Alicia Jo Rabins writes lyrics and poetry that soar. Now her words float.
Every night, after long days, the singer-songwriter, poet and Torah teacher luxuriates in a bath in her home in Portland, Ore. — with candles, essential oils and plants nearby — and writes a poem. In “Bathtub Pandemic Poems,” she shares reflections, mixing ancient teachings and ordinary life that is no longer ordinary.
“The first couple came out by accident,” Rabins explains in a telephone interview. “I stumble my way through the day, home schooling, trying to get my work done. Getting into a very hot bath at the end of the day is one of my favorite ways to completely shift my emotional reality, shift my perspective on things.”
One night in the bathtub, she thought of some lines and jotted them down in her phone. (Editor’s Note: Don’t try this at home!) Later, after posting the poems, she got lots of responses from people who said they were having similar feelings. The response nourished her, making her feel less alone.
“I’m OK during the day, but at night I get scared, /Which makes it hard to breathe, which is a symptom/ Of the pandemic, which is what scares me. / Well played, anxiety, my old friend,” she begins one poem.
Rabins, who won the 2015 APR/Honickman First Book Prize for a collection of poems titled “Divinity School,” continues to write daily and says that perhaps she’ll set her words to music, as she has done with other poems.
She writes, “I used to whisper evening prayers/ Now I recite statistics/ And watch the curves/The angel of death/ Draws in the air/With his wing.”
During the mornings, she teaches her two children, ages 5 and 8, and then her husband takes over. She then works on her own projects and teaches bar and bat mitzvah students via Skype. She is also writing a book of short essays about parenthood through the lens of Jewish text and Jewish mysticism, and is in post-production for a film of her chamber rock opera, “A Kaddish for Bernie Madoff.” The latter includes Rabins playing herself, a bet din of Jewish grandmothers in track suits, synchronized swimmers and animation.
In another poem, she writes, “As for love,/ Give it away, I tell myself:/ All your love, give it away/ While you still can.”
Rabins is also doing live performances and readings, which are listed on her website, aliciajo.com.