Footnoted song lyrics
"I Was a Desert," annotated
by Alicia Jo Rabins/Girls in Trouble
I was a desert until I learned
to make the sky rain down on me
And I was a barren field until
I planted myself with borrowed seed.1
You, you’re a strong one
they say you ground lead into dust with your teeth2
But even a strong one
gets lonely at night when he can’t sleep.
All night long I bit my tongue
to keep from calling out your name
Saying don’t you know the voice of the one
Who brought you tea in the early dawn3
I’d watch you sleeping
like a lion at rest4, so gentle your breath
But when you’d awaken
your shouting would startle the birds from their nest
You did not know
You did not see5
1 This idea of self-pollination is derived from the wonderful writings of scholar Tikva Frymer-Kensky. She writes: “[Tamar’s] name matters, for like names in so many biblical stories, it reveals the issue of the story. Tamar is the date palm tree, a tree that can bear copious and precious fruit. But the fertility of the date palm is not assured; it must be pollinated by direct human action. The name Tamar hints that this new daughter-in-law has the potential to bear, but her fertility will be endangered. The plot will determine whether she disappears (as did Tamar, the daughter of David) or becomes the ancestress of a precious hero.” --Frymer-Kensky, Reading the Women of the Bible, p. 266
2 In Genesis Rabba 93:6, Judah’s power and anger is described by the fact that he grinds iron bars into dust with his teeth (and his chest hairs pierce his shirt!) This description of Judah’s physical strength and anger raises the stakes for Tamar’s bravery.
3 This detail is drawn from my imagination of what Judah’s double-ex-daughter-in-law might have done for him daily.
4 In Genesis 49:9, Judah is compared to a lion in Jacob’s blessing of his sons; “You are a lion's cub, Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness--who dares to rouse him?” The image of a lion becomes the symbol of the tribe of Judah. To me this animal implies Judah’s strength, power and danger.
5 Another reference to “Petach Enayim,” the Opening of the Eyes, where Judah and Tamar encounter each other late at night.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Footnoted song lyrics." (Viewed on July 13, 2020) <https://jwa.org/node/22787>.