4 poems by Joy Ladin – The Feminist Wire

4 poems by Joy Ladin

Making Love

From Impersonation, Sheep Meadow Press, 2015


I reach for God

and brush your breast,


reach for you

and brush God


dangling and tipped,

gathered over years


of concealment and revelation

into this teardrop of flesh


spilling toward my lips.

I don’t know


what is entering me.

I don’t know what I’ve entered,


or when God became

a shudder of pleasure,


compressing the universe’s exploding center

into this triangle of desire


so that touching you

is touching God


swaddled in arms and legs,

shy as a new-made planet


you and I, breath-filled clay,

were created to inhabit.



Psalm I:1

From Psalms, Wipf & Stock, 2010



There’s nothing here

That’s not your fault, not bees’

Enslavement to nectar’s labyrinths,


Not the cacophonous greens

Shaking themselves out like tangled hair, not

The sinking shiver of my blood


Or the phantom footsteps of disease

That haunt my spinal column

Searching for bits of self to seize


The way you seize on bits of self

You somehow lost

In me, not the terror


Stirring my depths

Like the sea monsters you created

When you were in the creation business,


Not the bombs

Your children strap on

To detonate in streets crowded


With children you seem, in a flash,

To have forgotten. No, I can’t

Not blame you


For a single second

Of the light

That penetrates me non-consensually


Dawn after dawn, impregnating

With hope, desire, need

A body that couldn’t care less


How far away you seem

Even when you are oppressively close,

Stuffing my nostrils


With blossoming breath,

Drowned hair dripping

Over my breasts,


Dripping fragrance, dripping smoke,

Dripping your most

Corrosive acid,





Psalm I:4

From Psalms, Wipf & Stock, 2010



You want it both ways, to be the sun

And the clouds that smother it, the heart

And the heart that breaks it, meaningless suffering


And the truth

That redeems it. Nice work

If you can get it


But you won’t get it

From me. You offer yourself

Like an apple reddening


Within my reach, dangling

On the lowest branch, a generous

Hermeneutical fragrance


Drenching every event, trivial and tragic,

In eau d’significance. After all,

What choice do I have? Your angels


Torched the trees

Of life and knowledge,

Although I’ve made a decent living



On their ashes. You too

Have a taste for ashes. Of ash. Of something


Burned a long time ago

And still burning

Somewhere close to my mouth, the smoke of you


Clogging my nostrils,

A cry for help

I’ve become too bored


To notice. You woo me with the fruit

Of your intimacy, infinity thick

As star-sparked honey, fine-toothed combs


Of forgiveness, the barely-remembered

Coo of a mother

Singing me to sleep on her shoulder,


My first bicycle, the welling sun-warmed

Strawberry juice

Of forever. You wash the dying


Off my hands

And stand there

With an indecipherable expression


As I die again. No wonder

I can’t stand you. No wonder

I crave your presence, apple blazing


In the blazing crotch

Of history’s burning branches.



Psalm I:12

From Psalms, Wipf & Stock, 2010


This morning we’re quiet,

Sad maybe but quiet, weaned

From the dramatic breast of torment


That kept us tossing

Toward and away from each other all night,

Exposing our nakedness


As the covers we fought over in our sleep

Became smaller and smaller,

And maybe you hurt me badly, maybe you said


And failed to say

Words I can never forgive, maybe you left

Bruises on my breasts,


And maybe my love for you

Became a kind of hatred, my clinging

Narcissism, maybe I was sick


Of you and maybe you

Were responsible for my sickness

And maybe my sickness


Was a form of love

You had no choice but reject

For both our sakes, for the sake of what’s left,


Lying quietly this morning, bruised and stripped,


By the milk of aftermath, the sad but nourishing quiet


That flows from the breasts

Of longing and disappointment,

Your disappointment that my longing for you


Couldn’t lead me to accept

The body you bestowed upon me like a kiss,

A hard kiss, a kiss with teeth and invading tongue


But a kiss nonetheless,

And my longing to disappoint

The presumption you call love


No matter what you do to me,

No matter what I’ve said,

We lie here in the quiet, soul to soul,


One an exploding universe,

One a sliver of glass,

Clinging to each other


In the physical silence

Of this narrow bed.


Joy_Headshot0010Joy Ladin is the author of seven books of poetry, including Lambda Literary Award finalists Impersonation and Transmigration, and Forward Fives award winner Coming to Life. Her memoir of gender transition, Through the Door of Life, was a 2012 National Jewish Book Award finalist. Her work has been recognized with a 2016 National Endowment for the Arts Writing Fellowship, a 2016 Hadassah Brandeis Research Fellowship, a Fulbright Scholarship and an American Council of Learned Societies Research Fellowship. She holds the David and Ruth Gottesman Chair in English at Stern College of Yeshiva University. Links to her poems and essays are available at