Pass Over | Doris Ferleger

First Place | Poetry Writing Contest

50th New Millennium Award for Poetry

Doris Ferleger of ​Wyncote, Pennsylvania for “Pass Over”

Ferleger will receive $1,000, an award plaque, and publication both online and in print.


Pass Over

for Joanna D., (Anna) fellow healer, in memoriam


How many people a day say,
Pass over me for this one, God—

this sad thing, this scary thing,
this bad thing, this door—

is marked—with blood—

How many people a day say,
Come by here, God, and take the one

steadfast thing left of me—give me instead,
the sea—that will surely betray me—

such calm and turquoise water
when down below millions of vibrant fish

rush in huge schools,
sergeant-major fish dress up

in yellow and black dinner jackets
and feast at a table of green algae.


In festive clothes, just as Anna had wanted,
hundreds of us show up at the funeral home

We swim toward the survived-by,
we are colorful hungry fish surrounding her sunken

treasure chests. We swim in and out of the holes
Anna left. Even the out-of-towners have come

with all the right garments and hymnals,
Anna having planned far in advance—

chants for the children to sing, photo displays
in the entryway: Anna showing off thirty hot pink

cupcakes baked in the brand-new Viking stove
in the newly designed kitchen, finished

only a few months before she passed,
worth every penny, she had said.

Anna and the girls sunburnt
under a bright red beach umbrella,

Anna laughing her left-sided
brain-tumor laugh while the kids

with their wide-open mouths
make giant vowel-shapes


Six months before her wake Anna dreamed
a mound of dirt across the road stopped her

passage and when she stepped out
of the car to tamp it down she couldn’t,

so she borrowed her husband’s arms
but they were also too weak.

And when she woke she said,
I know where I need to go.
You are in my way, keeping me

from walking on this path.
And her husband remembered
the words Jesus spoke to Peter:

you are an obstacle to me.
You do not have in mind the things of God,
but the things of men.

Anna sent her husband into the hall
to make the girls stop arguing

over the hair dryer or whatever
they were fighting about.

She made him go out into the hall
three times until he succeeded

and she was sure he could
succeed again and again

without her
for all the years to come.


That night she dreamed her suitcase
was packed and ready and when she woke

she called the priest to tell him.
He answered, it is good to be ready

but still you have to wait
for God to be ready for you.

The next night Anna saw the Passion.
she whispered to her husband,

Thank you for letting me go home
without you. A gift to the dying—

to refrain from speaking
of ocean air or green glass

of what was
or could have been.


What if Christ died before
he got to say,

We will all forsake someone—
let it not be ourselves—

We will all forsake someone—
may it be someone we have loved well and long.


The priest at Anna’s service said it’s not true
that Jesus comes back to life

or he’d have to go and die again.
What he does is—transform.

The priest quotes from the law
of thermo-dynamics,

Energy cannot be created or destroyed.
Our doubts, tempers, holdings

on to what harms us
or to those we love

who are ready to leave—
all these things

ready to transform us—
make us holy.


I keep dreaming I will transform
into someone without suffering,

without having to leave
anyone behind.

When the living leave
the beach at dusk

white seagulls swoop and sup
in black or grey suits,

and hundreds of translucent blue fish
leap wide arcs and dive back in unison.

Every day, I see something
that saves my life.


The hour before Anna’s funeral I called
the priest to ask if I could come to the church

service, as I did not take
Christ as my savior.

As I had failed
to say goodbye to Anna.

As I had kept waiting for her call
after she left the last time.

As I had said, but you’re still alive,
so let us speak the language of living—

what kind of touch from your husband?
As I did not yet know the path home

was one she had to walk alone.
Pass over me for this one, God,

I kept wanting Anna to recite,
though she had already drawn

herself out of her darling’s arms
into Christ’s embrace.

As I hadn’t seen Anna was my teacher
more than I was hers.

As I didn’t know love
could neither be created nor destroyed.

As saying goodbye to her eyes and half smile
is something I long to have done.


Keep thoughts of Anna close as a source
of strength when your faith is shaken,

as you and your beloved navigate
this challenge together.

This is what your husband said to me, Anna.
He was the first person I called from the ER

when my husband was diagnosed with the same
brain tumor as you, both of you unflappable ER docs,

full of faith. Thank you, Anna, for teaching me
to speak the things of God in the time

of dying. For you, Christ’s oceanic embrace.
For my beloved, a vastness. The Ein Sof.

A Hebrew name for God. Literal meaning,
The Without End.


On Yom Kippur God decides
who shall live and who shall die.

Who by fire and who by flood.
Who by shaking,

who by remaining unmoved.
Who while kneeling and kissing

the hem of the past goodbye.
If I don my bright blue dress

and toss into the sea all the black
shoes of the dead, unworried

whose waters they will haunt—
certain the sea, like me, can hold

love for all my beloveds
the living and the dead—

what flying fish—
what wings—



Doris Ferleger, prize-winning poet and essayist, is author of three full-length poetry volumes: Big Silences in a Year of Rain, Leavened, and As the Moon Has Breath; and a chapbook entitled When You Become Snow.

Aliki Barnstone writes: “Ferleger’s memorable poems keep singing with their insistent beauty.”



Pass Over 
© 2021 Doris Ferleger
• • • Thanks for Reading • • •
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18 thoughts on “Pass Over | Doris Ferleger”

  1. Doris, this is one of the most brilliant poems I’ve ever read. Thank you for writing it. And congratulations!
    Liza Porter

  2. Your poem touches my heart and soul. Beautifully written and just right for me to read. I’m 77, and am in good health, but that can change in a moment’s time and it is a path to follow for what will inevitably come next.

  3. Dear Doris,

    I will read your poem often and hold it to my heart. Thank you for saying so much in the language of poetry with just enough words.

    You inspire me and comfort me.

    Marilyn Mathis

  4. Dear Doris, Thank you for helping me to mourn and praise the passing of my loved one as a transition and not a loss. He lives within me every time I think of him. And I do so now with pleasure, not grief, thanks to you.

  5. jill Wright-Boyd

    We knew it was coming but it was was all so fast. One or two sentences and we knew. She knew. She had brought the art of teaching beauty in the drabest and most glorious places. An ancient and indispensable craft, she practiced every day, in the classroom and out.
    Once she made me understand Cezanne’s one perfect daub and two black eyes opened and I saw his whole heart and a fertile field. She knew. All the tricks and coaxing ways that bring the cloud to be over us, raining her joy and wisdom. Her beauty way was quick, heart filling,
    correct in her love, and triumphant. She lay among the many dead for days before her husband found her. Under a Cezanne tree, battling sky in the wind. Bringing rain, joy.


  6. What an extraordinary accomplishment and poem. Truly complete. Nothing left over. Congratulations on making a deep mark on us all, Doris! Wonderful! PYE

  7. Dear Dor
    Another amazingly tender poem. So glad it was acknowledged and celebrated!
    Congrats! and thanks for sharing with all of us

  8. I cried. And I can’t remember when I last cried over a poem. Congratulations! This was a well-deserved win. It’s so beautiful. And a comfort to the grieving at a time when we are counting losses and desperately need comfort. Well done.

  9. S. Wilson
    I want to read it again and again. And again. So many levels. What a gift you have! So glad you shared it. It took me right along, like a river. Moving all the while. Moving me.

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