At Prayer

By Yehoshua November

And I saw what must have been a camp
for young female Jewish artists
carrying canvases and paints,
wading, in long skirts,
into a field past the community college library.
And when I looked up again from my reading,
they were praying in the high grass,
arms extended before their bodies,
prayer books held toward the sky.

*

In the final hour of daylight, young women
at the Jewish night college in Brooklyn
recite the Afternoon Service—
rocking back and forth in dim-lit stairwells, in alcoves,
in the aisles between library stacks,
in empty chemistry labs. A pause
between day job and evening class.
On their lips, prayers for a good marriage, an A
on an exam.

*

Once, at dawn, decades ago,
I slipped out the yeshiva side door,
descended the steps to the Wailing Wall,
and joined a quorum of men at prayer.
From the room where Bibles and prayer books
are stored when rain cascades
on the Western Wall Plaza,
we could hear a woman’s weeping.
How uncomfortable
her true faith made us feel.

 

 

Yehoshua November is the author of two poetry collections, Two Worlds Exist (a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award and the Paterson Poetry Prize) and God’s Optimism (a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize). November teaches writing at Rutgers University and Touro College.

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