photo by Steven Parke

My daughter became a bat mitzvah a little over a week ago, and I can’t find the words to describe how I feel about it: about our weekly meetings with the rabbi, about our growth individually and as a family, about our incredible daughter (who tie-dyed her own tallit and braided its fringes and who still managed to pull straight As despite adding Hebrew lessons and rabbi visits to her busy music schedule and her creature maintenance), and about the party my mother threw to celebrate this simcha with mishpucha.

I’m not sure why all my revelations emerge as sentimentality rather than wisdom, as cliché rather than poetry. I seem to be mourning. Our Wednesdays with the rabbi were some of the most sacred and treasured hours I’ve had in years, and putting together 120 hand-made programs kept me focused on something other than my ailments and my dying dog and my lack of employment. When it’s all over, I find my bullies have been quietly building up arms and ammo against me. I am perched between kvelling and yelling, and my reflexes are sharp, despite my physical decrepitude.

I have nothing but this poem I stumbled through, verklempt, the Sunday my daughter became responsible for her own goodness, her godliness.

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rock mitzvah
(for Serena, with a nod to Frank O’Hara)

it was a quick trade: umbilical for patch cord
my baby for bay-beh bay-beh bay-beh.
thirteen meticulous whirls past the sun
and she knows her way around a fret pattern
even before she’s fingering the tallit’s fringe.
the years are but a filmy dream that wakes up amid
ancient tongue (we have nothing if not endurance)
tremulous melody, pomp, and splendor
when all I’ve done to date is sigh. bark. write.
she must have flown here on the Puca’s back
reckless brown tresses whipping in wind
alighting at the bimah like a new angel.

I don’t see the crumbs of morning toast
on nervous lips she bit to crimson
don’t hear a skip in her smooth recitations.
so do I mourn this loss of little girl
or squash the selfish pangs and celebrate—
with a very real laughter she’d be proud of—
the way she wears her prayer shawl like wings?

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