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The Story of Ruth, in Three Poems

Poetry for Shavuot, when we read about Ruth, a Moabite woman considered to be the first convert to Judaism

Erika Dreifus
June 09, 2016
Naomi entreating Ruth and Orpah to return to the land of Moab, a painting by William Blake, 1795.Wikimedia
Naomi entreating Ruth and Orpah to return to the land of Moab, a painting by William Blake, 1795.Wikimedia

The Awakening

Yes, daughter, go, said Naomi,
and so off Ruth went, out from Bethlehem,
to the fields of barley,
the fields of Boaz.
All that long day Naomi waited,
weak with hunger
and worry.
Had she been younger
or stronger,
she, too, might have gone—
to glean amidst the grain
for bits of kindness.
But Naomi was not young;
she was not strong;
so in Bethlehem she stayed
and slept,
dreaming, sometimes,
of the younger woman,
hidden among the sheaves,
perhaps never to emerge
or return.
With every dream
panic pulsed through Naomi’s blood
until she wakened to see before her
Ruth, and food, and
the future.

The First Night

on what would be their last night together,
till death they did part—
Boaz and Ruth lay in slumber,
each, in parallel,
dreaming back to that first night,
on the threshing floor
beside the grain pile.
He’d been sleeping when she, in stealth,
tiptoed to where he rested,
uncovered his feet
and curled up at his toes.
When he awoke,
they spoke, first;
then they slid, slowly,
into the space that, unbeknownst to either,
they would share forever
in time, and text,
and tradition.

Ruth’s Regret

Once, I’d have done anything for Naomi.
Anything at all.

Wherever you go, I will go;
wherever you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people;
and your God, my God.

I kept my promises,
didn’t I?
I went to Bethlehem
and to the barley fields
and to Boaz.

But no one told me how far this road would go.
No one said that as soon as I bore my baby
the women would carry him away,
chanting a chorus of blessings.
Not on me;
on her.

No one said that milk would leak from me
while my baby nestled at Naomi’s breasts.
Even if I loved her with the love of seven sons
(and I’m not saying that I don’t)
I’d not relinquish my child.
Not without regret so strong that it paralyzes
and silences me. Forever.

Erika Dreifus is a writer and editor in New York and the author of Quiet Americans: Stories. Visit her website and follow her on Twitter, where she tweets on “matters bookish and/or Jewish.”

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