First edition | Poetry

First Edition features original works by Northern California Jewish writers. Appearing the first issue of each month, it includes a poem and an excerpt from a novel or short story.

Reading Hebrew

by robin ekiss 

Birds whistle and beat

the back of my throat

when I try to speak the Kaddish,

mistaking the Reader’s

for the Mourner’s, less beautiful

because it doesn’t mention death.

Other than grief, what purpose

is a language without vowels?

I could read only the words,

couldn’t string together a sentence

to save my life. Some meaning

still eludes: going or coming,

how I refuse to touch

the scrolled script

scribbled on the back of my hand

to cheat the cantillations.

When the cantor starts to sing,

something opens inside me:

sparrows circling in the thin high air

around a minaret —  Kaddosh   



               Kaddosh —

every word real and separate,

her voice indecorously off

to one side of a note

or another trope,

everything I know

attached to a prayer.

Robin Ekiss is the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Award for emerging women writers, a former Stegner Fellow at Stanford, and author of “The Mansion of Happiness,” which won the Shenandoah/Glasgow Prize and was a finalist for the Northern California and California Book Awards. She serves on the executive committee of Litquake, and lives in San Francisco.