Page 180 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 43

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
What a garden, where the tree is
Bare hut fo r its seven leaves!
It appears to be amazed:
“Who has set me in this place?”
What a garden, what a garden
It takes a magnifying glass
Just to see a little grass.
Can this be our garden, then,
Just as is, in the light of dawn?
Sure, it’s our garden. What else?
(INY: AS,
p. 3)
The rumored plentitude of America proves meager in the light
of dawn, as the immigrant speaker awakens from his delusory
dreams of what he would find in America, which would have to
be better than where he has just come from. He confronts a
seven-leaved tree, a brusque watchman who keeps all drifters off
the grass, and the bedraggled songbird that neglects its young
and its song. This bird — a demystified version of the nightin­
gale’s romantic embodiment of the poet — becomes a symbol of
the poet in America. This bird cannot accomodate itself to the
meagerness and hardship of the garden in which it lives, and
therefore forgets the natural order of things — food and song.
Food and song, pragmatic politics and aesthetics, these are the
forces which Halpern’s poems play against each other. His poems
try to encompass both the necessity to address the grounds for
political and social discontent in the difficult lives of Jewish immi­
grants and the pure “naturalness” of the crafted, expressive
poem.
A no the r kind o f b ird temp ts the imm ig ran t. H a lp e rn
personifies the elusive idea of success as material gain in “Watch
Your Step!”:
Time is gold in the Golden Land.
The ring of a bell and the wave of a hand,
And doors snap shut. Express trains fly
Through black tunnels, quick as the eye.
Birds of gold and greed zip past,
And a desire fires up my blood,
Hotter than greed and brighter than gold.
Oh! I f only I could grab in my hand