Page 185 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 43

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HELLERSTEIN / DOUBLE-BIND OF DESIRE
173
pathos of “my mother” sitting in the middle of the sidewalk, in the
midst of her bedding and clothing, Halpern’s poem can lead only
to hatred as the answer to the reflex of nostalgia:
Indeed, the only comfort left fo r me
Is that I will not be buried in you,
My home, my Zlotchev.
The vindictive grandfather and the hypocritical grandmother
are figures that summon guilty longing in the speaker and then
prevent him from exonerating it. (A spectral grandfather serves
this function in “Portrait: My Grandfather,” a very different kind
of poem about the impossibility of regaining the past.) The bitter­
ness of this absolute rejection makes this poem against nostalgia a
programmatic or “ideological” poem of statement. The bald, ex­
plicit declaration of belief is transformed from communal into
personal terms, and from sincerity into irony. The irony here
turns the poet against the “natural” emotional pull of nostalgia.
The refrain, “My home, my Zlotchev,” embodies the dilemma:
the speaker has no home, yet he cannot rid himself of the equa­
tion that home is Zlotchev, and that he possesses them both as
such.
VIEW OF LOVE
Halpern renders the powerful ambivalence that desire calls up
in a poem that offers a radical redefinition of love. In “Just Try
and Get Rid of Them,” he presents sexual desire as a double bind
as paralyzing as the dilemma of the homeless immigrant’s nostal­
gia. In the first stanza, the reader has no sense that the poem con­
cerns love at all:
When people with muddy, big feet come
And push open your door without knocking
And walk around in your house
As in a whorehouse on some back street,
The best joke is
To take whip in hand like a baron
Who teaches his servant to say a proper good morning,
And chase them away like dogs. (INY.AS,
p.77)
The speaker appears to present, in the first four lines, a story
about an invasion of “your house,”which, under the muddy tread