Challah

POETRY

By MICHAEL JACKMAN

My wife bakes well, with moments of excellence. Her
feet are as high-arched as the St. Louis landmark. These arches have eroded
several pairs of Birkenstocks into flat, smelly pancakes.
She believes in whole wheat and dense, esoteric grains
like kasha, barley, spelt, bulgar and quinoa. They should also be organic,
a word that whole grains people speak with reverence.
These grains often appear in our meals, giving our dishes
texture and weightiness, and sometimes explosive gases.

Friday afternoon wanes. The Sabbath approaches. Time for
frum, liberal, organic Jewish wives to light the oven
for the last time before Shabbos, transform
water, yeast, eggs and organic whole wheat
flour into two holy, braided loaves.

This includes wives who have traded Birkenstocks for office-
appropriate open toed sandals, and given up
dreams of acres, organic farms and large,
slobbering, romping dogs for an apartment
with small cats and a rented 10-x-20-foot community garden.
Tomatoes, strawberries, corn, cucumbers,
squash, chile peppers and other ethnicities crowd
this ghetto of soil. There are racial tensions.
Identities and roots are confused.
My wife’s baked squash is delicious.
She earns her dough in an office where she
is an ingredient not particularly wanted. Her job is sour dough.
Somewhere she took that path that led
to swollen ankles kneading nervously under a metal desk.
Jets landing at Louisville airport rattle her sanity.

She’s quitting. She has said this for a sabbatical
of years. This job has turned her somewhat half-baked.

Who has energy these days
for burying hands up to wrists in holy, sticky, floury mud, kneading
it to a light cake of egg bread? Who has time
to roll out the doughy snakes and braid them into lovers?

My wife’s weight has also risen this past year.
This I blame not on bread, but on prescriptions necessary to calm
a body sitting in a chair, listening to jets land
and engineers complain.

So the workweek is done, again. It’s time to twine the holy
caduceus of braids. Place Challah still hot
under its cover, to be lifted after candles, wine and washing,
to greet us with egg-washed shine
as we break it to sanctify Shabbos. This week,
store-bought Challah will praise the God who
brings forth bread from the earth, sanctifies us with
a day of rest from labors.

Michael Jackman is a lecturer in writing at Indiana University Southeast, where he teaches creative writing and other writing courses. He is also director of the Writers Workshop Project. Originally from New York, he is pleased to at last be a “New Southerner.”


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