Tag Archives: Jewish

Peretz Markish

Translator’s Note on Peretz Markish’s Work:

Peretz Markish was a prominent Yiddish writer who was executed by Stalin on August 12, 1952, a date that has come to be known as “the night of the murdered poets.” His work is among the most acclaimed Yiddish poetry that has come out of Russia in the early to mid-twentieth century.  LW Markish’s greatest poetic accomplishment was his epic poem, Di Kupe (The Heap), which describes Jewish suffering through a metaphorical heap of corpses in a marketplace. This selection is an excerpt.

 

Rose Waldman (translator) is an MFA candidate and a writing instructor at Columbia University. Her work has appeared in Pakn Treger, The MacGuffin, Ami Magazine, Meorot, and elsewhere. Her translation of a I. L. Peretz story from Yiddish is forthcoming from Back Pages Books.

 

The Heap (15)

Night unbuttons her black mouth
Its teeth dripping with stars
Board, lonely ones, and sail
The silver ship of the new moon

Who has no rest in his bed
Who has no cure in the night-hour
Board, naked ones, without coffins
The silver ship of the new moon

Like the ark on Ararat
The new moon sits on the heap
They sleep.  Only the crow does not rest
She busies herself in the rotting trash:

“Enter, residents of mourning
The skin of sunset lies slaughtered
We the crows don’t want to sail
The silver ship of the new moon

Pack the new moon with victuals
Lay a pair of carcasses onto it.”
And the silent crows wander like clouds
On the silver ship of the new moon.

Leib Kvitko

Translator’s Note on Leib Kvitko’s Work:

Leib Kvitko was a prominent Yiddish writer who was executed by Stalin on August 12, 1952, a date that has come to be known as “the night of the murdered poets.” His work is among the most acclaimed Yiddish poetry that has come out of Russia in the early to mid-twentieth century. 

 

Rose Waldman (translator) is an MFA candidate and a writing instructor at Columbia University. Her work has appeared in Pakn Treger, The MacGuffin, Ami Magazine, Meorot, and elsewhere. Her translation of a Yiddish I. L. Peretz story is forthcoming from Back Pages Books.

 

A Silence  

When no one is in my room
I become sprightly
Smile to myself
And dance a silence with the stillness
We spin in secret, easy wildness
We spin – I and stillness 

She clings to me, blows into my ear
Intoxicates me with her grey appearance
I become a simpleton
I spin, effortless, my body spins itself
But soon in stillness’ corners
A whisper dissolves
It moves me
I recognize her, my stillness
We dance with easy wildness
In the dark air, like dark cloths
We dance, I and stillness
A deep light silence
 
It happens—
Sometimes I appear
And stillness refuses to recognize me
I seek my reflection in her eyes
I see: my temples burning
I turn back
She steals a glance
And pounds both me and the door
I startle
And bow to her
 
When I awake
The sky is already a black roof
I and stillness stand, embrace
Eyes moist, cheeks warm
Soon we sing a ballad
Of nights and rains
And dance a silence light and long

Howard Schwartz

Howard ScwartzHoward Schwartz is the author of five books of poems, VesselsGathering the Sparks, Sleepwalking Beneath the StarsBreathing in the Dark, and The Library of Dreams. He is also the co-editor (with Anthony Rudolf) of Voices Within the Ark: The Modern Jewish Poets. His other books include Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism, which won the National Jewish Book Award and Leaves from the Garden of Eden: One Hundred Classic Jewish Tales. 

The Angel of Ripeness  

While she waits for the sun to bestow
its blessing,
she rocks the cradle
back and forth,
tending the seed
the way a cloud and river
nurture the rain.

Every grain in the field,
every grape on the vine,
even the moon
listens
to the song she hums
under her breath.

Patty Seyburn

Patty SeyburnPatty Seyburn has published three books of poems: Hilarity (New Issues Press, 2009), Mechanical Cluster (Ohio State University Press, 2002), and Diasporadic (Helicon Nine Editions, 1998). Her poems have recently been published in Minnesota Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, and Zocalo Public Square. She is an Associate Professor at California State University, Long Beach, and co-editor of POOL: A Journal of Poetry (www.poolpoetry.com).

Lightning, 1882-1890

As witness, the amateur
hazards the first
photograph of this
phenomena, perhaps
the first phenomena –
what other tool would
the Great Cleaver wield
to separate firmament
from earth? The man
reveals the supposed
serrate closer to a straight
line or curve: ribbon
or random pattern
instead of jag, famed
zigzag, switchback –
the art of electricity
scissoring the dark –
the eye, ever-deceived.
Grievous the world
broken in two: fabric
of matter rent and
stitched by the Holy
Tailor with thread of
ether, needle of storm,
so seamlessly the seam
denies its existence:
you must have imagined me.
 

Judith Skillman

Judith SkillmanJudith Skillman’s forthcoming book is Broken Lines—The Art & Craft of Poetry, (Lummox Press). Her poems and collaborative translations have appeared in Poetry, Cimarron Review, FIELD, Ezra, Seneca Review, The Iowa Review, and numerous other journals and anthologies. Recipient of an award from the Academy of American Poets for Storm (Blue Begonia Press); two of her collections have been finalists for the Washington State Book Award. For more information visit www.judithskillman.com, or see her blog on techno-bling: abricabrac.com

 

If Miranda

The magician exists, of course,
if only in her imagination.
She’s the one who created him—
a daughter always makes her father
see with one eye. The other?
It’s gone white as dawn
in an overcast version of Paradise.
The white of an egg
pulled down beneath the lid.
Blindness frightens her, she tries
to make him see
it’s only wiles and guile,
a kind of feminine virtue
known and ignored.
He struts the sand like a bird
too sturdy despite the green toes.
He talks history, of the days
before this day.
Toward evening his apology
grows long as a shawl
of prayers, a foam rope.
She’s the one who must
reach farther in, find
the play within the play.
Without her probing
who would know the vagaries
of his latest illness?
Who plays the scamp,
the scalawag, that rapscallion
bound to haunt the waterfront?

Steven Sher

Steven SherSteven Sher is the author of fourteen books including, most recently, Grazing on Stars: Selected Poems (Presa Press, 2012) and the forthcoming The House of Washing Hands (Pecan Grove Press). He moved from New York City to Jerusalem one year ago with his wife. Find more information about his writing at stevensher.net.

 

 

A Lesson in Extending Compliments

for Rabbi Yehoshua Safrin
I told him he looked well today and he responded
that the surface of a man can be deceptive
and one’s health is in the hands of Hashem .
So then I added that his looking fine on the outside
was because the inside was so pure
and what was good came shining through.
Here he didn’t dispute what I had said
but nodded as if I had handed him a gift
that he couldn’t possibly accept,
yet he let it stand as he tugged on his coat
and turned up the collar, then swung the scarf
around his neck, fixing it like a mask over his mouth
up to the bridge of his nose—perhaps to trap
the warmth each deep breath garnered
as much as to keep the cold from his weakened lungs.
When next he pulled his black fur hat
down around his ears, as much to guard against the wind
that would slap his face once he stepped outside
as to strengthen himself against the doubts
that test a man before the door where he dons his gloves,
his mind was wrestling with new questions—
heavenly messengers, unseen by me,
now sent to lift him by his arms if they should drop
and raise the ground to meet his step.

