Walking the Road of Shards, Hands Joined

Sandy Freckleton Gagan, “Whither Thou Goest”

Spiritual Sunday

If Ruth is one of the most beloved books in the Bible, it is in part because of Ruth’s immortal words to her mother-in-law: “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” In her poem “The Book of Naomi and Ruth,” Marge Piercy says that many women dream of such a relationship.

Upon rereading the story, Piercy says she didn’t recall how legalistic Boaz’s acquisition of Ruth is, in large part because the female friendship outshines all else. “Show me a woman, “ Piercy writes,

who does not dream
a double, heart’s twin, a sister
of the mind…

Piercy’s title, unlike the book’s, includes Naomi because Piercy is describing the mother-in-law’s experience. As the two women walk “the road of shards” together, reminding us of the Honduran refugees and all those others fleeing violence and poverty, they forge a friendship “stronger than fear, stronger than hunger.” The radiance of Ruth’s love, Piercy says, aligns the tides of Naomi’s blood “into potent order.”

Having recently spent a week with my three granddaughters and watched Candice work on their hair at least once every day, I am struck by Piercy’s image of braiding. Naomi imagines someone “whose hair she can braid as her life twists its pleasure and pain and shame.” More than hair gets woven when two women share a life.

Looking back at her own life as she grows older (“at the season of first fruits”), Piercy recalls these two “co-conspirators, scavengers” who “mak[e] do with leftovers and mill ends” and who walk with their hands joined.

The Book of Naomi and Ruth

By Marge Piercy

When you pick up the Tanakh and read
the Book of Ruth, it is a shock
how little it resembles memory.
It’s concerned with inheritance,
lands, men’s names, how women
 must wiggle and wobble to live.

Yet women have kept it dear
for the beloved elder who
cherished Ruth, more friend than
daughter. Daughters leave. Ruth
brought even the baby she made
with Boaz home as a gift.
Where you go, I will go too,
your people shall be my people,
I will be a Jew for you,
for what is yours I will love
as I love you, oh Naomi
my mother, my sister, my heart.
Show me a woman who does not dream
a double, heart’s twin, a sister
of the mind in whose ear she can whisper,
whose hair she can braid as her life
twists its pleasure and pain and shame.
Show me a woman who does not hide
in the locket of bone that deep
eye beam of fiercely gentle love
she had once from mother, daughter,
sister; once like a warm moon
that radiance aligned the tides
of her blood into potent order.

At the season of first fruits, we recall
two travelers, co-conspirators, scavengers
making do with leftovers and mill ends,
whose friendship was stronger than fear,
stronger than hunger, who walked together,
the road of shards, hands joined.

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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