From My Bookshelf: Rachel Mennies’s Jewish Poems

290_glad handMy online path recently crossed that of poet Rachel Mennies, and how glad I am that it did. Soon enough, I was immersed in Mennies’s debut full-length poetry collection, The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards. The book was published this year as the winning manuscript in the Walt McDonald First-Book Series in Poetry, housed at Texas Tech University Press.

Here, in part, is how ImageUpdate has described the collection:

Rachel Mennies’s first collection is a powerful lyric account of a woman’s search for self through her relationship to God, Judaism, and history. These carefully-shaped poems arrest the reader with startling imagery and sound. With a compelling voice that is at once anguished and utterly composed, these poems ask: how does one reconcile one’s personal faith and struggles with those of one’s ancestors? And how, within the context of this history, does one come to terms with a God of witness and mercy?

But, wait–there’s more. I’m so grateful to Mennies for the permission to publish this sample from the book:

How to Make a Jewish Poem

What makes this poem Jewish? Nobody’s
blessed it yet. Nobody’s named it,
named it again in Hebrew, put the name
on a Kiddush cup, filled that cup
with wine purple as a bruise.

Who’s going to march it
up and down the aisles,
dress and undress it
like a newborn at the altar,
kiss the book that taps it
from the pews?

Where are the bobby pins to stick
the lace to this poem’s crown, cover
its head on the Sabbath? Where’s
this poem’s sense of ritual? Its litany
of tics, its love of counting?

Let’s call this poem Rivka, Also,
Becky. Also, Rose, an ancient
relative this stanza’s never met.
Let’s yoke it to the ox of rules.
Let’s light a candle after dark.

smash a glass under its husband’s foot,
circumcise its wailing, red-faced
sons, watch it multiply
into a book (some poems
will remember, some
will not)—sit shivah
for its passing once
it ends.

Intrigued? You can find out much more about this poem, and the others in her book, in this interview with Rachel Mennies.

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