the desert, providing a steady source of drink for all.

This poem was originally published in Annunciation: Sixteen Contemporary Poets Consider Mary, ed. Elizabeth Adams (Montreal: Phoenicia, 2015). Used by permission of the author.

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat is a longtime blogger at The Velveteen Rabbi and a cofounder of Bayit, a collective of clergy, liturgists, artists, and educators that develops and distributes online Judaism resources. She holds dual ordination as a rabbi and mashpi’ah (spiritual director) and since 2011 has served as spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Israel in North Adams, Massachusetts. She has an MFA in writing and literature from the Bennington Writing Seminars and is the author of six volumes of poetry, including 70 faces: Torah poems (Phoenicia Publishing, 2011) and Texts to the Holy (Ben Yehuda, 2018). Her work has appeared in Reform Judaism, The Wisdom DailyThe Forward, and anthologies such as The Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish American Poetry and The Women’s Seder Sourcebook. She has taught at Beyond Walls, a writing program for clergy of many faiths at the Kenyon Institute, and is currently serving as a visiting faculty at the Academy for Spiritual Formation.

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