First Edition | Poetry

This week marks the debut of “First Edition,” an exciting new offering that features original works by Northern California Jewish authors and poets. In the first issue of each month, j. will publish a poem and an excerpt from a piece of new fiction. Our aim is to inspire readers with Jewish-themed poetry and fiction, showcase the best new works by local Jewish writers, and nurture an active Bay Area Jewish writing community. The fiction section is curated by Oakland writer Ilana DeBare, the poetry section by San Francisco poet and teacher Joan Gelfand.

Works may be submitted to [email protected] or [email protected]. Fiction excerpts may run to 2,500 words, but only 800 words will appear in the print edition, with the rest appearing online.


Sixty-five Years Past Liberation

You learned early that life was

booby-trapped: land mines lurking

beneath the tablecloth,

so that at breakfast, usually,

someone exploded over

soured milk or a speck of

blood in the soft-boiled egg.

Bitter coffee was never quite

tamed by sugar, no matter how

many teaspoons-full you added;

caraway seeds from the

toasted rye would

stick between your teeth.


By mid-day, catastrophes

multiplied like stars.

There were dangers on sidewalks

as well as the highway;

strangers in the market

aimed dark sideways looks at you.

Trust no one, the instructions

promised. Don’t you

read the newspaper?


Your mother in hiding

declined the name Survivor;

your father, beyond the camp,

refused the same word

for his own reasons. So you

deny it too, now that you

understand something about

the body’s surrender.


When the diagnosis came —

a phone call from the surgeon

on the morning of your

birthday saying, Why don’t you

come into the office so we

can talk? — the kitchen

tilted and the chair lost

its solidity, yet you recognized

the arrival of the inevitable.

Maybe now, at last, the worst thing

was already here. You ate

your cold cereal and sipped

tea with something like ease,

a moment of utter, improbable calm.

Hadn’t they warned you

it was possible to stay alive?


Elizabeth Rosner is the author of “The Speed of Light” (2001) and “Blue Nude” (2006), as well as numerous poems and essays.  She taught creative writing at the college level for nearly 30 years and is now a
full-time writer living in Berkeley.