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   Michal  Mahgerefteh

                                 
                              Poetry and Art
                                                                                                      

In My Bustan 

Planning to release a new edition
with a new cover and poems about 
family, country, and culture.

April 2022


At The Edge of Mount Olives


Fig and olive trees breathe,

weed-eating goats and unfurling white clouds

leap along sullen rocks to call of a shepherd;

barefoot, heavy with a beard, thick eyebrows

pug nose and dry tanned skin, wearing hooded

green jellaba and white skull cap,

cracking sunflower seed between his teeth,

he points to a small stream

flowing in the very heart of stillness,

watching as we stretch on the earth soft grass

soothed by a cool morning whiff,

our eyes closing instinctively

as the expanse of air exalts above all substances,

filling its abyss with serenity, mystery

and riddles from days long gone. 


Copyright by Michal Mahgerefteh

Lilth and Chava

“In the garden of Eden, long before
the eating 
of the apple, the holy one created
the first human 
being-a man named Adam
and a woman named 
Lilith.
Lilith said, “We are equal because
we are 
created from the same earth."
—Alphabet of Ben Sira, 23a-b



Lilith, swayed the serpent's hiss,

no man is my master as I am

as strong as he, no man will tie my

lips as I have tasted the sun and fruit,

echoed above the trees 'till God

shackled her tongue, binding her

name to the shores of the Red Sea.


When Chava bit into the bitter fruit,

Lilith rushed to assist: sitting

within the circle of stones on a mat

or reeds, she cleaned Chava's gypsy

curls with oily wool, perfumed tawny

skin with orchid petals, and fed her

on goat milk, pomegranates, and roots.


As the garden awaited,

Lilith gracefully wrapped her

skin around Chava's, implanting

the infinite life into the unborn child.

The first cry rushed out of her womb

with a stream of blood became

the house of Israel.


Copyright by Michal Mahgerefteh

Peaceful Thoughts to My Sleep
For My Grandmother, Zohar

It's eleven at night; darkness

steps through the veil of time,

unfolding. I was about to go

to bed but an image of you

keeps me awake. Across oceans


in reversed time, morning rays

of light cheer the rooster's

dawning call. I recall your habit

of picking nana leaves for a strong

morning tea. Do you think of me

as you sniff the mint-leaves

with a long sigh? I picture you

sitting in the veranda eating pita

bread and Bulgarian cheese, no

typical Moroccan food, just another


adaptation, so many we must

overcome: our 'strange' accent,

'exotic' fashion, age-old trades,

music, the midsummer rain.

Here no one has memories of me.


Only those I left behind on the other

side of the world. I want to play

in the orange groves, watch the

men in the packing fields, return

covered with a citrus scent, and walk


on the weathered brick wall between

the climbing liffa, blackberry trees.

Tell me Mami, still washing clothes

outdoors in the leaking rusted faucet?

I suppose you are attached to tradition,


Something from the old days you do not

want to forget, like cooking on Thursday

night; sitting on a wooden stool in the yard

chanting while peeling ad cutting. I pass

these mizrachi tunes from my lips to my


children's as a token of your memory.

I want to walk in your bustan to the scent

of the sweet-lemon tree. Harvest this rare

fruit, prepare marmalade for me. Take me

back to the old days. My heart aches for


your laughter and spice, but tonight the

cold silvery skies bring a peaceful thought

to my sleep; your presence is a beacon

to my wondering thoughts, stirring formless

beginnings full of strength and vigor.


Copyright by Michal Mahgerefteh

Book Reviews


"Bustan" can be translated as life, garden, or orchard. Many of Michal Mahbgerefteh's poems are reflections on Israel beyond surface appearances, as in "Peaceful Thoughts to My Sleep," "...I want to walk in your bustan to the scent/of the sweet lemon tree...My heart aches for/your laughter and spices, but tonight the/cold silvery skies brought a peaceful thought/to my sleep; your presence is a beacon/to my wondering thoughts stirring formless/beginnings full of strength and vigor." The reader also perceives the anguish the author felt on watching her mother die from cancer and on considering the agony of terrorism and war that Israel continues to experience; but infusing these starker realities is a sensitive, hopeful vitality, as in "Psalm for Peace," which repeats the refrain, "If I could only make the/dark fall in love with the light." The last section returns to the defining identity of this very talented poet, "Yuk- Hay-Vav-Hay," "...When your name/rests upon my lips/sweetness enriches/the edge of my soul/letter by letter."


