The Grey House, Marc Cha­gall, 1917

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.