Ava Nathaniel Winter


Mordekhai fed and sustained. Really?! Indeed, Rabbi Yudan said, “One time, he went repeatedly to all the wet-nurses but could not find one for Esther at this moment, and so he nursed her himself.” Rabbi Berakhiah and Rabbi Abbahu [said] in Rabbi El’azar’s name, “Milk came to him and he would nurse her.”

—Bereshit Rabbah  

The milk of a body like mine,

first seen and named as male,

budding against expectation,  

fed and sustained the small girl-body

of Esther, whose story

feeds and sustains.

When I was a child,

our rabbi became a queen

flaming through the carnival

in a tacky harem costume,

a mockery of the terrors

passed down in our blood.

I offer this blessing to you,

reader, sibling, sister. The milk

of a male may feed and sustain.

This is not a question, for me,

of belief. The body is holy

and is made holy in its changing.

Ava Nathaniel Winter is the author of Transgenesis, a winner of the National Poetry Series forthcoming from Milkweed Editions in August 2024. Her poetry has appeared in Beloit Poetry Journal, Best New Poets, Poetry International, TriQuarterly, and elsewhere. Ava holds an M.F.A. from the Ohio State University, where they served as a Poetry Editor for The Journal and received an Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. Ava holds a Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska—Lincoln, where she teaches in the Department of English and the Women’s and Gender Studies Program.