Reviewed by Devi Mays, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN. (link)

Published by Women in Judaism Journal (Canada) - Feb' 2012

Michal Mahgereftehs slim volume of poetry, In My Bustan, packs a powerful punch, a mere 66 pages of verse broken into five sections that give voice to the complex interwoven strands of the contemporary Jewish experience. Many of the poems are intensely personal, expressing Mahgereftehs own memories, experiences, and spiritual explorations. They are simultaneously universal in their articulation of overlapping yet distinct elements of modern Jewish identity that can be emphasized separately yet combine to form a whole more nuanced than the sum of its parts. The multivalent and multilingual nature of the collection manifests in its title, In My Bustan. Bustan means garden/orchard/life in Farsi, Moroccan Arabic, and Hebrew, according to the glossary at the books end; numerous words in these languages, as well as in Yiddish, dot the text, revealing Mahgereftehs linguistic, religious, and ancestral heritage. The bustan in question could hearken back to the lemon-scented grove of her grandmothers garden, as in Peaceful Thoughts to my Sleep (4-5), to the Garden of Eden, where Lilith assisted Chava in implanting life into the womb that would yield the House of Israel, as in Lilith and Chava (9), or her own bustan, where Lately, Ive been withdrawn/trudging the realm of identity as a starved soul/full of fragrance, as in My Ancestors Voice (28). The scents of the garden— orange and lemon, nana (mint), blackberry, fig, almond, eucalyptus, and cedar pervade the poems, offering a quality reminiscent of the Song of Songs. These fragrances combine with the aromas of the house— cumin, garlic, lamb, couscous, mint tea, chai, odors that offer whiffs of Mahgereftehs Moroccan and Persian ancestry. Family, religion, and spiritual exploration are three central and connected themes of this collection. The bustle and scents surrounding Shabbat dinner and the brith milah provide the basis for happy large family get-togethers in Friday before Shabbat (6-7) and The Brith Milah Ceremony (10-11); gatherings accented by smatterings of Arabic words, laughter, and Mizrahi tunes. Conversely, For Twenty-Three Years, Upon Her Death, and A Sigh of Grief become mourners dirges to a mother lost to cancer. Here, the plant growing in the bustan is grief: Sorrow sprouts from/ the soil creeping like/ twined roots as he [her father]/ recites Aishet Chayil (19). While family and religion combine positively in many of the poems, Mahgerefteh also presents several poems critical of certain religious viewpoints. Red Thread around my Wrist recounts a visit through the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem to the Western Wall, where a wigged woman objects to the poets short-sleeved shirt and uncovered hair, whispering odious words,/ shoving a scarf and a prayer book/ into my arms. Mahgerefteh responds, Some inscribe their hearts on paper,/ etching tears of generations onto/ stones. Like many, I came to reflect,/ to tie a red thread around my wrist. This encounter leaves her defeated, whispering to myself,/ We are as ONE or nothing at all (32). Similarly, Unwanted Element counters exclusionary religiosity: Black kippah, black hat and/ black jacket are your refuge?/ You stand on the bima in a white/ tunic shouting to my chaverim,/ Avoid her Shabbat Meals. She exhorts the speaker: Please understand,/ we are not black or white, we are/ cloaked in a fabric of many colors. Despite these attempts to regulate and circumscribe Jewish religiosity, Mahgerefteh tells him against me you have/ no prayers that will separate/ me from the Circle of David,/ decompose my Sephardic/ essence nor ostracize me from the House of God (34). Her essence, as she notes in In Search of Yeeud, is Jewish, You planted/ my yeeud as Yehudia. You said, breathe it,/ every letter at a time, til your limbs don/ the shawl of thick calluses. But O God,/ here Your image is stained within a false/ intent (I shout), religion, sermonizing failures (51). With these poems, Mahgerefteh emphasizes the necessity for unity amongst Jews and acceptance of difference in Jewish practice, various permutations of performance combining into a variegated harmony, while underscoring the centrality of her own Jewishness, planted in her before the amniotic fluid. Many of the remaining poems of the collection present Mahgereftehs kavana, intent, offering her own spiritual musings. Psalm to Sefer Tehillim, like the Viddui prayer of Yom Kippur, is arranged alphabetically, but rather than listing transgressions, delineates all the ways in which the words of the Psalms may enliven and enrich the soul (61). Mizmor lDavid: Collage of Psalms to Elohai is composed of verses from various Psalms that Mahgerefteh has pieced together and interspersed with her additions to form a conversation between her and God: O [give me] wings [that] I would/ fly away [from my past]/ and be at rest [in my present]/ [and] I will walk in my wholeheartedness/ [remembering how You favored me] (64). The collection finishes with a short, untitled poem: Elohai,/ I am all that you are/ and everything you hoped/ I would be (66). Mahgereftehs poems offer a unique perspective that is simultaneously female, Mizrahi, Israeli and Diasporic, a mother/ daughter/ granddaughter/ poet/ artist, attached to Judaism and yet striving to interpret religion and tradition in an individual, inclusive manner. As such, this collection, many of whose poems had been previously published in numerous other journals, will be of interest to aficionados of Jewish poetry, as well as in courses on modern Jewish literature, particularly for instructors desirous of a contemporary female Mizrahi perspective, or those who want an example of how Biblical themes and imagery continue to play a central role in contemporary Jewish literature.

