©Elisa Salasin, 2010

The house is quiet tonight:
everyone is ready; the waiting begins.
Mother lights the blue candles
perched in the sterling candlesticks.
Her head covered, in Hebrew she recites
the blessing her mother, Rebecca – Rifka –
my namesake, taught her decades ago;
I wait, squirming from foot to foot, inhaling
the magic of my mother’s chicken
slowly simmering in the cast iron pot,
wafting smells of tomatoes and onions –
the gedempte chicken, the chicken
of immigrant women.

My mother, tired, has rushed home from work,
rituals to perform before the sun sets over our valley
on this and every Friday night.  She has removed
her apron; my father has shaved and wears
his best tie;  I have washed my face and brushed
my long, dark curls.  Our white pottery plates
stand ready; the chicken calls.

Now on foreign shores — Tashkent, Vilnius, Cairo,
Dushambe, Quom — lands where I have traveled,
where other mothers pray, I eat alone
on Friday nights, deaf to synogogues’ songs,
while only memories simmer.

©Ruby Bernstein, 2010

Ruby Bernstein, BAWP ’74, has been a volunteer teacher in Lithuania, Slovakia, Pakistan,
and Iran.  After a career in Mt. Diablo Unified School District high schools and as an adjunct
at Laney College, Oakland, she swears she has retired for good.  Her professional library and
lesson plans she will gladly give to recent English teachers.  Contact her at rubita7@sbcglobal.net.

10 Responses to “Ritual by Ruby Bernstein”

  1. jane juska Says:

    Terrific! I see a new career ahead for you.

    1. John Levine Says:

      Beautiful. And sad. And so evocative: “the magic of my mother’s chicken.”
      Thank you.

  2. Chris Harnish Says:

    So much is evoked with so few words; the distant and magical memories, the desolate present without the rituals of your mother that never fit your life.


  3. Fran Claggett Says:

    Lovely poem, Ruby. Poignant, evocative, sad but filled with quiet remembered joy. (I didn’t know you had taught in all those countries!)

    1. Chris Harnish Says:

      I didn’t know you had taught i all those countries either.

    2. Ruby Bernstein Says:

      Hi, Fran,

      It’s been a long time. Appreciate your comments on my poem.

  4. David Silva Says:

    What a lovely poem. The last stanza really packs an emotional punch, after having set a tranquil domestic scene.

    1. Ruby Bernstein Says:

      Thanks for your comment, David.

      Ruby B

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