Joy Ladin, a published essayist and poet, is also a nationally recognized speaker on trans and Jewish identity. Ladin reads her latest work, “Singing” for us.  

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Zydalis Bauer: Joy Ladin, a published essayist and poet, is also a nationally recognized speaker on trans and Jewish identity, and she reads her latest work entitled “Singing” for us tonight.

Joy Ladin: This is a poem called “Singing,” and it comes from a collection that I recently finished.

These poems try to create language through which the Shekhinah can speak. And the Shekhinah, in Jewish mystical tradition, is the name for the feminine imminent aspect of God, the part of God not that’s out there and beyond us, but the part that is actually with each of us all the time, feeling what we feel and experiencing what we experience.

And the language is made by mixing together words found in two very different kinds of texts. One, divine monologues from the Book of Isaiah, or it’s found from that mixed with words found in Cosmo articles that have similar themes to the passage from Isaiah that I’m using.

And if that sounds improbable, it is improbable, and I’m going to read the poem that grew out of the very first experiment that I did with that when I realized that that’s what I needed to do.

It’s like really? Is there anything in Cosmopolitan magazine that would relate to the Book of Isaiah? There is…so I started with one of my favorite quotes from Isaiah, “Sing out, oh barren one, who is not given birth, break out into song, shout for joy oh one who had no labor pains.”

And I searched for “barren” on the Cosmopolitan website. And immediately the first hit was “Why This Woman is Proud to be Known as the Pageant Queen Without a Uterus.”

And I thought, “well, queen, the Shekhinah is known as the Queen. She doesn’t have a uterus. If Cosmopolitan can ever give you a divine signal, I think that’s what just happened.”

So, this is the poem that grew out of mixing words from those two texts.

The Shekhinah is addressing you, who she means to be, each one of us. Singing.
Before you were a fetus, before you were an egg, you were a song, I was already singing.
A promise I’d already kept.
I stretch out your curtains, strengthen your pegs, make room inside you for the world I created you to share.
You are my embryo and I am your womb.
You’re my labor pains. And I’m the mother pushing you to cry, to talk, to stand for something, to stop being scared of the joy rising like waters in the days of Noah, flooding your foundations, crowning your head, answering every question I created you to ask.
Why you feel incomplete, like a tiara without a pageant, why you mistake affliction for love and love, my love, for affliction.
Why you just start crying when, for a moment, you hear me singing the secret you forget you’re keeping: You are the child of a queen.
Why it always feels like the first time to you, the first shaking of your mountains, the first bursting into flame, the very first season of your first reality show.
Why the mother you can’t conceive, the queen with the whirlwind where a uterus should be, whose presence fills you with fear is waiting for you to say ”
I do! I do”to the love, my love, that never stops singing and follows you everywhere.