Comments by Rhonda Douglas
I mean, there’s no way this poem could not have been short-listed. Leah Horlick’s beguiling poem uses a contemporary voice to riff on the imagined story behind Chagall’s famous flying couple. So evocative of your everyday shtetl, so well shaped, and all that. I swear, this poem helps us see what we might have missed, that first time we saw the Chagall.
Couple Flying Over Village
“Do you want to go away from here with me? We’ll be together days and nights at a time. Your father won’t be there, nor your mother… Nobody’ll scold you… or beat you. . .We’ll be all by ourselves… For days at a time… We’ll be so happy. What do you say, Rifkele?”
–Manke to Rifkele, Act III, “God of Vengeance” by Sholem Asch
I mean, there must have been so many
daughters. All these women braiding
everything in sight while their husbands write
from Kiev, write from Lvov, or, you know—
never call, never write. Scores of
Sheyne-Sheyndels-in-waiting. I mean,
it must have been very dark, and very
quiet, at night. And with all the men
in a field, in the back room, or better yet—
studying ten hours a day. Someone sneaks
down into the brothel, into the cellar, goes out
into the rain in her nightgown. She’s just taking a bath.
She’s just washing her hair.
I mean, there’s no way
everyone had a dowry. And the rabbis mostly agreed—you could even
still marry a rabbi. Whither thou goest
and all that. Your people will be my people,
I swear, holding up a little light
behind the towns
like a lantern, drifting over all the tiny
houses—a red roof, a blue window, trying to
see what we must have missed.
Leah Horlick is the author of two books: Riot Lung (Thistledown Press, 2012), and For Your Own Good (Caitlin Press, 2015), a 2016 Stonewall Honor Title. She lives on unceded Coast Salish territories in Vancouver.