Michal (Mitak) Mahgerefteh©copyright 2009

Acknowledgments

Some of the poems in this collection
have previously appeared in the following
magazines, periodicals, 
and anthologies,
whose publishers and editors I thank.

On occasion, poems have been further
revised, or titles changed, since their
original publication:

Adept press/Small Brushes

“Men of War” 


Cyclamens and Swords Press

“Kaddish” “

"In Search of Yeeud”

“My Ancestor's Voice”


The Blue Jew Yorker
“The Man In Uniform”


The Bulletin

“Peaceful thoughts to my Sleep” 


Dream International Quarterly

 “Into the World of Dreams”


Green River Writers Award

“Always A Star”


Lady Jane Miscellany Magazine

“Lilith and Chava”


Mary Catherine Kelley Award

 “The Isolated Room"


Mim'aamakim Anthology

“For a Man She Never Knew”

“Psalm to Zion” 

“Unwanted Element”


Poetica Magazine

 “Psalms for Peace”


Poetry Society of Pennsylvania Award

“Basheret”


Poetry Society of Virginia

80th Anniversary Anthology

“Descending”


Poetry Society of Virginia

Cup Award

“Tefillah”


Poetry Society of Virginia, Newsletter

 “pOetry”


Potpourri Magazine

“At the Edge Of Mount Olive”


Sacred Journey

“Yud-Hay-Vav-Hay”

 “Spiritual Birth”


Shofar Literary Review

 “A Sigh of Grief”


Skipping Stone Anthology

“Immutable Impressions”


Something to Read

 “pOetry”


Transcendent Visions

“Between Being and Ceasing to Be”

“For Twenty-Three Years”

Thank You
to my Mentors

(2014 - 2019)


Robert P. Arthur, the only teacher

who shaped and strengthened
my poetic voice, early on.

Beth Backes, your belief in my ability
to develop from English as a second language
student to an award-
winning poet
has a special place in my Book of Life.


Pete Feras, my deepest admiration for your

commitment to the poetic community,
creating many venues where most
of my poems were first heard.
 “Life is poetry!”


Jane Ellen Glasser, out of love
for the craft you offer friendship
and 
encouragement, a mentor to so many. 
I deeply appreciate 
the editorial support 
and invaluable 
insights.


Nancy Powell, a sister-poet,
I'm indebted to you for the helpful
suggestions and ongoing editorial work.

Yossi and Tzivia Tobi, far back in time
you helped me understand that every
 dream requires faith and belief in thyself first,

 and through hard work and determination,
 it's achievable, no doubt!


Rabbi Israel Zoberman, I am grateful
for the cheering phone calls, encouraging me
to continue developing my poetic voice 
and to 
never give up on Poetica,
despite the many challenges.


To the One,

- for the gift of the written word -
when I'm ready, I will devote
a full collection to our connection.


Thank you for visiting 

"In My Bustan" Collection.

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