Chevruta of Soil


Dorothy Field


Just this morning I was shelling out

beans–their dry pods bled of color, arced

like angels’ wings, horny as a scarab,

the beans themselves spotted pebbles, lifeless,

yet they swell up fine when I cook them to plump

rebirth –and I was thinking of you:

you Ben Zoma, you Ben Akai, always talking

Pardes, Pardes, as if you ever left

those study halls where you write and argue

your days away. You’d shrivel like my beans

if I didn’t bring up a bit of kishke,

a few latkes, a little shalet.

You talk of chevruta, the meeting of minds,

while I’m here, fingernails ragged,

hands stained from the chevruta of soil.

Mayim mayim, waters above, waters below:

it should rain on your heads, on all

our heads for that matter–here’s me waiting in line

with the other women, hauling buckets

from the well below town, no rain these last

three months. Now I worry the well

will fail. And that Acher, talking about

cutting down shoots–sophistry and navel gazing–

where does he think his food comes from,

hasn’t he ever noticed his wife on the ladder

picking the figs he can’t get enough of?

A chevruta, yes–manure and lime,

scions and grafts. Listen, like Rabbi Akiva says–

and he should know, started a woodsman,

then turned scholar–Go in Shalom. Me,

I don’t want to stir things up. Men with the books,

women with the soil. Who am I to make trouble?

But before I get back to my garden, I have

something more to say: When my peas poke

up through wintry soil, a wobbly row

of tiny green girl scouts, sleeping beauties

waking to spring, that’s Pardes. If the rains fail

and crops shrivel, still Pardes, because

even when the bean pods are empty, somehow

endive and leeks thrive. Summers when

the codling moth takes the apples,

the grapes flourish. Or vice versa. Pardes

when the neighbor’s cow nibbles

the tips off the young quince trees.

True Pardes when for once the rust fly misses

my ferny carrot forest. Shekinah forbid,

we should expect every year from everything

a bumper crop. That’s women’s wisdom:

No expectations. Weighing the beans in your hand,

loving what is.


Chevruta – Hebrew: connection, two people who study together

Pardes – Hebrew: paradise

Mayim – Hebrew: water

Shekinah – Hebrew: feminine principal of god

Kishke, Latkes, Shalet – Yiddish: traditional Jewish foods





He remembers the rag and bone men,

he was just a kid in Britain,

a bag of old clothes, These your mamma’s

bloomers? their cockney kids would say,

holding up ratty old purple-flowered undies.

Bloody Jews, his father snarled.

I can’t use that word, he says.

I am a Jew, I say.

Not a Jewish person, not

an Israelite, not someone

of the Hebrew persuasion.

Say the word. Use the word.

When I was a kid in New York,

my mother would say: Too Jewish,

a family that was all over each other,

Too Jewish, men in yarmulkes, anyone

eating kosher, going to shul,

Too Jewish, observing anything

at all. Jewish blood, but raised

so it didn’t show (except for her face,

and mine – you couldn’t miss us).

There is no other word

for what I am.

Suck out the poison.




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