William Shumway’s Painting Of A Rose

*(this poem is only available in our first print anthology)

 

Matthew Lippman

Matthew LippmanMatthew Lippman is the author of three poetry collections, American Chew, winner of The Burnside Review of Books Poetry Prize, Monkey Bars (Typecast Publishing) and The New Year of Yellow (Sarabande Books), winner of the Kathryn A. Morton Poetry Prize. He is the recipient of the 2010 Jerome J. Shestack Poetry Prize from The American Poetry Review. 

 

 **Recipient of Best of the Net 2013 Finalist**

 

In the Basement of the Holy House

I sat in the synagogue
and decided not to be a Jew. 
Just for a second. 
I wanted to see how it felt. 
It felt like the yellow traffic signal
on the corner of South and Center. 
Why don’t you want to be a Jew? my daughter said. 
How did you know? 
I can read your mind. 
No way, I said.  She smiled. 
Try me. 
I closed my eyes. 
You are thinking about how stupid mid twenties hipsters are
when they fall into their Existential free-fall,
four to six years after university, then wind up doing what most people do in America–
head out and make some money. 
Someone close to us said the word Adonai[1]
How did you guess?  I said.
I told you, she said. 
You are only seven, I said. 
Seven goes a long way in this world
and that is no joke. 
When I came back to being a Jew
The Torah had been put away and Kiddush[2] was happening
in the basement of the holy house
I was all alone in the sanctuary except for God,
I swear to it, who didn’t even yell or scream
or sink a blazing fireball into the middle of my chest
for not believing, even for just a second. 
Thanks, I said.  Not a problem, God said,
and it was like we had just shared a tuna fish sandwich
and there was nothing left, not even one little crumb.

 


[1] In Hebrew, this means God.

[2] In some Synagogues, this is done at end of service on Friday nights. There is a prayer recited and a type of bread called Challah is broken and sampled as well as a sip of wine from a silver cup

 

Joy Ladin

Joy LadinJoy Ladin is a Gottesman Professor of English at Yeshiva University, and author of six books of poetry: The Definition of Joy, Coming to Life, Transmigration, Alternatives to History, The Book of Anna, and Psalms. Her memoir, Through the Door of Life:  A Jewish Journey Between Genders, was a finalist for a 2012 National Jewish Book Award, and a Forward Fives winner. She is also the author of a book-length study of American poetry, Soldering the Abyss: Emily Dickinson and Modern American Poetry (VDM). Her work has appeared in periodicals, including American Poetry Review, Southern Review, Prairie Schooner, Parnassus: Poetry in Review, Southwest Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and North American Review. Ladin’s work has been recognized with a Fulbright Scholarship.

 

Letter to Jonah

It must be cozy there, in the belly of the whale.
The whale knows you aren’t the end of his world,
his enormous heart pumps unbroken in the dark.
God reverberates quietly inside you,
a psalm you sing as you dissolve
in his gastric juices.
Dissolving is safer for all concerned
than growing into who you are.
And aren’t you really closer to God,
there in the cozy belly of the whale,
dissolving into gratitude and krill
and a story sailors tell 
about a man who slept through a man-killing storm
and when they woke him up to pray
said “Throw me overboard.”

Susan Bee

Susan Bee: Out the Window
Out the Window

 

Spotlight on Artist: Susan Bee

 

Susan Bee: Trouble Ahead
Trouble Ahead

Bio:
Susan Bee is a painter, editor, and book artist, living in New York City. She has a solo painting show, “Criss Cross: New Paintings,” up until June 29 at Accola Griefen Gallery, NY. Bee has had six solo shows at A.I.R. Gallery. She has published many artist’s books including collaborations with Charles Bernstein, Johanna Drucker, Susan Howe, Regis Bonvicino, Jerry Rothenberg, and Jerome McGann. Bee is the coeditor with Mira Schor of M/E/A/N/I/N/G Online. Her artwork is in many public and private collections including the Getty Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum, Yale University, New York Public Library, and the Harvard University Library. Her work has been reviewed in Art in America, Art News, The Forward, The New York Times, Art Papers, and The Brooklyn Rail. Bee teaches at the University of Pennsylvania and the School of Visual Arts.

 

Susan Bee: Wherever You Go
Wherever You Go

Artist Statement:
The series of oil paintings that I have been working on recently is based on stills from films, mostly noirs. These primarily small oil paintings dramatize the relationships between male and female characters through the lens of the dark, violent films of the 1940s and 1950s. These new works concentrate on complexity, sensuality, dramatic tension, and strong emotions. I am creating these paintings as spaces for a drama to take place. I’m emphasizing the dynamic between the figures, whether they’re pressing against a windowpane, or pressing up against each other. The paintings’ focus is on these relationships and the psychological space and emotions that are carved out among the persons that I’m portraying.

 

Ahava, Berlin
Ahava, Berlin

Ahava, Berlin, was inspired by a trip I made in 2012 to Berlin. I stayed near the former Ahava Kinderheim, located in the Mitte, which was the Jewish ghetto, and is now an arts district. It was a politically progressive Jewish children’s home. My mother lived there from 1927 to 1934. Both my parents grew up in Berlin and were exiled in their teens to Palestine. I based this painting on a melancholy snapshot of me standing in front of the war-scarred, graffitied building, which remains standing as a testament to the suffering of the Jewish population in Germany. The orphanage and most of the children were transferred to Israel, where Ahava, (Hebrew for love) continues to this day.

Website:

http://epc.buffalo.edu/authors/bee/

Image Info:

Susan Bee, Out the Window, 2011, 16″ x 20″, oil and enamel on linen.
Susan Bee, Wherever You Go, 2013, 24″ x 36″, oil on canvas.
Susan Bee, Trouble Ahead, 2012, 20″ x 24″, oil on canvas.
Susan Bee, Ahava, Berlin, 2012, 24″ x 36″, oil, enamel, and sand on canvas.

Enid Shomer

Enid ShomerEnid Shomer’s seventh book, The Twelve Rooms of the Nile (Simon & Schuster, 2012) was named one of the six best historical fiction novels of 2012 by National Public Radio. Shomer won the Iowa Fiction Prize for her first collection of stories Imaginary Men, and the Florida Gold Medal for her second, Tourist Season (Random House, 2007), which was also selected for Barnes & Noble’s “Discover Great New Writers” series. She is also the author of four books of poetry. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Paris Review, and many other publications. As Visiting Writer, she has taught at the University of Arkansas, Florida State University, and the Ohio State University among others. She lives in Tampa, Florida. The Twelve Rooms of the Nile is her first novel.

 

Small

Around the corner from our house lived a frail, white-haired man and his wife, the English teacher who had my brother expelled from eleventh grade. Perhaps they pitied me for his crimes, for that year, when I turned nine, the husband began making me dollhouse miniatures. Wordlessly, he’d motion me to the door and hand them over wrapped in tissue: chairs and a table, a skillet from crimped tin, a baked turkey carved from wood. I was a shy kid; all I ever said was “thanks.” I never told him these were my favorite possessions or that I considered them artistic masterpieces compared to the crude miniatures from occupied Japan sold at Woolworth’s, all of which were made of a slick pink plastic the color of organ meats.

I kept my minikins in a drawer and only played with them when I was alone. Perhaps because I was not much cuddled or held as a child, I took especial pleasure in arranging and touching my small treasures. Their very size made perfection seem attainable, and imparted a powerful sense of control and pride of ownership. My brother, who had a model train in his attic bedroom, must have thrived on similar satisfactions—on the aura of impending action in the landscape glued to the 4×8 foot piece of plywood. Soon the train would puff fake smoke through the motionless forest, past the tiny waiting dogs, the penned cattle just beginning to turn their ears in the direction of the sound.

