Among my other useless “talents,” I moonlight as a calligrapher. A beloved friend of mine, mother to my Favorite Israeli Nieces, commissioned me recently to find and set down in Hebrew and English calligraphy a poem as a gift for her mother on a major birthday. She wanted something to express her mother’s strength as leader of the tribe in tough times, which necessitated a dive through hundreds of poems by female Hebrew poets – who, surprisingly enough, very rarely go to the “warrior woman” well (a shoutout is in order here to my Hebrew professor, who aided me on my hunt despite not, y’know, having to). Finally, though, I found the following poem by contemporary Israeli poet Esther Ettinger, which, while it isn’t exactly a paean to the fierce warrior woman, I think captures very well the way strong women build families down through the generations. Especially appropriate for a grandmother of the world’s two most adorable nieces of Michael.
Tomorrow it’s off to the framer’s to get the calligraphy framed and sent off just in time for the birthday. Inshallah.
Black suede, size thirty-eight,
I bought with my mother in Rome
by the fountain
My granddaughters walk around in them.
Their toes float deep down in the boats,
they sail with high-sterned strides
on a voyage through the rooms,
stumble and get up again.
Thus we build a dynasty
זַמְשׁ שָׁחוֹר, שְׁלשִׁים וּשׁמוֹנֶה
שֶׁקָּנִיתִי עִם אִמִּי בְּרוֹמָא
נֶכְדוֹתַי מְהַלְּכוֹת בָּהֶן.
בְּהוֹנוֹתֵיהֶן צָפוֹת עָמֹק בְּדוּגִיּוֹת
הֵן מַפְלִיגוֹת עַל יַרְכָתַיִם גְּבוֹהוֹת
כָּךְ אָנוּ מְקִימוֹת שׁוֹשֶׁלֶת
zamsh shaḥór, sheloshím u-shmóneh
she-kaníti ʕim ‘imí be-Róma
nekhdotái mehalkhót bahén.
Behonoteihén tzafót ʕamók be-dugiyót
hein mafligót ʕal yarkhatáyim gevohót
Kakh ‘ánu mekimót shoshélet