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The Songs of Miriam

By Alicia Ostriker

"And Miriam the prophetess took a timbrel in her hand and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances."

I'm a young girl
My periods not started yet
Up to my waist in Nile water, I push
The baby basket through the bulrushes
Onto the beach
Come on, I say to myself, let's go
And they see it
And come running
My brother cries like a kitten
In the arms of that princess
Her painted face fills with the joy
Of disobedience, which is the life of joy
When she is hooked I walk
Out of the river
Bowing and bowing
I am Miriam, daughter
Of Israel

We gather the limbs, we gather the limbs
We gather the limbs of the child
We sing to the river, we bathe in the river
We save the life of the child.

If you listen to me once
You will have to go on listening to me
I am Miriam the prophetess
Miriam who makes the songs
I lead the women in a sacred circle
Shaking our breasts and hips
With timbrels and with dances
Singing how we got over
O God of hosts
The horse and his rider
Have you thrown into the sea
That is my song, my music, my
Unended and unfinished prophecy
The horse was captivity
And its rider fear

O God of hosts
Never again bondage
Never again terror
O God of hosts

Call me rebelliousness, call me the bitter sea
I peel the skin off myself in strips
I am going to die in the sand
Miriam the leprous, Miriam the hag
Miriam the cackling one
What did I have but a voice, to announce liberty
No magic tricks, no miracles, no history,
No stick
Or stone of law. You who believe that God
Speaks only through Moses, bury me in the desert
I curse you with drought
I curse you with spiritual dryness
But you who remember my music
You will feel me under your footsoles
Like cool ground water under porous stone

Follow me, follow my drum
Follow my drum, follow my drum,
Follow me, follow my drum
Follow my drum.

I who am maiden
woman and crone
I who am


From All the Women Followed Her, ed. Rebecca Schwartz (Rikudei Miriam Press, 2001), p. 13-15. Printed with permission of the editor.