Three years later, my neighbor died and his widow moved away. I began to acquire my own miniatures: bitsy scissors that snipped, a doll’s porcelain tea service, a real screwdriver no larger than a thumbtack, the final surprise in a nesting set that belonged to my father. I quickly became a connoisseur, rejecting anything with inauthentic proportions, mold seams, sloppy paint, immovable parts.

But nothing I owned was as fine as the furnishings and accoutrements of the Thorne Rooms, which I recently visited at the Art Institute of Chicago: earring-sized crystal chandeliers that cast milky droplets of light; cranberry lusters tinkling on a tiny marble shelf; crumb-sized ink pots; a red and white jade chess set with rooks and pawns smaller than gnats; dime-sized Limoges portrait plates achieved with a single bristle.

And here is Mrs. Thorne herself in an artist’s smock, leaning over a magnifier in her studio, surrounded by the artisans she commissioned to create the rooms. Whether French Empire antechamber with pietra dura floor, English refectory with copper chargers, or California living room with stamp-sized modernist paintings, everywhere an inch equals a foot.

At a time when most women of means or brains were limited to becoming socialites or patrons, Mrs. Thorne (née Narcissa Niblack) turned to the arts and charity, but her secret passion was for nubbins. As a girl, her uncle, an admiral in the Navy, sent her “smalls” from around the world. She amassed a huge collection in her own right. In middle-age, she began to plan her legacy: sixty-eight historically illustrative rooms so perfectly executed that it’s impossible to detect their diminutive scale in photographs. Twelve-inch ceilings float above veneered chests and japanned desks, palatial petit-point rugs.Set in the museum wall behind a pane of glass, each room is a complete and expansive household, with adjacent rooms, not wholly visible, yet furnished to the last chair-rail.  Bedrooms, studies, gardens, even distant mountains and the light grid of cities peek through hallways, windows, French doors.  Everywhere, there is the illusion of natural light.

Everywhere, the absence of residents seems merely a coincidental pause in the pulse of life. A pair of reading glasses hold down the pages of a Chiclet-sized book; coal spills from a scuttle in the frosty entry to the kitchen; a swatch of knitting on needles finer than straight pins trails from a basket. And on a braid rug, an inch-long doll with porcelain head and arms and soft, stuffed body slouches, waiting for a little girl to return.

Scattered in other museums are equally impressive smalls.  An artisan in Russia has fashioned a globe of the world from a bee-bee, and etched a microscopic map on the head of a pin. Another has carved the Pietà from a tiger’s tooth. Imagine that minim of grief, fingers the width of stitches! This desire to reduce reality without loss of accuracy and clarity must be an elemental human impulse, like breasting oceans and climbing mountains. Tiny objects—especially infants, puppies and toys—actually cause the pupils to dilate. A melting warmth—the gooey heat of cuteness—suffuses the body, settling in the stomach. Muscles and tendons relax and the desire to touch and possess, to care for, swims through the limbs.

Like a roller-coaster ride, or an excess of chocolate, the Thorne rooms delighted and sickened me. So much restraint and attention to detail quickly devolve into claustrophobia, with its attendant threat of non-existence. It would be so easy to vanish into a miniature empire, the way anorexics disappear as they perfect their art.

After my visit to the rooms, I walked the banks of the Chicago River, re-inflating in the broad air. Smallness is a kind of corrective, I thought, like a homeopathic remedy. Its effectiveness depends on the dose and that day, I had overdosed.

Though I’ve collected miniature pictures frames and perfume bottles, all my life I’ve consciously resisted the urge to make my own tiny replicas. I know that smallness can add brilliance and balance, the way a diamond pendant lying in the notch of a woman’s throat shares its clarity and delicate beauty with her skin and the slight motion of her breathing. But in large doses, smallness can be poisonous. When you visit the Thorne rooms, one thing becomes manifestly clear: no tiny person will ever walk through those scaled-down doors calling your name.

Linda Pastan

Linda Pastan’s 13th book of poems, Traveling Light, has recently been published by Norton. She was Poet Laureate of Maryland from 1991-1995 and has been a finalist twice for the National Book Award. In 2003 she won the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize.

 

Like a Bird

 

1.

Despair is like a bird. Not a crow with its dark
wings, its shadows
over the heart;
not a raptor,
all appetite.
Despair is a sparrow,
no color at all,
pecking away
at crumbs,
ubiquitous.

 

2.

Joy is like a bird.
Not a robin, with
its arrogant breast;
not a mockingbird— ventriloquist of the air.
Joy is a white ibis,
glimpsed once or twice,
its great wings opening
like theatre curtains
onto a blue
dazzle of sea. 

Legacies

From my father comes the dark current
that runs under the surface of my life;    

from my mother the old need
to please at any cost.

The residue of memory is honey
on the hands, so hard

to wash away.  Let my demons rest
in the coffin of the page,

not in my sons and daughter
who speak another dialect,

though we signal to each other
from the separate shores

of youth and age.  I leave them only
a map in the genes

and a residue of memory like honey
on the hands.

I leave them consolations
of sun on a lifted face,

faithful as the nurse who pulls
up the blinds each morning

to call the sleeping children
back to the world.

Elaine Terranova

Elaine TerranovaElaine Terranova is the author of five collections of poems, most recently, Dames Rocket. A new collection, Dollhouse, is forthcoming. Her work has appeared in a number of literary magazines and anthologies. Her translation of Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis is part of the Penn Greek Drama Series.  She has received the Walt Whitman Award, an NEA, a Pew Fellowship, and a Pushcart Prize.

 

 

Stairway

Think of the dollhouse
as a collection, a museum,
even a prison, but a little doll,
a tiny chair, mean nothing
if not in the context of a house.

There is in a house, despite
its safety, I don’t know,
such capacity for movement and change.

At night, for instance, a house
talks back, crackles and knocks.
Turn on the alarm and it is like
setting the alarm of your fear,
little birdcall of eternity.

Downstairs you have only just
shut the door on the world
and you float up, giddy with sleep.
You fly–don’t they call the sets
of steps flights?  At the top,
massive dark, a wind that rushes
through the hall.

Everything moves around.
Nothing is stable.  Then you open
a door, look through a window,
and find there, pocketed by the sky,
the nearly perfect moon.

Barry Seiler

Barry SeilerBarry Seiler lives in a small mountain town in the Catskills with his wife and four cats. He has published four volumes of poetry. His most recent, Frozen Falls, was a finalist for the Paterson Poetry Prize.

 

 

 

 

Yarhrzeit

I keep misplacing the anniversaries,
So I say today and buy one at the market
Around the corner. It takes three swipes
For the scanner to get the price.
It’s true a candle in a glass can’t suffice
To settle accounts with the dead.
Yet each year my mother burned them for hers
To balance the books the generations keep,
Placing them on a counter in the kitchen.
And when the candle had thoroughly burned,
She soaked the glasses and washed them,
Practical to the last, and used them to serve
The juice I drank each morning for my bones.

 

*A yahrzeit candle (also spelled yahrtzeit candle) is also called a memorial candle, which translates to soul candle in Hebrew and in Yiddish it translates to anniversary candle.  It is lit in memory of the dead in Judaism. It can burn up to 26 hours. (Wikipedia).

Barbara F. Lefcowitz

Barbara F. LefcowitzBarbara F. Lefcowitz has published nine poetry collections, including her latest, The Blue Train to America (2007). Her fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in over 600 journals. She has won writing fellowships and prizes from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National  Endowment for the Humanities, and the Rockefeller Foundation, among others. She lives in Bethesda, Maryland and is also a visual artist.

