2023 Roots & Roads 2nd Place Winner: “On Becoming a Woman” by Yiskah Rosenfeld
“Seasons leave their marks: Leaves turn red, / figs stain the sidewalk, there are irises // or not, sour grass or not, but nothing is ever / not changing, not renewing.”
Give it up for the 2023 Roots & Roads 2nd Place winner, “On Becoming a Woman”, by Yiskah Rosenfeld! A gorgeous body of work that we are excited to publish. Keep your eyes peeled for our 3rd place winner announcement.
On Becoming a Woman
for my daughter on her 12th birthday
The sunflowers die, their yellow suns plucked
to blank masks, the petals wilted collars.
The figs grow, hard-bellied green bells now.
Daily walks, we measure ourselves
against these gardens, you seeking out
almost-ripe blackberries, small lemons.
Seasons leave their marks: Leaves turn red,
figs stain the sidewalk, there are irises
or not, sour grass or not, but nothing is ever
not changing, not renewing. Like my body,
my own yard is so untended its changes
are no longer noticeable, dry, cracked earth
and shriveled bushes, overgrown roses,
arthritic limbs twisted to pillars of salt.
Periods come reluctantly, rarely, like guests
in a pandemic. The blood, if at all, is dark
and clotted or falsely bright and thin, too much
or too little, a meal prepared by an angry cook.
They say it’s a sort of death, and it feels that way,
as if the body is emptying, caving in on itself,
breast drooping, belly extending down
where a baby once rounded and filled.
Sexuality dries up, closing shop on fertility,
that goddess potential, sistering moon and tides.
But who told us to be woman
means to be a bearer of children?
Who decides what is an end and what is a beginning?
Birth, puberty, marriage, any moment of change turns
on the direction we look. Lot’s wife turned to stone
by looking back. Face it. The body lies.
All the stories it told me growing up, of my unworth.
The lies your body tells you, refuting the girl
you have always been. You ask
when you can start hormones to grow breasts.
I buy a dozen bras, two dozen teardrop pads.
You caress them like small pets, put them back
in the drawer. You are a girl who won’t bleed.
To become a woman, you give up fertility.
Forty-four years apart we shed skins, shed stories,
we give birth to ourselves. Look at the lemon tree.
See how everything grows in its own time,
at the same time, white blossoms, knotted green nubs,
yellow fruit large enough to fill your growing hands.
My daughter, my beautiful blossom, do you see?
As you grow into the woman you are,
I am becoming the mother you need.
Yiskah Rosenfeld is is the author of Tasting Flight (Madville Books, 2024), the 2022 Arthur Smith Prize runner-up and a finalist for the Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize, and Naked Beside Fish (Finishing Line Press, 2024), an ekphrastic chapbook. She holds an MFA in poetry from Mills College. A Pushcart Prize nominee, other awards include the Anna Davidson Rosenberg Award and the Reuben Rose Memorial Prize. Her poems appear in The Seattle Review, The Bitter Oleander, Lilith Magazine, Rattle, December Magazine, Ocotillo Review, Wild Gods: An Anthology of Ecstatic Poetry, and elsewhere. Yiskah served as poet-in-residence on the Arad Arts Project and at the Brandeis Collegiate Institute. She currently balances solo parenting with teaching workshops on spirituality, feminism, and creative writing in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her poem “On Becoming a Woman” will be in Tasting Flight, coming out in June through Madville Publishing. For more information on upcoming books, go to www.yiskahrosenfeld.com