Footnoted song lyrics

Marble Floor, footnoted

A song in Hannah’s voice, by Alicia Jo Rabins/Girls in Trouble

I opened up my mouth but no words came1
I lay down to sleep but I did not dream
I looked up at the stars but the sky was dark
like a mirror held up to my heart

A B C, D E F2
Take away this alphabet
it’s heavy on my tongue

You can want a thing so bad it seems
That you lose yourself and everybody else
So I got down on my knees on the marble floor3
And I cried until my throat was sore

A B C D, E F G
Tell me what you want from me
I’ll do it all I swear4

I was not drunk, I was awake
I could not open so I had to break5
to let the light come in6

A B C D, E F G
Take this alphabet from me
it’s heavy on my tongue

1 1 Samuel 1:13: Now Hannah was praying in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice could not be heard. I interpreted this as a sign of intense suffering, and spun it out into the following lines in my imagination. This song begins in despair: Hannah is unable to speak, to dream, or even to see the stars above her, because the world around her mirrors the darkness of her heart. She is consumed by her suffering. Only after beginning to speak the alphabet in the chorus does Hannah start to change her destiny.

2 The chorus of this song draws on the famous Jewish folk tale of a small boy who didn’t know any Hebrew prayers, only the alphabet. He desperately wanted to pray to God, so he went to the back of the synagogue and started to fervently recite the letters: “Aleph, bet, gimel…” The important men in the congregation, furious at the boy for interrupting the service, stand up and yell at him, but the rabbi rebukes them. He says that the boy’s alphabet, because it comes directly from his heart, is the holiest prayer that has ever been recited in the synagogue.

3 Although the text says that Hannah was standing, I – like some visual art interpretations – imagined her kneeling on the floor in her despair.

4 1 Samuel 1:11 And she made this vow: “O God of Hosts, if You will look upon the suffering of Your maidservant and will remember me and not forget Your maidservant, and if You will grant Your maidservant a male child, I will dedicate him to God for all the days of his life; and no razor shall ever touch his head.”

5 This line echoes the midrashim about suffering enabling a connection with the Divine. I imagined that Hannah, after years of trying to hold it together, had to really let go and feel the full force of her sorrow - and demand a change to her circumstances - in order to change her destiny.

6 A nod to one of the best lyrics of all time, by my favorite songwriter Leonard Cohen, from his song “Anthem.” Cohen’s song also refers to the ancient Temple offerings, and how acknowledging our brokenness is a crucial part of relating to the Divine: “Ring the bells that still can ring / Forget your perfect offering / There is a crack, a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in”.

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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Footnoted song lyrics." (Viewed on April 22, 2024) <http://jwa.org/node/22481>.