 

Golden Eyes

Sprawled on the condo pool’s deck
I flip through the paper’s latest catastrophes
look away and gaze
at the semi-circle of catatonic townhouses,
their eyes identically bandaged.
The old mirrors inside them must be lonely and bored
reflecting only a succession of lights and darks
with neither fingerprints nor eyeprints.

On my paper’s back page a few lines
about the images of wild goats
carved into gold Canaanite earrings
recently unearthed from two millennia back
not far from Meggido. At which point
a flock of goats romps and frolics
on the concrete deck and I jump
into the pool’s turquoise eye
float above its zigzags of sun rays.

Arnie Weingart

Arnie WeingartArnie Weingart attended Dartmouth College, where he received a B.A. in German and Comparative Literature and studied poetry with Richard Eberhart. He also attended Columbia University, where he received an M.F.A. in writing, studying with David Ignatow and James Tate. More recently he was awarded a writing residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, working with Rosellen Brown. He and his family live in Chicago, where he is the owner and principal of a graphic design consultancy specializing in identity and wayfinding. Recent poems have been published in Arts & Letters, Nimrod International Journal, Coal Hill Review, Oberon, Enizagam, and …and Love (an anthology).

 

The Rothko Chapel

Eyn Sof:  the Kabbalistic term denoting the state of non-being prior to creation of the universe

This is the record of what God did
before the first day before the thought
of the thought of days before he had even
decided whether there should be a
God each canvas is too large for
human scale there being no humans
no couches or walls or museums no
points of view each canvass looks
like a slate not quite wiped clean from
previous efforts no telling how many
this being before the invention of
numbers there is a gray color which is
no longer black but which looks as though

it longs for green or perhaps just the idea
of green there is another canvass in which
barely discernible purple and ochre and
verdigris seem to suggest what might
become blue given enough time given
the beginning of the beginning of time
and on at least one painting there is
out toward the edges when you stand
far enough back what looks like a
border a willful shift from one color
to another a line which once having
been drawn by God or not by God
there is no other choice but to cross

 

Thelma Zirkelbach

Thelma Zirkelbach began her writing career as a romance novelist writing under the pseudonym Lorna Michaels. Recently her focus has shifted to non-fiction. She has published articles in numerous anthologies and has just released an anthology titled On Our Own: Widowhood for Smarties, which she co-edited with Silver Boomer publishers. She lives in Houston and enjoys traveling, reading, cooking and spending time with her granddaughter, who also likes to write.

 

An Apple for Life

Judaism and food are inextricably linked; some say, synonymous. From the Sabbath with its challah and wine to the unleavened bread and bitter herbs of Passover and the hamentashen of Purim, each holy day has its traditional food, rich with meaning. Partaking of these foods reminds us deep in our guts of the significance of the holiday. An essayist in Food and Judaism remarks that all Jewish holidays can be reduced to three sentences, “They tried to get us. God rescued us. Let’s eat.”

Blintzes, kugel, chicken soup—for me, all evoke memories of home and family. The smell of roasting chicken reminds me of my mother at the kitchen stove, incongruously dressed in an apron-covered housedress and elegant high heeled shoes.

My grandmother, who lived with us for a while, made kasha, and on Passover she baked sponge cakes, which we topped with jam.

But the food closest to my heart is the apple. On Rosh Hashanah it represents the unending cycle of the year. Sprinkled with honey, it gives us hope of a sweet year to come.

My apple was different. No honey, not even any peel, just a simple, everyday fruit cut into pieces and served to me on a paper plate in a hospital room.

I was nineteen the year I ate the apple, a junior at the University of Texas, living in the sorority house on campus even though I was a local. On March 29, 1965 my life changed.

The morning was warm, and my roommate opened the window to let in the sweet, spring-scented breeze. This was the kind of day when walking the few blocks to campus was a joy. I wore one of my favorite dresses, a black pin-striped cotton with long sleeves and a wide patent leather belt.  Under it I wore a crinoline petticoat–the rage that year–which made the skirt stand out like the dresses of pre-Civil War southern belles.

Round-up Weekend, one of the major celebrations at the University of Texas, was coming up in a few days, and the campus was abuzz with anticipation. The excitement carried over to evening. A short time before dinner another girl and I stood in my room, discussing what we would wear that weekend. The window was still open, but a cold front had blown in, and someone had lit the space heater. I stood with my back to it.

Suddenly my friend cried out, “Thelma, your dress is on fire!”

Flames shot up from my skirt, gobbled the flammable crinoline beneath it.

I knew not to run. That’s the first thing you learn during Fire Prevention week in elementary school.  I ran.            

Screaming, I lunged across the room. My legs were on fire, and I thought in surprise that it didn’t hurt as much as I would have expected.

I was only nineteen, too young to die. I ran into the next room, yelling for my friend . I felt my bladder empty. I heard shouts. Someone threw me down. The housemother rushed in and rolled me in a towel.

As two firemen carried me downstairs to an ambulance, I thought the worst was over. It was just beginning.

Although I was from Austin, the ambulance took me to the Student Health Center, where my parents met us. My mother was pale with shock; my father trembled. Within a few minutes our family doctor arrived.  He decided I should remain at the Health Center rather than risk another ambulance ride. So there I stayed for the next ten days until I was transferred to the burn ward at John Sealy Hospital in Galveston. 

In those early days, whenever my bed sheets were changed, the slightest touch of the material on my body, or any movement I was forced to make, were excruciating. More than the pain, I remember the smell of my own charred flesh. A tiny spot under my left arm was burned and turning my head to that side nauseated me. 

My father stayed with me at night, sleeping on a cot. Oh, how he snored. And how it embarrassed me. Periodically I woke him and begged him to quiet down. As if anyone in the health center cared. 

At synagogues in Austin, in El Paso where my aunt and uncle lived, and in Nashville where a sorority sister who was a close friend lived, congregations read verses from the book of Tihillim (Psalms) to pray for my recovery.

On the third day I noticed my hands swelling. My neck seemed to balloon out. “What’s happening to me?” I asked my mother.

“The drip from the IV spilled over. It will go away,” she lied. In truth, my kidneys had failed and fluid had begun building up in my body.  My condition was critical.

The next day, when I woke from a narcotic-induced sleep, Mother asked, “Do you want anything?” I’d already asked for my face cream and with nineteen-year-old vanity had insisted on applying it every night. “How about something to eat?”

 “I want an apple.” What brought an apple to mind, I don’t know. It wasn’t among my favorite fruits except in apple pie. Minutes before, I wasn’t the least bit hungry, but suddenly I craved an apple, and I wanted it as soon as possible.

Mother sent one of my many friends who had camped outside my room to a nearby grocery store. She filched a knife from the kitchen, peeled the apple, and cut it into chunks. I devoured part of it greedily, then murmured, “That’s enough,” and fell back to sleep.

I dreamed of a mountain, devoid of vegetation, its steep slopes covered with yellowish slush, like rancid snow. Inch by inch, I struggled up the sides, pulling myself higher and higher until I reached the summit. There I got to my feet and gazed into the distance with a sudden feeling of well-being. When I woke, I told my mother, “I’m all right now.”

Within a few hours my kidney function returned and the swelling disappeared. I had passed the crisis. I knew, somehow, the apple had brought me to the mountain peak and given me life.

