The Schmooze

The Tenderness of Age

Each Thursday, The Arty Semite features excerpts and reviews of the best contemporary Jewish poetry. This week, Rodger Kamenetz introduces “The Change” by Alicia Ostriker. This piece originally appeared on August 3, 2001, as part of the Forward’s Psalm 151 series. It is being published here online for the first time.

Ms. Ostriker has published nine books of poetry, full of biblical and Jewish themes with a feminist approach. Her most recent book, “The Little Space: Poems Selected and New” (Pittsburgh, 1998), was a National Book Award finalist in 1998. “The Nakedness of the Fathers: Visions and Revisions” (Rutgers, 1994), her study of Midrash, may also be read as an autobiography.

In this suite of five poems, Ms. Ostriker touches deeply on the experience of role reversal. The simple story line is familiar: A daughter removes her aging mother from her home, sells her house and places her in a nursing home. We see the mother stripped of her familiar surroundings and of her dignities — but we see the speaker, the poet, also reverting. Ms. Ostriker’s carnal, unflinching view brings us back to the pity of the body and reminds us of our vulnerabilities and our tenderness.

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The Tenderness of Age

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