Sarah Mathes and Erika Meitner are award-winning American poets who notably explore Jewish themes in their work. The poems presented below are thoughtful jumping-off points to discuss the Passover holiday, the Exodus from Egypt and anything else that comes up at the seder table.

Mathes and Meitner will be reading together at Porter Square Books in Cambridge on Tuesday, April 12, at 7 p.m.

“The Burning Bush is a Blackberry Bush”
By Sarah Mathes

I wrote the poem. And then I rewrote it, and made it worse.
I thought time would heal it. Time passed. I did research: Exodus,
midrash, my mother. I rewrote the poem. I ate fistfuls of soft berries. Navy
lips. Purple lips. Juice bursting out of black balloons. I made it worse.
The poem knocked around my mind like unlabeled preserves darkening in the fridge.
Outside the page: tableaus of simple beauty.
Three different trees in one line of sight—plum, pear, palm.
Inside: A hand runs under a faucet, the soap stinging invisible cuts to life.

Have you seen a blackberry bush at the exact moment of its blushing,
when its tight little spheres bleed the green seeds bloody—
have you walked by shoeless on the way to the lake,
the sun lifting the hairs on your cheek,
no matter where you turn, something you love coming after you,
the bush burning in the stripped light,
unripe, alive, surviving—

Used with permission of the author and reprinted from “Town Crier: Poems” by Sarah Mathes, winner of the 2020 Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize.

“Pesach in Blacksburg”
By Erika Meitner

is ushered in by the neighborhood Easter egg
hunt, my kids scrambling beneath backyard
playsets for chocolate, by the ads I’ve been
seeing on Facebook for weeks for the Messianic

Jews welcoming Yeshua at the local Holiday Inn—
is matzo that comes in giant bulk multi-packs
of six stacked on an end-cap shelf at the Kroger
though each of the few Jewish families in town

only needs a single box or maybe two and someone
(a stockboy?) has hung a neat row of Fried Pork Skins
nestled against the Manischewitz Matzo Ball Soup Mix,
the Kedem sparkling grape juice and gefilte fish slabs

suspended in glass jars. Pesach in Blacksburg is a
complication, an exile, and we are the small but
holy remnant so we open the door during Seder
for Elijah the Prophet to find a neighbor selling

magazine subscriptions for a Young Life fundraiser.
We welcome the stranger but I’m sure this is not
what the Haggadah meant when it says Let all
who are hungry come and eat, and this year

again we defrost the shankbone Jenny left
before she moved to Baltimore, and this year
the kids wear plague masks I ordered from (hail, lice, locusts, boils, fire,

and a few others, though I still find the closed
eyes on the Slaying of the First Born unbearable)
and this year again only some of us know the songs
but we sing them over and over: Dayenu, if He had

supplied our needs in the desert for forty years
it would have been enough—and the kids eke out
a weak Four Questions with the help of the adults
then ransack the house for the afikomen. This is a

shadow of the seders of my youth, the lace table
cloths, my survivor grandfather in his resplendent
satin robe at the table’s head leading, switching
between Hebrew and Yiddish, but we do what

we can, so I string together folding tables in the
dining room and guests roll in with wine and extra
chairs and here is the bread of affliction, of far-
from-home, of galut, that we eat and eat and eat.

© Erika Meitner 2018

Erika Meitner’s most recent poetry collection is “Useful Junk.” Meitner is 2018 winner of the National Jewish Book Award for a poetry collection, “Holy Moly Carry Me.”