Long­ing: Poems of a Life

By – April 10, 2023

In the intro­duc­tion to her new col­lec­tion, Long­ing: Poems of a Life, Mer­le Feld writes, If we’ve been sub­ject to vio­lence, it may remain for most of us unex­am­ined, clos­et­ed. My deci­sion in this col­lec­tion has been to open the clos­et, to expose old pain and fes­ter­ing wounds to fresh air as part of the process of heal­ing.” Indeed, the book explores the ways that the speaker’s father’s phys­i­cal abuse affect­ed the fam­i­ly — their rela­tion­ships with each oth­er and with future spous­es and chil­dren. Through the lens of both her six-year-old self and her cur­rent, empath­ic one, Feld looks back at some of the most trau­mat­ic moments of her child­hood as she tries to under­stand her mother’s lack of response. 

This col­lec­tion, which is nar­ra­tive in style, is an acces­si­ble yet painful reflec­tion. Each sec­tion opens a door to a spe­cif­ic time peri­od and moves most­ly chrono­log­i­cal­ly. Feld por­trays her­self as a wit­ness and describes her­self and her sib­lings as sim­i­lar to the four chil­dren men­tioned in the Passover Hag­gadah. I am a sim­ple child with many ques­tions,” she writes in her poem, Seder sto­ry.” But the young speak­er is nev­er able to ask her ques­tions out loud. She feels simul­ta­ne­ous­ly unsafe and invis­i­ble to par­ents who express lit­tle con­cern for her emo­tions or well-being. 

As the speak­er goes through puber­ty, she finds more rea­sons to feel unsafe. Her excite­ment about being allowed to do more grown-up things, like go to the gro­cery store alone, ulti­mate­ly fiz­zles when she is harassed and giv­en unwant­ed sex­u­al attention. 

But then she falls in love with her future hus­band, and all the neg­a­tiv­i­ty of her child­hood seems to fade. In the poem Shab­bos togeth­er,” Feld writes about their first Shab­bat din­ner: how they ate at a sec­ond­hand chrome table,” which was so ugly that we turned out / the lights.” Her joy in this moment is so strong that the speak­er cries, Oh God, you have been so good to me! / Final­ly, for the first time in my life, / you gave me some­thing I want­ed.” She rec­og­nizes, though, that the dark­ness of child­hood wounds” haunts her rela­tion­ship. She and her hus­band must work through their prob­lems in order to have a dif­fer­ent rela­tion­ship than her parents’.

Feld’s poems com­mu­ni­cate the pain of a mis­car­riage, the joy of the birth of her chil­dren, the awe and con­fu­sion of ear­ly moth­er­hood, and the dif­fi­cult expe­ri­ence of car­ing for one’s aging par­ents. In the poem, What he knew, day two,” the speak­er has a real­iza­tion at her dying mother’s bed­side. She believes that dur­ing her child­hood, her mother

… didn’t know 

how to stop giv­ing love — against her nature. 

But then, these last years, alone together 

sun­ny Flori­da, she seemed final­ly to see him 


with clar­i­ty, final­ly to see the selfishness, 

his pro­found­ly crip­pled soul. I suspect 

in the end, she didn’t want him, and he knew.

This is a turn­ing point for the speak­er, but also for her moth­er, who final­ly observes that abu­sive rela­tion­ships are not to be tol­er­at­ed. In the Fore­word to this col­lec­tion, Rab­bi Rachel Adler notes that Mer­le Feld “ … joins with oth­er Jew­ish fem­i­nists in our mis­sion to reen­vi­sion and inhab­it a world in which patri­archy has been transcended.”

Jamie Wendt is the author of the poet­ry col­lec­tion Fruit of the Earth (Main Street Rag, 2018), which won the 2019 Nation­al Fed­er­a­tion of Press Women Book Award in Poet­ry. Her man­u­script, Laugh­ing in Yid­dish, was a final­ist for the 2022 Philip Levine Prize in Poet­ry. Her poems and essays have been pub­lished in var­i­ous lit­er­ary jour­nals and antholo­gies, includ­ing Fem­i­nine Ris­ingGreen Moun­tains Review, Lilith, Jet Fuel Review, the For­ward, Poet­i­ca Mag­a­zine, and oth­ers. She con­tributes book reviews to Jew­ish Book Coun­cil as well as to oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, includ­ing Lit­er­ary Mama and Mom Egg Review. She has received an Hon­or­able Men­tion Push­cart Prize and was nom­i­nat­ed for Best Spir­i­tu­al Lit­er­a­ture. She holds an MFA in Cre­ative Writ­ing from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Nebras­ka Oma­ha. She is a mid­dle school Human­i­ties teacher and lives in Chica­go with her hus­band and two kids. 

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Mer­le Feld