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I wrote a novel, a shelf of pages and words carried by my own family’s names. Spanish and Hebrew combined by vowels that match. Ladino borrowed from melodies I can copy and paste and think I understand the ways the words were put together.

Muddy water flapped, oozed between toes, and weighed down tunics. The thump beat was a scatter patter and cutting rush. I know I am submerged and fighting towards a surface. Lighter melodies punctured his skin and ears. Distinct birdsong. Whisper and cackle of leaves and branches.

Voices rose from water. Rippled shadows. The light shimmered in vapor.

Ori reached out as if to caress the page of a book and then swept her hand suddenly downward across the stone floor. “Will you read to me?”

Ori swept her hand and suspended the open pages as if birdwings over their heads. She allowed it to linger, as if resting gently across my heart. Ori tilted her head. “The desert air is a place void of wisdom. This kind of dryness spreads and sucks all water, the life of the soul. Without water, we have no heart’s emotions. Nothing can grow. Even words evaporate.”

Ink scattered on lost pages. A shadow working in silence.

Ori continued, “There are ways to protect the words, of course, to wrap ourselves in them. Still, you cannot hold a story in your hand though the women tried so hard to make it so. A story is always like water. Beginnings. Ends. All slips through your fingers. Suddenly, her dry sobs shook the floor. “Read to me. It’s been so long since we shared a story.”

I read a novel guided by a river and stone.* In the story, I read one phrase, sentiment meant to be remembered. Repeated, so that it could be heard in a language often isolated to protected spaces. The phrase is both forgetting and memory. In Hebrew. I am currently learning both.

Ehyeh asher ehyeh. I will be what I will be.

I recognize each piece in pieces. Ehyeh is future tense.

Ehyeh asher ehyeh

In my notebook I wrote ‘eeyay’ still the content remains. The act of being in the future.

Ehyeh asher ehyeh

And, ‘sh’, is a grammatical skill I recently became consistent at using. ‘Sh’ means which. Only ‘sh’.

Ehyeh asher ehyeh

The added letters were perhaps a reminder of correct pronunciation.

Ehyeh asher ehyeh

The ‘a’ stands too alone. It must be ‘what’ which should be ‘ma’, but the ‘m’ is missing.

Perhaps not phrases, but phrasing, the middle act, the interpretation. My identity is its own phrasing of phrases more fragile than water and stone. Phrasing is where understanding is gained when often precision is lost. Sometimes it takes entire books written, entire novels read, to understand one phrase and maybe the hand that remembered it.

Book List

I Must Betray You by Ruta Septys

The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa

This Rebel Heart by Katherine Locke*


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