As I’ve mentioned, most of the poems in Unfinished City began as responses to the parashot, the weekly portions into which Jews divide the first five books of the Bible. It’s easy to see where some of them came from—the two poems titled “Abraham and Isaac” respond to the binding of Isaac from Vayeira (Genesis 18-22), for example. The origins of others, however, have become obscure even to me. Going back over old drafts, I was surprised to find that I wrote this poem, “Egg,” in in response to the verse in this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Vayechi, in which the dying Israel (Jacob) blesses the sons of Joseph.
There’s nothing particularly Biblical-sounding about this poem, with its kitchen table, bowl and egg to be cracked. The speaker sounds a little weary to me, tired of “endless/weekly cartons of eggs like brittle heads.” Yet I am sure that I was thinking of Israel’s amazed words to his son, Joseph, whom he had once thought dead: “I never expected to see your face again, and now God has let me see your children too” (Genesis 48:11). Like Israel, the speaker of the poem is a parent, to whom a child is always a kind of miracle. And her subject is a child whose attention makes an ordinary task new again.
A child stands at the table to watch
the raw egg fall from its just-cracked shell.
She will beg to crack the egg herself,
then strike the bowl too lightly or too hard.
She has not yet seen hundreds of golden yolks
robed in glossy albumen, or endless
weekly cartons of eggs like brittle heads;
is not yet someone who doesn’t thrill
to the shell rending, or who expertly
strikes the bowl with it, parts the crack
with delicate fingers. Only this child, this moment,
reaches for this breaking egg, this morning.
This poem, which will appear in my forthcoming collection, Unfinished City, received a 2005 Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Award and was first published in an anthology, Lounge Lit, which collected Los Angeles poets who had read at the late, great reading series Rhapsodomancy, at the Good Luck Bar in Los Feliz. Thanks to the organizers and anthology editors, Tess. Lotta, Wendy C. Ortiz, and Andrea Quaid.