Tradition & Innovation

What Is Your Egypt? A Poem for the Exodus

pencil drawing of the exodus from Egypt

I recently led a writing havurah at Am Shalom in Glencoe, IL, and as I was doing some research to prepare for that night's class, I came across a piece of text. It was one that I've read 100 times before, I'm sure, but this time, I was able to really see it:

"Do not oppress a stranger, for you know his heart, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." Exodus 23:9

We used this as the basis of our learning that night, and our discussion caught fire. We wrestled with the idea of stranger, of knowing his heart, of Egypt and slavery and being freed. In the end, as we prepared to write, my prompt for the havurah was, "What is your Egypt?" I started to write something, and this poem came tumbling out instead.

Leaving Egypt

I carry Egypt with me
in a drawstring pocket
that I keep close at my side,
so that I can feel the nestled weight
of its sand and stone
and endless servitude.
Sometimes i run my thumb
along its gathered edge,
wondering if I should -
if maybe I could -
open that pocket,
just for a minute,
quick-like and easy,
so that I might feel
those sharp-edged stones,
sun-warmed and ancient
and well-trodden
by Pharaohs and asps.

But I don't. I think the
stones might cut me,
or perhaps spill out:
All that sand and stone
that hangs so heavy at my waist,
that bows me just a bit
and fits against me just so,
it might scatter in a graceful arc
as I imagine river once did,
to escape the narrow banks
that bound it
and bent it,
shedding its great crocodile tears
of feast and famine
in a sudden burst of freedom.

And just like that,
Egypt would lie strewn about,
scattered by my stumbling feet
in some trackless wilderness
that has been trampled
by the feet of a thousand generations since.
And by the time I stop
to do the math of
all those feet
and all that wilderness,
there would be nothing
left of Egypt,
and my drawstring pocket
would be empty.

This piece was first published at reformjudaism.org: http://www.reformjudaism.org/blog/2016/02/22/what-your-egypt-poem-exodus...

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