A Modicum of Grace (For Grace Paley)

Winner of this year’s Charlotte Newberger Poetry Prize

If we’d sat at her father’s seder
and heard his charge to stretch to the stranger,
or inhaled the fragrant conversation
at their Shabbos table—a verbal challah
braided from strands of Yiddish and Russian
and Bronx stooptalk—old distant
voices raging in yet another strangers’ world,
shouting witness to the world that ought to be—

And if we’d watched her scale the fence
at the nuclear power plant, or waved
to her through the bars of that Westside jail,
or tromped beside her through the rice
in Viet Nam, or snapped a photo when
she unfurled that No Nuke banner
on the White House lawn, we’d have learned
what’s required to be an honorable
member of our species, and live with
a modicum of Grace.

Lois Roisman (1938-2008) was the founding Director of the Jewish Fund for Justice. Her work has appeared in Making a Scene: The Contemporary Drama of Jewish Women, The Litchfield Review, Poetica and Light. Two volumes of her poetry are forthcoming from Glad Day Books.

About the Judge

Dina Elenbogen is the author of the poetry collection Apples of the Earth (Spuyten Duyvil, 2006).  Her poetry and prose have appeared in Tikkun, Midstream and Chicago Reader.  She lives in Evanston, IL and teaches at the University of Chicago’s Writer’s Studio.

About the Prize

The poetry prize is named for Charlotte A. Newberger, whose support for Lilith makes possible the publication of new poems in every issue, reviews of books by established and emerging poets, and this annual poetry competition.  Newberger has had a longstanding interest in poetry and the arts, and has served for many years on the boards of such institutions as Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater and The Poetry Center, as well as serving as president of the Foundation for the Jewish Culture.