Elana Dykewomon

Activist, Author, Teacher

The following is an excerpt from Gutke the midwife's journal, after she meets a passing woman, Dovida, at a party in Kishinev:

Dovida was such a pleasure to me that even when other opportunities presented themselves — an unhappily married woman reaching for my hand, a friend of Dovida’s from Berlin trying to sweet-talk me — I was never tempted. The way it was between Dovida and me was what I wanted, not because it was the only possibility but because Dovida absorbed my attention, even when I wasn’t sure I liked her. The flame I saw the night I met her never left, though it often changed shape, intensity or color.

But the words for what we were to each other? Every part of the body has a name. Sometimes I lay in bed with Dovida— she slept sound and late — and I would name each knuckle on her hand. I named the crease behind her knee, I traced the big muscles of her forearms, I called the left one Simcha and the right one Latke, it was good enough to eat.

“What are you doing?”

“Just talking to Simchalle here.”

“Should I be jealous of my forearm?”

“Well, you, you’ve known so many women, I have to make it up somehow. If I find twenty women in your body, will that even the score?”

She was sleepy, chuckling, pulling her arm around me. “Are we keeping score? You’re the one who gets to look between other women’s legs. You can’t fault me for what I did before I met you.”

Once something comes into being, shouldn’t there be a name for it? I could call this love, like young girls dreaming about who they’ll marry, but to call it love would be like to call it God, no offense to the Creator. Everything is God’s, isn’t it? And all pleasure in life is love. What is between me and Dovida must be very close to God, because even if there was a word for it you could not say it out loud. Just like the name of God, you must not speak it. You can look at it, written out, but not even a whisper should cross your lips.

“So serious, my Gutke, always wanting to understand what makes us love. Maybe it’s not such a serious thing. Don’t your medical books tell you human beings are mostly water? We are just water, moving towards each other. Like this — .” She rolled towards me and took my lips in her mouth. Her lips were soft and expanding, until I thought my entire body was inside her. So much sensation — I had to pull back, to look at her.

I have to pull back a little, so often she’s away on business. Now we rent an apartment together in Odessa, as if we are man and wife. But I keep my room at Golde’s in Kishinev, so I can still bring new lives into the world among the people who know me. Once in a long time when a girl is born, I see that flare I saw when I first looked at Dovida. This one, I think, will be like us.

Even if I have no words for it.

A Law of Physics

Saturday, March 25,1911

One body falling alone is its own weight
times distance.
Two bodies falling alone are their own but
if they hold hands
their weight is multiplied.

Here’s a for instance:
Two girls are on a ledge.
The building is burning.
There are nets below.

The girls are young and for the purpose
of this example
thin and frightened.

It is eight stories to the ground.
The net can hold 90, 120, 150 pounds
times the distance but
holding hands
they become 11,000 pounds on impact.

The net breaks.
No one knows the price
of comfort,
how much they loved each other
and expected, by jumping,
neither to live nor die
but fly


from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.