behind the mechitza by Claire Schwartz


my mama tells me i have always loved women
who cover themselves, who shave their heads
and save their money until they can afford
human hair. say eruv, and i will hold you on my back,
say back, and i will see you hunched
beneath your negev. i have a hunch that the killers
are my cousins. you have been chosen
to carry the heaviest thing. does it matter
whose limbs i unzip from mine
in the morning so long as i have teeth to face
the day? my great-grandmother had a gummy smile
like you wouldn’t believe. her belief was no joke.
my grandmother had a farm. she raised us.
she learned english, loved the word sheep best. i can hide
behind indefinite number. i hold all my mothers
in my chest. at night my ribs chatter
like the women in shul. try sleeping like that.
i try to count sheep, but they storm the fence.
the day i learned you can drown by drinking
too much water, i cried like i wanted to make something grow
in a desert. no one knows where negev comes from, it appears
to be part of a cluster of roots: to make hollow,
to cut off, to dig. there are so many hands on my blood,
my family, my killers for land—
sanguineous women, take my hand,
holy as i will be, possessed as i am.


Claire Schwartz is a PhD candidate in African American Studies, American Studies, and Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies at Yale. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Cream City Review, Front Porch Journal, PMS: poemmemoirstory, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere, and her essays in Appendix, Electric Literature, and International Review of African American Art. She is working on a collection of interviews with ten contemporary black american women poets.