When I read, as we do this week, about the unremitting complaints (sometimes translated as “murmuring”) coming from the children of Israel, I’m perplexed. G-d dwelled with them. He was a friendly cloud by day, taking the edge off the scorching sun, and a fire by night to ward off the wild animals. He fed them manna and found them water. What’s to complain? But then, even here, in comfortable California, I can find plenty to murmur about.
Start at the bottom, where the aesthetics are bad enough:
Toenails are talons beneath the pathetic polish;
bunions excresce from the joints like galls on oak.
And G-d forbid a woman should yearn for stilettos—
the toes rebel, screaming all night like babies
frantic to be fed. The knees revolt
(alas, in both senses of the word),
the thighs rise up in anger at the stairs.
Forget the traitor stomach, churning over chocolate;
the shoulders, sweltering; the elbows, shot.
Worst is the head: Dawn starts the eyes to singing,
like morning birds, their exquisite notes
of pain, until by evening, they have hummed
whole arias of parchedness and weeping.
The nose grows; the skin darkens. The brain,
which cannot find a word, a key, the face
of my mother as woman my age,
remembers all its petty grievances
and whines in front of G-d and everyone.