Months later, after twelve weeks in the burn ward, fifteen surgical debridements, three skin grafts, weeks of torture on a striker frame, sessions in a water-filled tank to loosen dead skin, hours of physical therapy to learn to walk and bend my knees again, and nights of sleeplessness from itching as the burns healed, my mother told me the story of the refuah, or healing, sent by God to her brother Sam.

While the family still lived in a tiny Ukranian shtetl, during a particularly brutal winter, her older brother took sick. From what they expected to be his death bed, he told his father, “A peasant in the marketplace is selling grapes. Go and buy me some.”

Grapes? In the middle of winter? But my grandfather wanted to please his son, so he put on his heavy jacket and boots and trudged to the marketplace. Perhaps he would buy Sam some trinket to cheer him.

To his amazement, a peasant sat in a booth, selling grapes. My grandfather bought a bunch and hurried home. Sam ate a few and put the rest under his pillow. By the time the grapes shriveled, the boy had recovered. My grandfather, a pious and learned Jew, insisted the grapes were a gift from God, a refuah. Mother said my apple was, too. 

For years I have wondered if such a belief exists among Jews of the Diaspora or if the refuah was a unique family legend. I have found no evidence, no tales of healing foods, although I have read folklore books, searched the Internet, even written to a rabbi in London. To my knowledge, there is no record of a food that saves one from the brink of death. 

I am not a strong believer; I think of myself as a secular Jew. How can I credit an apple with giving me back my life? Logically, the story makes no sense. It was a mere coincidence that I ate a few bites of fruit shortly before my kidney function was restored.

Or perhaps the ways of God are mysterious, His reasons unknown to us. Does my life have a purpose that I unconsciously fulfill?  As a speech-language pathologist, I have taught many children to talk. Did God save me for this reason? I remind myself that there are many speech pathologists. Does God need me for some special child who will one day grow up to accomplish great things? Or is it that my story will take its place among the folktales of my family and live long after I’m gone?

But I want, like my mother, to believe. I do believe.

 

Marge Piercy

Marge Piercy is the author of seventeen novels including Gone to Soldiers, The Longings of Women and the classic Woman on the Edge of Time, as well as her critically acclaimed memoir Sleeping with Cats. She is the author of eighteen volumes of poetry, including The Hunger Moon: New and Selected Poems 1980-2010 and The Art of Blessing the Day: Poems with a Jewish Theme. Also, PM press republished Dance the Eagle to Sleep in December and Vida this year with new introductions.

A popular speaker on college campuses, she has been a featured writer on Bill Moyers’ PBS Specials, Prairie Home Companion, Fresh Air, the Today Show, and many radio programs nationwide including Air America and Oprah & Friends. Her poems are read frequently on The Writer’s Almanac.

Praised as one of the few American writers who are accomplished poets as well as novelists — Piercy is one of our country’s best selling poets — she is also the master of many genres: historical novels, science fiction (He, She, and It won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Science Fiction in the United Kingdom), novels of social comment and contemporary entertainments. She has taught, lectured and/or performed her work at well over 400 universities around the world. http://margepiercy.com/

 

What and When I Promised

I was ten years old and visiting my grandma Hannah in the mixed poor Jewish and African American ghetto where she lived upstairs in a wooden tenement. Part of every year, bobelah stayed with us in our little asbestos bungalow in Detroit and we shared a bed. But several times a year, we went to Cleveland, where most of my mama’s family lived. I loved Cleveland. It was an escape. Loving embraces and good food and houses with books and music, even when the apartments were small and crowded. I was absolutely sure my grandma loved me; I was only as sure about my cat Buttons. I was doubtful about my father, who did not think much of me, and my mother and I were often at each other in kitchen skirmishes.

The big war of my childhood had finished the summer before. A great crowd filled the Campus Martius in downtown Detroit and everybody was yelling, shooting off firecrackers, kissing, dancing. I thought it was great. In our neighborhood, we kids had a parade with our bikes round and round the block waving a couple of flags and some balloons, banging on drums and shaking noisemakers left over from some New Year’s Eve. 

Grandma was my only grandparent. Both my father’s parents were dead and my maternal grandfather’s head had been bashed in by the Pinkertons when he was organizing the bakery workers in Cleveland. I had nearly a dozen and a half aunts and uncles and gaggles of cousins, but only Hannah to tell me stories from the stetl where she had grown up till her marriage, stories of wonder-working rabbis, of the golem and Lilith and dybyks and Cossacks. She had been hungry often, she had often been afraid, but she had belonged, the daughter of a rabbi, and she had many girlfriends with whom she bathed and washed clothes at the river and gossiped and shared her dreams. I knew that since the war ended, she had been trying to get in touch with relatives and old friends back there in Lithuania.

Grandma’s apartment was tiny and mostly we sat in the kitchen with her cat Blackie and sometimes one of her neighbors who went to the same shul, where she would take me and we would sit behind the mehitzah. At that age, I did not mind the segregation because I was petted and made much of by the old ladies who had the same thick accent as my bobuleh. They told me how smart I was and what pretty black hair I had, worn in two braids down my back.

Hannah was short and stout with dark brown hair streaked with white. She wore it in a bun, but at night when we shared a bed she would let it down like Rapunzel. I wished I had long hair like hers, but my mother cut it every two months. My mother’s hair was as black as mine but kept very short. She curled it from time to time.  Mine was straight and there was a lot of it. My mother would complain when she washed it with tar soap [she didn’t trust me to wash my own hair] and then rinsed it in cider vinegar that I had enough hair for a whole family of girls. 

Hannah wore thick glasses. She had made money doing embroidery but now she had cataracts and she said, “My eyesight, it’s going too fast. Soon I’ll be blind like a stone.”

In Hannah’s kitchen, neighbors came and went while her cat supervised from a high shelf. Most were Jewish and some were Black. That did not surprise me, as we lived in a Detroit neighborhood Black or white by blocks.  My parents were openly prejudiced, but I had never lived in an all-white world.  My first boyfriend was Black. That lasted until my parents found out and I was beaten hard by the wooden yardstick they used on me.

My parents had driven off to see one of my father’s younger brothers in Youngstown, Ohio, leaving me overnight with Hannah. That made me happy, as I was the oldest and she insisted the smartest of her grandchildren instead of a disappointment to my father from being born a girl. Also the woman married to my father’s brother was just anti-semetic enough to make sly hints and drop little phrases like, “That woman at my yard sale, she was trying to Jew me down on the price of the crib.” Her sons would pick on me when we were out of sight of the grown-ups. No, I was delighted to stay in Cleveland.

We had bagels and lox for breakfast with thick slices of onion and cream cheese that didn’t come in a Philadelphia package as it did at home. I had brought my best doll.  Hannah was making a dress for her out of an old tablecloth that had almost disintegrated. She could no longer do fine embroidery, but she could still sew by hand or on her old treadle machine.  Late in the morning she sent me down to get the mail from her box. Proudly I brandished the key. Our mail at home was generally left on the front steps. Unlocking a metal box felt special. At home, I had just gotten my own house key that I was expected to wear on a string around my neck when my mother needed to be out when I was due home from school. Keys were very adult, I felt. I was old enough to be left alone.  Kids were more independent in those days. At twelve I would be babysitting until two in the morning.

An electric bill, a postcard with palm trees from my uncle Danny in the merchant marine, a circular for a new dry cleaners and a thick official-looking letter from a Jewish organization. I carried them all carefully upstairs, proud of my errand and myself for doing it so well.  I hadn’t dropped anything and my hands were clean. I even brought up the circulars.

