Before Marc Chagall’s magic cows floated above
barns & we had a name for the sub-
conscious, Joseph was summoned
to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. What do you make of
7 emaciated cows eating 7 healthy cows? Picture
snakes swallowing whole cats & retaining their slim figure.
Joseph told Pharaoh what he wanted to hear: 7 years of famine
will be followed by 7 years of plenty.
But say there was no need to fear Pharaoh’s power.
How would Joseph interpret those dreams? From Jacob
he learned what logic dreams
spring from & how only the dreamer has the key.
He knew cows could fly or swallow other cows, that rejected
sons supposed dead could rise in fortunes in another land.
Dreams expose us to our fears, he thought, imagining
the emaciated cows as Jews who, binging
without respect, would never fill the coat of a healthy Egyptian.
When called before Pharaoh his client/boss, he wanted
to demand: You must relinquish the throne & everything
you believe in— these unworthy gods, inherited power, unearned
economic success. He wanted to say, you must sacrifice
your favorite son & offer your wife as your sister, be forced to hide
who you are & where you came from. He wanted
to make a poem about the cows or a painting
in the style of Chagall. But all he could say was: Save
everything. Hold tight for seven years & see where it gets you.
Was that not heroic? Did that not lead to his reunion with Benjamin,
Jacob’s blessing, & the survival of Jews for all generations?
This piece is a part of the Berru Poetry Series, which supports Jewish poetry and poets on PB Daily. JBC also awards the Berru Poetry Award in memory of Ruth and Bernie Weinflash as a part of the National Jewish Book Awards. Click here to see the 2021 winner of the prize. If you’re interested in participating in the series, please check out the guidelines here.
Jeff Schwartz is recently retired from teaching at a pre‑K through 12 girls school in CT where he was especially interested in young women’s voices and student-centered learning. He’s been writing poems and articles on teaching for the last 40 years or so – first in Ohio where he grew up, then in Boston and Pittsburgh where he studied writing, rhetoric, and lit, and currently in Fairfield, CT.