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Finding Words

“My hope is that by finding words for myself, I can help my readers find the words that unlock their own mute longing and struggle for meaning.”

–Merle Feld

Advance Praise for Finding Words

“Merle Feld’s Finding Words is a book of memory and desire, neediness and hopefulness, elegies for loved ones lost, celebration of moments of joy and love, scrupulous self-examination. I am gripped by Feld’s honesty, and by her precise nailing of ‘the little obsessions that sink their teeth in / and mercilessly shake us, impervious / to our whimpering and begging Let me go.’ These poems didn’t let me go, either—they held me captive like the stories of my own life.”
—Alicia Ostriker, author of The Book of Seventy

“You read Merle Feld’s poems and wonder: Has this woman been alive for a thousand years? How can she know so much, contain so much? How can she continuously pierce my soul with these words she has found?”
—Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, author of Kabbalah: A Love Story and I’m God; You’re Not

“These poems pour from the heart…. With wisdom and grace, Merle Feld reports about life from the edges of her senses and intelligence.”
—Anita Diamant, author of The Red Tent and Day After Night

“Merle Feld's Finding Words is really a book about finding people. Her poems are filled with evidence of a caring heart, a great sensitivity to the nuances of personal connections… This is poetry to be savored, not just read. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.”
—Rabbi Arthur Green, author of Radical Judaism and Ehyeh: A Kabbalah for Tomorrow

Book critic Sandee Brawarsky recommends Merle Feld’s poetry

Merle Feld’s poems are intimate stories. She writes lyrically, profoundly, memorably about her own life and sensibilities.

Her new book, Finding Words (URJ Press), includes more than 50 poems, most no longer than a page, about home, family, friendship and memory. In “Alone,” she writes about the parade of people she had loved: “walking down a long corridor/for the final boarding call, each/turning briefly to wave at me/one last time before/disappearing from sight.” Death and loss are familiar themes, but these are poetic works that affirm life.

Feld’s knowledge of Jewish texts and ritual flows naturally through the poems. She’s a searcher, looking for her own voice and her own place, always seeking to deepen her connections. Many will identify with the struggles she describes–to balance commitments, to live with wisdom and compassion, to take care of and be true to herself.

An ongoing theme is the process of finding words and finding meaning. And, she listens with care. She writes, in “Remember Me,” “I prefer you remember/the timbre of my voice/how it comes filtered/through the sounds of stoopball/and Brooklyn corner candy stores; how fiercely I listen/my head cocked to one side, how readily I open the storehouse of my undistracted attention.” And, she appreciates silence.

Readers may recognize a relative like “Aunt Julie in the Doorway” and will appreciate how Feld so well understands the woman’s yearnings. Some of the poems feel prayerful—I confess to tucking this slim volume into my siddur and reading in shul…

A beautiful gift for family and friends of all faiths.

The walk

We are walking together around the pond,
a mild morning in early spring, and the walk
is muddy in places but that doesn’t matter
because the air is kind and alive and we are alive,
enjoying an opportunity for conversation.

How is Hannah? I ask, and she gives me a few
perfunctory words about her daughter,
then politely moves the conversation on to me,
but I know better and ask again. This time
she accepts and opens and tells and soon

her face is distorted, full of color
as she chokes back tears and continues
to talk and walk, then finally, crying,
sobbing, turns and plaintively asks, How many
times does my heart have to break

—you know, like when you’re in labor,
you want to know how much more of this
will there be, how do I pace myself—and I
surprise her with an actual estimate, I’d say
you’re six or seven centimeters dilated now.

And she stops crying and her eyes widen
and she wants to know more—how did I
calculate that—and I respond that slowly, imperceptibly,
the balance shifts and it’s time for you to put down
the weight of responsibility so they can pick it up,

and it’s not that you stop caring and worrying
and hurting for them, but finally, the burden
of making their choices is not yours anymore,
nor the torment that whatever you chose
was a bad choice, the wrong choice, and the anguish

that you are a bad mother, the wrong mother—
it can subside, it should. Now I stop walking
and she stops walking, I look in her eyes and help her
remember all she’s done to nurture this child,
all the hard good work, all the gifts of love,

and I give her a word, grief, and she’s so grateful—
yes, grief, that’s the word—grief that time is passing,
grief that the golden years of baby and little girl
are gone, grief that mistakes have been made,
grief that she is no longer a young mother.

Grief, yes, it’s a word with dignity and gravity,
a word that befits this moment, a word that’s worthy.
Now as we walk she repeats what I have said
and I repeat what I have said and we are both
grateful for the pond and the walk, for all of it.

The carousel
for Milton, 1910-1989

And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him
in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush,
and he looked, and behold, the bush burned
with fire, and the bush was not consumed.
Exodus 3:2

I feel such sorrow to realize only now
the significance of my father waving
as I came around on the carousel,

time and again, each time I made my circuit
on the carousel—ten times? fifteen? twenty?
Sunday morning after Sunday morning,

each time, the smile and wave
that answered
my smile and wave.

Didn’t it mean I love you,
didn’t it mean we are connected,
I know this girl, she is mine

Yes, the large girl with the thick auburn braids,
I acknowledge her, she is mine—
in public, I acknowledge her.

How did I not see,
the wind on my face,
the sentimental tinny music in my ear—

how did I not see
it signifies
he loves me?

© Merle Feld, Finding Words URJ Press 2011