The Poem I Read for JCC East Bay's Passover Sedar (+ notes & context)

I was deeply grateful to present words at the JCC East Bay’s Passover Sedar on 4/19. As a non-Jew, this opportunity allowed me to delve into the story of Passover with beginner’s eyes, write through the experience of Exodus for the first time, and interpret new, expansive possibilities of liberation.

Since I do not intend to appropriate the struggle of slavery, Exodus, and diaspora, as this is not a part of my ancestral history, I decided instead to experiment with a form that I often associate with Jewish texts and traditions: the existential approach, and dialectical practice, of resolving a challenge through questioning.

The practice of asking questions is so central to the Sedar - everyone can enter through this accessible frame for the first or 60th time, just as during Passover, everyone is invited to enter the home to celebrate this night which is different than all other nights. By framing the story of Passover through the four questions, those who know the story will re-learn and re-celebrate liberation as they do every year, and those who do not know why this night is different than all other nights will discover, and experience, the origin and meaning of Passover for the first time.

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For this Sedar, I hid 6 numbered cards underneath random Sedar plates. These cards included the following questions:

  • In just one word…how do you envision entrapment?

  • In just one word…how do you envision expansion?

  • In just one word…how do you envision entrapment within yourself?

  • In just one word…how do you envision expansion within yourself?

  • In just one word…how do you envision entrapment outside of yourself?

  • In just one word…how do you envision expansion outside of yourself?

Following this order, I asked those who received a card to share their word. I wish I could have remembered them, or written them down, or maybe it’s better to keep these answers private. Everyone was invited to mediate on these questions with their tables.

Then, I read this poem I wrote specifically for the evening:

Have I Resigned to Fate?

i.

have i resigned to fate:

a vine clasping my throat

a breath trapped under

the tightened bones

of my chest

escaping from a point of

tender, paralyzing

narrowness?

ii.

have i resigned to

endlessly turning over

in stimulated sleep

forgetting what remains

within my control

other than silence?

the cold rain never seems to end

a river flows through

my empty hands

a plane takes off between my ears

& this familiar, hypnotic repetition

alludes to something deeper,

the same body of water

coursing through every valley

& language

you forgot

you knew

iii.

i’ve been awake for days

on the periphery of fear,

a fraction of what it means

to be broken,

a dark tunnel

where a light flickers

at the end

& a spiral uncoils

until finally

nothing at all

nothing but

a voiceless ether

leaving my body -

would you call that a miracle

you can’t perceive

or explain? it’s only natural

to consider

what else we could build

in place of the current course,

recurrent moonlight,

our formless shapes moving

through a pinhole

iv.

have i resigned to fate

a jagged slope

eventually taking

the form of hands

calloused

from unraveling

scrolls

carving olam

into mudbrick?

is my spirit trapped in a well

is history trapped in

the final question

of spirit,

a vibrational pull

experienced

on a cosmic scale

unseen & untouched

yet still continuous,

somehow,

wholly intuited?

v.

how will i know if i’ve resigned to

fate disappearing from

everyone’s grasp

but belonging, eternally,

to everyone’s hands,

if it would have been enough

to gut the walls of our house,

for a deep, prolonged breath

to rise from our bellies

& fill our chests

if it would have been enough

to survive the cold, roaring ocean

parting our lips

enough

to carve olam in mud

& answer

the bitter question

Notes on Process:

Recalling a personal narrative of entrapment, I wrote through a recent struggle during which I felt so trapped that I kept asking myself: Is this my fate? Have I resigned completely to this fate? Am I trapped here forever? - a troubling series of questions with no possible answer - no perceivable escape. I borrowed language and concepts from the Haggadah and the Book of Exodus, and drew upon my own story, in order to weave together internal and external questions of oppression and liberation - or entrapment and expansion, as I framed it here.

The end result is my own story of Exodus, and I was humbled by the opportunity to share it with a warm crowd of people - most of whom I didn’t know! - in a format which was completely new to me.

***

Thanks to Rabbi Becky Joseph, Sarah Wolfman-Robichaud, and everyone else who helped curate this special evening. My day job has never intersected with my art practice but I’m so glad it happened!

PS, No pictures were taken as it was Shabbat.

 

MANICO-MELANCHOLICUS: EARTH STANDS STILL FOREVER

Here is the sound / video collage I showed at Bath House last night.

I love working in collage because of the form’s history in feminist / DIY / activist art-making. The appropriation / transformation / détournement of found sound and video is an inherently subversive, rebellious act against “precious” objects and bourgeois art practices. Collage reclaims the image recuperated from the underground and brings it back to the underground. I want to make art with very little start-up cost. The end result of this piece is mine, and I made it for all my suffering bitchez.

The piece is hallucinatory, experiential, and atmospheric. Of course, I think it’s meant for a big screen and big speakers in a crowded dark room with your friends and comrades, but I am also interested in how the experience might take place on your phone, during your lunch break, among the hustle and bustle of everyday waking life.