Hannah was laying out plates for lunch, the plates with roses around the edges that I loved. To this day, when I am a so-called adult and in fact a senior citizen, as they say – Bobah would just say, old lady – I am fussy about my dishes, my mug for coffee, which sheets I put on the bed.  My husband thinks this is crazy. I say it’s because I’m female.  Or maybe I’m just fussy. 

She had soup boiling on the old gas stove that always stunk a bit. “It leaks a little – like me,” she would say if I mentioned the smell. (I won’t give you her accent; that would turn her into a caricature and I had no trouble understanding her, including the Yiddish.)

She had a little radio sitting on the shelf that Blackie preferred, and often it would be turned to classical music or else the news. But whenever I came into the kitchen, she would turn it off. “Who wouldn’t rather listen to you than some stranger?” she’d say. “What a nice voice you got.”

“At school the music teacher won’t let me sing. She taps me on the head to shut up.”

“What does she know? A nice low speaking voice is nice for a woman.”

Everything about me could use improvement according to my mother, and was just perfect by Hannah. 

I put the mail on the table. She riffled through it and pounced on the official looking letter, tearing it open and squinting at it. “Ketselah, read it to me.” 

“Dear Mrs. Adler,” I read. That was her name from her second marriage. “In regard to your query about the following persons,” and there was a list of perhaps twelve names I sounded out slowly.

“Yes, yes,” she said, “Mach snell, ketselah.  Who lives?”

“We regret to inform you that all the inhabitants of…” I could not pronounce the name as there were too many consonants and almost no vowels.

She spoke the name and stared at me.

“All the inhabitants were killed. There are no survivors we have been able to trace.”

She made a noise like I had never before heard, a shriek that went on and on as she beat her chest and shook back and forth. “Alles….alles…”

I read on. They had been shot, the entire village, and left in a mass grave. Relatives were trying to raise money for a stone monument.  I did not know what to do except to rise and hold her by the shoulders, standing behind her chair. I was afraid. I felt too young to deal with her grief. I felt helpless and shaken myself. I tried to imagine what it would be like if everybody I knew died, how I would feel.

When she stopped shaking she said, “Because they were Jews. That’s all. Little babies, my niece Rivka, my neighbors who had only one cow and two hens, the rebbi my father taught, what did they ever do to anybody? Just because they were Jews, made to dig a big grave and then shot and piled in.”

When she was cried out, she just sat in her chair, shoulders stooped and grey in the face. Her grief scared me. I had cried when my previous cat Whiskers had died. I cried over a baby robin I tried to save. I cried when I got beaten up at school. But never had I seen anybody weep like Hannah. The soup had boiled over on the stove and I shut off the burner. The scorched smell filled the kitchen but she did not seem to notice.

Finally she said, “Soon they will be no more Yids. They will wipe us from the face of the earth. We will be done. Four thousand years, and no more.”

I tried to think what I might say. “Bobah, I will always be a Jew. No matter what, I will remain a Jew so long as I live.”

She looked up into my eyes. “Promise. Your mother has forgotten everything. She doesn’t know who she is any longer. Your father has no religion.”

“But I do. I promise.”

“As long as you breathe.”

“So long as I have breath in my body.”

She nodded. “I need yarhzeit candles. I go to find out the day of their death so I can light candles for them and say Kaddish.”

“I can write a letter for you.”

“Do it. There’s paper in the drawer of the little table.” She pointed. I fetched paper and pen and wrote the letter she wanted and addressed an envelope. She sealed it and kissed the envelope. “This is all I can do.”

“Should I go mail it?”

“Go ask my nextdoorsikah if she got a stamp.”

I knocked, got a stamp and came back. “Okay.” She nodded wearily. “Go mail…. Do you mean what you promise me?”

I did. And I have kept the promise ever since.

Yehoshua November

Yehoshua November is the author of God’s Optimism, which was named a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize in Poetry.  His work has appeared in The Sun Magazine, Prairie Schooner, Virginia Quarterly Review, and on The Writer’s Almanac. He teaches writing at Rutgers University and Touro College.

 

Young Men Become Chassidic

Young men become Chassidic and forget their pasts
but the G-d in Chassidic philosophy they study does not
advise this. Only, they do not understand
because they see the beards and black coats
and try to jump out of their old bodies.
I could not do this. I married my girlfriend from college
and then became a Chassid.
There was no fading bridge, then, at dusk,
separating one half of life from the other.  There was a man
holding an old leather suitcase with a letter
in one of his vest pockets—
a letter that connected the past life to this one.
It was a letter from a Rebbe predicting the future
from under a dark hat in a room
professors and Russian officials were trying to find
but could not
because G-d was hiding it.

 

A Few Feet Beneath the Surface

I am not a master of words.
I have divided my attention
between too many disciplines
to become expert at any one of them.
I would like to study one book
for many years,
like a man studying his wife’s face
from many angles
over the decades—
seeing something new, something the same, each time.
But tomorrow will call on me to dive
into many subjects,
descending just so—
a few feet beneath the surface
and back up again
toward the sunlight
of the superficial life.

 

Yvette Neisser Moreno

Yvette Neisser Moreno’s first book of poetry, Grip, won the 2011 Gival Press Poetry Award and was released in Fall 2012. She is co-translator of South Pole/Polo Sur by María Teresa Ogliastri (Settlement House, 2011) and editor of Difficult Beauty: Selected Poems by Luis Alberto Ambroggio (Cross-Cultural Communications, 2009). She has taught at various institutions, most recently The George Washington University, Catholic University, and The Writer’s Center. Yvette is the founder of the DC-Area Literary Translators Network (DC-ALT) and serves on the programming committee of Split This Rock Poetry Festival. Her website is www.yneissermoreno.com

 

Among the Tulips

When my body fails me,
I go among the tulips—
white tinged with purple
and purple tinged with white—
their petals are transparent,
the sunlight goes through them,
and they hold each other’s shadows.

Today, some have opened so wide
they might never pull together again.
Others stay upright, with just one petal
bent over, like the spout of a pitcher,
pouring out its essence
to whomever would receive it.

B.Z. Niditch

B.Z. Niditch is a poet, playwright, fiction writer and teacher. His work is widely published in journals and magazines throughout the world, including: Columbia: A Magazine of Poetry and Art; The Literary Review; Denver Quarterly; Hawaii Review; Le Guepard (France); Kadmos (France); Prism International; Jejune (Czech Republic); Leopold Bloom (Budapest);  Antioch Review; and Prairie Schooner, among others.  He lives in Brookline, Massachusetts. 

 

 

Unaccounted For

A remoteness on the earth
overshadows each marble of innocence
after the war weary winter
effacing limbs
and withered death on snowy fields
by childhood backyard fences
here bent and pinned bones
long to endure sunlight
from the burnt brown hair
surviving near a pale nostril
on a patch of landscape
Picasso shaped bodies
on crutches,
roads of skinny cripples
reeling from an off-balanced winds
by an overcast flash of sky
as a procession of mourners
pass over the river’s edge.

Miriam Levine

Miriam’s Levine’s most recent book is The Dark Opens, winner of the Autumn House Poetry Prize.  Other books include Devotion, a memoir, which will be reissued in paperback this year; In Paterson, a novel; and three other collections of poetry.  Levine lives near Boston and winters in South Beach.

