Four Poems

Rachel Barenblat

Path to Isolation
Photo Credit: Javier Kohen

First Night in Buenos Aires

Old political cartoons
punctuate the pink walls.
Our waiter wears black tie,
brings out dish after dish:

steaks the size of dinner plates
and homemade noodles
and lettuce with vinegar,
sweet onion on the side.

We cap the day
with bright limoncello
and a wobbly walk on cobblestones
like Europe, refracted.

By breakfast—coffee,
medialunas smeared with dulce,
watching the city wake
through wrought-iron doors—

two cells have collided
inside me, beginning
their long journey
into the wide world

and we set off on foot
to explore,
never dreaming
what adventures lie ahead.


New World Order

I slam on the brakes
and the crockery in the back seat
slides forward with a crash

unpacking the dishes
in my sister’s kitchen I weep
as though they mattered

the next day
a mental thread snags
on the calendar’s sharp edge

and I realize my body
is already at work
forming you

I choose grape juice
for my four cups of joy
not yet able to imagine

your squeals of delight
as I chant the fifteen steps
from kindling the candles

to singing Had Gadya,
the unfamiliar joys
of our newly-disordered lives



The taquería doubles as a car wash.
You’re asleep in the backseat
when we pull in. Sun glints
off of tinted Suburban windows.

Iced tea in a Styrofoam cup
too big for our rented cup-holders.
The flour tortillas are homemade
and the salsa tingles my tongue.

Next year we’ll sit at a Formica table
and cut a bean-and-cheese into wedges
your pudgy fingers can hold.
We’ll wipe your ecstatic face clean.

Now all we can do is rave quietly
about this dingy corner of heaven
and drive away, keeping secret
what sustenance remains in store.



The nurses taught us to pin and tuck
a thin blanket into a straitjacket

each night when bedtime arrived
your dad would kneel over you on the rug

now you sleep limp like an old rag doll
your twiga and your plush rabbit akimbo

but when you’re awake you push back
against baby gates and mountainous stairs

if I’ve chosen the wrong foods
or if I’m not paying enough attention

you scatter what’s on the tray
then glance at me sly and sideways

no, I don’t want to clean shells
and cheese off the kitchen floor, but

secretly I love to watch you
stretch your wings

you’re a chimera, half dad and half mom
and all you, from your furrowed brow

to your feet fighting to break forth
from the terrible tyranny of socks

claim your birthright and your blessing
unlock every strap and burst free


These poems are part of Rachel Barenblat’s as-yet-unpublished second book of poems, which has the working title Waiting to Unfold. Her first book-length collection of poems, 70 faces, was published by Phoenicia Publishing in January of last year. 70 faces is a collection of poems written in response to Torah. She is also author of four chapbooks of poetry, and her poems have appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, among them Phoebe, The Jewish Women’s Literary Annual, and The New Orleans Review. She holds an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars, and was ordained as a rabbi by ALEPH: the Alliance for Jewish Renewal. Today she serves a small congregation in North Adams; in her spare time she’s a contributing editor for Zeek, a Jewish journal of thought and culture. Rachel lives in western Massachusetts with her husband and their son. Email: rbarenblat[at]

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