Page 183 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 43

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HELLERSTEIN / DOUBLE-BIND OF DESIRE
1 7 1
In a burning tower.
Torment yourself with your pain, little man.
I f a lion strayed here,
He would go mad,
He would tear himself apart.
Cry fo r your years, little man.
Your tears fa l l into
The sea like rain.
(INY: AS,
p. 65)
According to this poem, there is no home for the man who was
never at home. The
mentshl
(little man) is reduced by his ambiva­
lence into a diminished, mutilated fragment of a once-coherent
whole — the tree, now withered, the tower, now burning. Even
his grief is futile, for his tears are rendered as insignificant as rain
in the sea.
Halpern depicts the home, even when once whole and
coherent, as a place to which only a madman would long to re­
turn:
Birds tremble in their nests before a storm;
So Leyb-Bear trembles, his face aged and worn;
He calls to mind those who remained at home.
Their faces seem to him like cracked, dried lime,
They live in huts with frosty, mildewed walls,
And talk with shriveled lips and scrawny hands,
And, weighted with some curse, they tramp around
Throughout the town, their eyes bent to the ground.
Their scolding threats cut short his life
Like a young tree felled before its time.
Within that world a boy’s imagination
Was fed by tales offield-and-forest demons.
And muddy as a stream that overflows
And floods whatever comes its aimless way,
The grayness hovering above that place
Flooded his soul with gloominess and hate.
(INY: AS,
p. 61)
The dismal shtetl, with its beggars and its dirty river, is depicted
as the setting for the anxious restlessness of this fearful boy.
Halpern gives him to us mockingly: his insomnia is caused by the