 

 

 

Memorial at the Pond

Condensation gathered
under the glass that covers the girl’s
photo blurs the background and turns
her throat to mist but not her face

in profile with mouth open
and tongue curled upward
to taste that rain: she is gleaming,
with ecstasy—it seems.  Sixteen!
            
No one knew her.  She meant to die.
She wrapped weights around her
wrists—ankles too—and waded
into the deepest water.  Friends

write to her now in a damp book.
Dear, they begin, believing
she hears, believing she sees
the lilacs heaped for her.

 

Slow Goodbye

In Ozu’s films the camera
keeps running when actors
leave so we see light ruffle
the sea and long sea grass bend.

You can almost hear the flap
of a distant flag and smell
the sea’s salty breath.
Clouds expectant with rain,

each hopeful bud in the pure
reverie of the camera’s gaze.
Everything as it should be.
We’re Ozu’s people now,

looking back with him
in tenderness as the lens
lingers and the loveliest
things go on without us.

 

Jay Rubin

Jay Rubin teaches writing at The College of Alameda in the San Fran­cisco Bay Area and publishes Alehouse, an all-poetry literary journal, at www.alehousepress.com.  He holds an MFA in Poetry from New England College and lives in San Francisco with his son and Norwich terrier.

 

 

Tucson
after Stephen Dunn, 2011

A young man approached the congresswoman
Supermarket parking lot, his home town
He had chosen her—she, the place
Others had chosen what to wear
What to ask, not to be killed
The congresswoman who voted no
Had angered him some time ago
College classmates called him trouble
The kind you just can’t bury on your own
I watched the fallout on TV, myself
Among the righteous, sinning against friends
But I am not important
They were standing close
The desert sun a stone when he decided
When he chose not to be forgotten
He sentenced her and the judge, too
And a little girl with broken bones
Someone grabbed him, reined him in
A dozen gave their blood
For days, we watched the dance
The sheriff tugging up his saggy jeans
The air pulsed—our hands
Were fisted, damp
We were yelled at, lied to, whites, racists, tea
It seemed the shooting never stopped
Then these final soothing words:  She’s fine
She’s opened up her eyes.
  And yet we hurt
And yet we choose to hold that hurt

Nomi Stone

Nomi Stone is a Ph.D. Candidate in Cultural Anthropology at Columbia University with a Masters in Middle East Studies from Oxford. She is currently researching and writing poems about combat simulations/training exercises in mock Middle Eastern villages erected by the US military across America, focusing on both the military imaginations of these spaces and the lifeworlds of the Iraqi role-players who work within them. Her first book of poetry, Stranger’s Notebook (Northwestern University Press, TriQuarterly Books) about the lamentation rituals of one of the last cohesive Jewish communities in North Africa, was published in 2008. A Chicago Public Radio interview on the book can be accessed at http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/jewishmuslim-life-tunisian-island-djerba

 

Barzakh: the place of the soul before Judgment Day
Rabat, Morocco

Fridays, we carry
basil and a cup of water
to the body, sad
and bored without the soul,
numbering everything
ever changed under the
hand: the ship sent
to the ocean; the cedar
carved; the child turned
into a person, intermittently kind
and cruel.   That child dreams
every night of a place once
described to her: a house between
a lake and river, where souls fidget
like hungry birds.  The birds,
circling from the sky into your mind,
try to remember who down here, just
who particularly in
here, they landed.

 

Myra Sklarew

Myra Sklarew, former president, Yaddo Artists’ Community, professor emerita, American University. Recent publications: Harmless, Mayapple Press; The Journey of Child Development (co-editor), Routledge: Taylor & Francis; poems in the Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization, Yale University Press; a forthcoming work, A Survivor Called Trauma: Holocaust and the Construction of Memory; “Leiser’s Song” in The Power of Witnessing, Routledge: Taylor & Francis. Recent readings: Science Cafe, Busboys and Poets; Barnes & Noble Books; Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore.

 

Pursuit

Like the deer stag in my garden
who batters his head with his hind leg

to free himself from a huge poplar branch
caught in the great crown of his antlers—

Like one of the furies torn from ancient myth—
I drag the forest along behind me,

my dead crowded together in their massacre pit.
Like Isaac’s ram, I am caught

in the thicket, singing their names.

 

Stolpersteine

Stolpersteine: a small cobblestone-sized memorial for a single victim of Nazism made by the artist Gunter Demnig.

Have you returned, in the goblet of time,
to bring the forest of the dead, their names
mounted in air in steel, the wind
forcing its way through the letters?

If they were covered by a thin layer of silt,
if they were face down in their deaths,
could their names allow light
to pass through them.

Have you come back? Your hand
on their heaving earth could not
quiet them, your stone of remembrance
on their chamber brings no comfort.

They toss in their earthen bed, they do not
sleep. The living grow impatient. The living
wish to speak. Rilke, you tell us
those who departed early no longer need us;

they are weaned from earth’s sorrows. But can it
end there? A ditch, a pit filled to the brim
with lives barely begun? A hundred years from now,
perhaps one who has lost his way

will come upon a dirt road and follow it
and come upon a clearing, a metal cup,
part of a menorah, like a stumble stone
marking a life.

Peter Serchuk

Peter Serchuks poems have appeared in a variety of journals including Boulevard, Poetry, Denver Quarterly, North American Review, Texas Review, South Carolina Review, New York Quarterly and others. His poetry collections include Waiting for Poppa at the Smithtown Diner (University of Illinois Press) and All That Remains (WordTech Editions).

 

 

Spring Training

On ball fields and in school yards
we caught the first scent, as if
someone was barbecuing down
the road. School was out.
Summer made us restless to swing
and run, the sun simmered every limb.
Light was on our faces, moss sprouting
in hidden places, urges barely understood.
No doubt it took years to ingest,
years more to bake into our bones,
and yet now it seems the games
had just started, that we’d barely taken
practice swings before one by one
we began to disappear, sucked
into the air, desperate as Icarus
for whatever lay beyond the fence.

Kim Roberts

 

Photo by Dan Vera
Photo by Dan Vera

Kim Roberts is the author of five books, most recently Animal Magnetism, winner of the Pearl Poetry Prize (Pearl Editions, 2011), and the anthology Full Moon on K Street: Poems About Washington, DC (Plan B Press, 2010).  She has been a writer-in-residence at 14 artist colonies, and individual poems of hers have been published in journals beginning with every letter of the alphabet, and have been translated into Spanish, Portuguese, German, and Mandarin.  She edits the journal Beltway Poetry Quarterly and co-edits the web exhibit DC Writers’ Homes.  Her web site:www.kimroberts.org.

 

 

THE INVASIVE WEED SYNDICATE

          Shepherd’s Purse

A rude ring of lobed leaves cling
to the bottom of the stem, and from this stage
the actors rise in heart-shaped pods
and strip to white petticoats by the open road.

          Bull Thistle

A ratchety stem with spiny leaves splays;
at the top of each spear, a green gumdrop
garbed in angry spikes wears a hot pink Mohawk,
and the bees hone in and get drunk.

          Chickweed

Tight oval buds covered in a coarse white beard
pop open to reveal a tiny white flower
like a loose corona following the sun.
Little prospector: beware the claim jumper.

          Fleabane

Leaves like elongated spoons climb,
alternating, left and right, as if marching
in single file.  The buds droop at the top
as if from shame.  So much
is beyond our control.

          Nutgrass

Tri-corner stems shoot from underground tubers,
a deep blackish-red, that tunnel
under the crops. This mission is a go:
pulling them up leaves the nutlets behind,
pulling them just makes it worse.

