Page 181 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 43

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HELLERSTEIN / DOUBLE-BIND OF DESIRE
1 6 9
Such a bird! How magnificent!
(INY: AS,
p. 17)
The “Golden birds in the Golden Land” are as obtainable as
“lightning flashing in the night.” The sign in the subway warns
the reader and speaker to “Watch your step!” Desire is a danger­
ous emotion for Halpern’s speaker.
Halpern emphasizes yet another aspect of the futility of desire
in the laborer’s dreams for self-betterment. In this sense, his
poems challenge the hope for salvation from social injustice
through revolution held up by the Labor poets. In “Tuesday,” the
three women in the sweatshop are trapped forever by their delu­
sions of salvation through love:
Marx hangs on the wall,
Near him an old grandmother
Wearing a headkerchief
Both are wrapped in spiderwebs.
And the girls
by their machines.
Go on, call in a fortune-teller
To read in his cards.
I f Tailor Jake is heaven’s choice
For this one in the corner,
And i f the prince from Neverland
Will come to that one, always dreaming . . .
(INY: AS,
p. 15)
We are to regard skeptically the fortune-teller’s predictions that
either “Tailor Jake,” a fellow immigrant with a self-consciously
Americanized name, or
uder printz fun Yama”
(the Prince from “a
hole in the ground”), will rescue the “girls” from their dreary lives
of labor among “herring bones” and “half-finished dresses.” The
actual fate that awaits a dreamer who believes that she will be
saved by love is that of the third woman in the poem, She,
. . .
who dreams no longer,
Always clothed in yellow flowers,
Will sit there, her bright braid graying,
Hunched forever over sewing.
Salvation and fulfillment may come, but only in terms of a kind of
divine retribution for the sufferings of the worker. The worker is
feminized in “It Shall Come to Pass,” and the possibility of salva­