Poem | The Hidden

By | Sep 14, 2023
Arts & Culture, Fall 2023

Poetry can do more than make claims; it can enact the movement from bewilderment toward insight while leaving the great mysteries intact. Its “arguments” are impossible to paraphrase, carrying us from image to image with the logic of a dream. In this poem, Marcela Sulak explores nothing less than the nature of the sacred, asking which aspects have been hidden—or lost—in our spiritual practice as Jews. The inquiry begins at the site of Israel’s thousand-year-old terebinth or “God tree” (often associated with the Canaanite goddess Asherah), shifts to a conversation in a Tel Aviv garden, and then to a near-calamitous childhood encounter with hiddenness. It ends with a lament…or simply a prayer.
Jody Bolz, Poetry Editor


The terebinth tree
in the Arava
is at least a thousand
years old,
as was
her mother before
The springs
that fed her have
dried by now, but once
they were called Tamar,
for the palms of the desert
Here Abram
departed, and here
he returned, carrying
a baggage claim
tied to his name,
And that tree
is thick and curled like vines
from its ancient race for sunlight.
Time so true, so thick, we
are sick with it.

In the community garden
in Tel Aviv I am telling Benny
about the tree. I am planting
a vine cutting
from an ancient
source. It is evening
in the garden:
a red-tailed hawk, lifting
and setting down his talons,
pulling snakes
out of the ground. A jackal
and an owl.
Benny doesn’t
call it God. Benny says,
Something’s there,
but it is us.
He means us all;
we must be kind, we
must be the vine and
the net and the grape. It
doesn’t exist

My brother once spent
an entire rice harvest
trying to catch an egret
by the feet.
He’d crawled unseen
beneath the stubble
covered with straw.
My father
had stopped his combine
and given him a what-for.
He might have been
run over by a tractor.

My brother calls that proof
his plan would have worked.
That summer
our father’s combine header
caught one deer, one egret,
too many snakes to count.

Here on earth, the oaks
and terebinth,
wood and stick,
the hills that Hosea
and Isaiah lament,
the vines and figs
are marking the places
God was also
hidden in the usual
language for women
who once
had other names.

Marcela Sulak, a poet and translator, directs the Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Bar-Ilan University. She is the author of the lyric memoir Mouth Full of Seeds and several poetry collections, most recently City of Sky Papers, a National Jewish Book Awards finalist.

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Opening picture: Terebinth tree. Photo credit: Eitan Ferman, Wikimedia Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)

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