Marge Piercy

Marge Piercy is the author of seventeen novels including Gone to Soldiers, The Longings of Women and the classic Woman on the Edge of Time, as well as her critically acclaimed memoir Sleeping with Cats. She is the author of eighteen volumes of poetry, including The Hunger Moon: New and Selected Poems 1980-2010 and The Art of Blessing the Day: Poems with a Jewish Theme. Also, PM press republished Dance the Eagle to Sleep in December and Vida this year with new introductions.

A popular speaker on college campuses, she has been a featured writer on Bill Moyers’ PBS Specials, Prairie Home Companion, Fresh Air, the Today Show, and many radio programs nationwide including Air America and Oprah & Friends. Her poems are read frequently on The Writer’s Almanac.

Praised as one of the few American writers who are accomplished poets as well as novelists — Piercy is one of our country’s best selling poets — she is also the master of many genres: historical novels, science fiction (He, She, and It won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Science Fiction in the United Kingdom), novels of social comment and contemporary entertainments. She has taught, lectured and/or performed her work at well over 400 universities around the world. http://margepiercy.com/

 

Bang, crash over

Breakage.  Yes, splinters, the shards
pierce my brain.  In each friendship,
a new self grows different from any
other of the selves we make and unmake.
In every love however small as marbles
children roll in their palms and stare into,
we become.  In the big ones, our faces
change and never quite resume.

So a piece tears off after the final
quarrel, after the argument that burned
the night to cinders and a wind of grey
ashes, after the wind has dispersed
even the last smear of ash and nothing
nothing at all stays but a friendship
whose dead weight hangs from your
neck like the sailor’s albatross, quite

murdered but still of sufficient weight
to bend your back.  Your neck hurts.
Words clot in your throat like blood.
A lot of you hurts.  Pain grabs attention
but is boring as it spikes and drones
on and on. Shut up you scream at it
at three a.m.  But in the end months,
years pass and you forget.   Almost.

Lyn Lifshin

Lyn Lifshin is the author of  Another Woman Who Looks Like Me, published by Black Sparrow at David Godine in 2006. Also out in 2006 is her prize winning book about the famous, short lived beautiful race horse, Ruffian: The Licorice Daughter: My Year with Ruffian from Texas Review Press. Lifshin’s other recent books include Before it’s Light published winter 1999-2000 by Black Sparrow press, following their publication of Cold Comfort in 1997 and 92 Rapple from Coatism.: Lost in the Fog and Barbaro: Beyond Brokenesss and Light at the End, the Jesus Poems, Katrina, Ballet Madonnas. Persephone was published by Red Hen and Texas Review published Barbaro: Beyond Brokenness. Most recent books: Ballroom (March Street Press), All the Poets (Mostly) Who Have Touched me, Living and Dead. All True, Especially the Lies. And just out, Knife Edge Absinthe: The Tango Poems. In Spring 2012, NYQ books will publish A Girl Goes into The Woods. Also coming For the Roses poems after Joni Mitchell. For other books, bio, photographs see her web site:: www.lynlifshin.com.

 

More Red Shoes

Haven’t you wanted to
put them on and have
everything that holds
on to you dissolve in
the rearview mirror?
Don’t you want to be
flame? Be inflamed?
Haven’t you wanted to
dance with a newspaper
that morphs into a man?
Maybe you wanted to
just get up from a pasta
dinner, walk backwards
to get a last look at the
room and plunge into
the weird reality of the
Red Shoes film? The
guavas and rouge tints
of Paris, Monte Carlo,
London mist and be
back in the forties when
everyone wore chic
clothes and were perfectly
mannered. But you knew
something smoldered
behind the veil of their
faces and you knew you
were stepping inside a
fairy tale where you won’t
even think of that small
dining room you left with
canned peaches and a
clean napkin. You are
moth, Lorelei at once,
hypnotized, hypnotizing.
The eyes glued to you
once those red shoes
you slide into (easy
as adultery) glue them
selves to your blood,
become your blood as
you leap, smoke from
what is too hot to touch.

 

Bad Dream # 279, June 22

I go back to Vermont, to Middlebury.
It’s been a while, another life time?
And the uncles, the dead ones hover
in shadows, ghostly, their lips and
cheek bones on faces that some
how aren’t there but then, nothing is
as it was. The beautiful bookstore
with the flat above it where I dreamed
in my lavender back bedroom of
starring on Broadway or writing a book,
now looks like collapsing bricks about
to be bull dozed. This can’t be. There’s
no bookstore, no sign there’s ever
been one. The bricks shift, the building
looks like something too dangerous
to enter after a hurricane, a house of
tooth picks one small breath could
make fall down. Even Main Street, a
perfect New England small town
where Life magazine came to photo
graph this perfect calendar frame, the
red and green lights strung for Christmas,
children on sleds and of course the traffic
police who checked out every boy who
came to pick me up for a date my
mother would wait up for me from.
Have I been comatose a hundred years?
Where is the town I knew? What could
be left but mice and droppings in the
mostly abandoned street. Drug vials litter
the street instead of flower boxes and
geranium. When did the town become
a slum, a torn blighted disaster? The
only color is grey. It’s as if the mortar,
whatever held all that mattered together
dissolved. A heart beat. Just the touch
of one brick and everything I thought I
could keep will crumble.

Jeff Friedman

Born in Chicago, Jeff Friedman grew up in St. Louis. His fifth collection of poetry, Working in Flour, was published by Carnegie Mellon University Press in 2011. His poems, mini stories, and translations have appeared in many literary magazines, including American Poetry ReviewPoetry, 5 AM, Agni Online, Poetry International, Prairie Schooner, Antioch Review, Quick Fiction, New England Review, and The New Republic. He is currently working on a collection of fables, parables, mini tales, comic sketches, prose poems and other prose pieces. Homepage: http://www.poetjefffriedman.com/

 

Old Bird

Old bird is creating a commotion again, flying around the room with his big stinky wings as he rages on about injustice.  “Buy now, suffer later,” he shouts. Feathers fall over us, sticking to our shoulders and faces. “Come down,” we say. “Have a bite to eat.” “Not until the time is right,” he answers. “The time is right,” we say. “Besides you’re not an angel.” “I’m a prophet,” he says. “You look more like an angry bird,” we say. Now he’s bumping the walls and the ceiling. Plaster comes down in pieces. On his next swoop, he causes the light fixture to crash on the floor. I toss some of the pellets into the corners of the room. “Food for thought,” I say.  He eats them like cookies. “Got any more,” he asks. The stench in the room is so strong we cover our noses with our shirts until one of us grabs him from behind, and then we strip his wings and toss them in the trash. “You won’t need these anymore.” Without his wings, we can see clearly his bloated belly and the ugly expression on his face. “I’m a prophet, he says as we truss his legs, stuff him with onions, and put him in the pot.

 

Tea

When Herkel returned home, his lover had become a cup of black tea. She had been sick for days, lying on the couch with a plaid wool blanket wrapped around her body. He squeezed some lemon and honey into the cup and tasted the tea. “Your lips are cold,” she said. He shivered. “Tea doesn’t talk,” he answered. “I’m not tea,” she said, “I’m your lover.” He sipped the tea again, still bitter. “Why are you drinking me?” she asked. “I’m cold,” he answered. The blanket was crumpled on the couch. He sat down on the couch, pulling the blanket over him. “If you’re my lover, why don’t you speak to me?” “I’m only tea,” she answered. He squeezed a little more honey into the cup and tasted her again.  Now she was sweet enough.