TWO POEMS by Alicia Ostriker


Ingratitude after all I have done for them ingratitude
is the term that springs to mind

yet I continue to generate
abundance which they continue to waste

they expect me to go on giving forever
they don’t believe anything I say

with my wet green windy
hot mouth



It used to be
I would fall to the floor and press my forehead to it
in moments of despair

I would say help me
help me

but listen
I am ok
though I just now found myself pressing my forehead
to the carpet of my stairs

about the waters in the flooded cities
poisoned by oil spill, chemicals, the dead
about the survivors forever traumatized
dear god
I am alive I am alive

help them

–Alicia Ostriker



Let me quote from the great 1st century Rabbi Hillel: If I am not for myself, who is for me?  And if I am for myself alone, what am I?  And if not now, when? This simple statement tells us that we are meaningless creatures until we live for others besides ourselves, and that the time to do so is now.  Until the present moment, we have always thought “the other” just meant other people.  We now know that the earth is a weave of connection, and that all of it depends on our care.  And here is another ancient Jewish saying that I cherish: It is not incumbent on you to finish the task;  neither are you free to give it up. It is incumbent on all of us to contribute whatever we can to the healing of the earth.


Alicia Ostriker’s The Book of Seventy won the 2009 National Jewish Book Award for Poetry.  Earlier poetry collections received awards from the Poetry society of America, the National endowment for the Arts, and the Rockefeller Foundation;  she has twice been a finalist for a National Book Award.  Her 1980 anti-war poem sequence The Mother/Child Papers was reprinted by the University of Pittsburgh Press, and a chapbook, At the Revelation Restaurant,came out in spring 2010.   As a critic, Ostriker is the author of Stealing the Language; the Emergence of Women’s Poetry in America and other books on poetry and on the Bible.  She teaches in the Low-Residency MFA Poetry program of Drew University, and obsesses about poetry, religion, and politics.

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