Poetry Friday: “Sabbath” by Dan Bellm

skinSabbath as beloved bride and queen: familiar tropes in Jewish liturgy and thought. Now, thanks to Dan Bellm’s “Sabbath,” a subtle poem of loss and longing, a promise and a vow, we have another metaphor: Sabbath as mother. The Sabbath, a fixed period of time, stands outside of time. Jews are commanded to keep and remember it, and these two commandments, according to Lekhah Dodi, Come, My Beloved, the mystical hymn sung on Friday evening to welcome Shabbat, were spoken in a single utterance. The Sabbath: an overcoming of apparent physical limitations, a confounding of ordinary distinctions. Not unlike what we experience in Bellm’s poem. Here we encounter a holy day and a mother, but they mostly seem to both at once. Here we encounter a mother and a presumably male child, though the adult-child becomes a kind of mother, bearing inside him, safeguarding the image, the memory of a mother, a Sabbath now gone. Woman gives birth to boy who as a man becomes a kind of woman. Creator becomes creation becomes creator becomes …  Mother, child, Sabbath: without and within. Love, loss, and holiness. A powerful poem to help us receive and hold, hold and release, give birth to and be born this Sabbath and, God willing, many Sabbaths to come.

—Richard Chess

Sabbath by Dan Bellm

——   Then will I carry
you within me for as long
———as I can: not a

——   consolation but
a promise, and not because
———I must: not as you

———carried me but to
be your keeper, a place where
———you remain the one

———bearing life: not as
a god or idol that I
———have made too small, but

———only blessing you
do I keep the blessing safe:
———infant image of

———the created one
I long to be, Sabbath-self
———concealed in the guise

———of ordinary
time, my life the covering
———that protects the vow.


Dan Bellm is a poet and translator living in Berkeley, California. He has published three books of poetry, most recently Practice: A Book of Midrash (Sixteen Rivers Press), winner of a 2009 California Book Award and named one of the Top Ten Poetry Books of 2008 by the Virginia Quarterly Review. His first book, One Hand on the Wheel, launched the California Poetry Series from Roundhouse Press; his second, Buried Treasure, won the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay DiCastagnola Award and the Cleveland State University Poetry Center Prize. He teaches poetry, as well as Writing and Midrash, in Image’s online Glen Workshops, www.glenonline.org [www.glenonline.org]. He is also a widely published translator of poetry and fiction from Spanish and French, and teaches literary translation at Antioch University Los Angeles and at New York University. His poems and translations have appeared in American Poetry Review, Poetry, Ploughshares, Threepenny Review, Best American Spiritual Writing, The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry, Word of Mouth: An Anthology of Gay American Poetry, and many other journals and anthologies. On the web: www.danbellm.com.

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