Page 186 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 43

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174
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
of the intruders, is converted into a “whorehouse.”The intruders
are peasants or soldiers or travellers, feet muddied from roads or
fields. Intent on pillage, they desecrate the sanctity of another’s
property. The transition from “your house” to “a whorehouse”
implies a sexual metaphor through which desecration of prop­
erty is likened to a violation of sexual integrity. By extension, if
“dayn hoyz”
becomes
“a zoynes-hoyz,”
then “you”becomes “a whore.”
A HOUSE DESECRATED
Such an invasion warrants the “
shpas
” or “joke,” which through
a simile, transforms the “you” into the crass figure of a baron who
lords it over his servant, violently teaching him manners. The
“you,” who was metaphorically diminished into whoredom by in­
h ab i t in g a d e s e c ra ted hou se , ascends in to em pow e red
entitlement in the act of response. The possessors of “muddy, big
feet” descend into subservience and then bestiality of dogs. The
“you,” initially sexually unspecified, descends into the female role
when being acted upon, and ascends into the powerful male,
when responding. Predicated on metaphors of property, sexual
power, and social class, the first stanza of “Just Try and Get Rid of
Them” suggests what is to Halpern an inappropriate or unlikely
response. Can “you” be both female and male, whore and baron
when confronted with intrusion? Does the mastery of one’s
house, a metaphor for the self, imply that one be able to ascend
the social scale so drastically when threatened by others?
The whole social scale, the figurative construct of the first
stanza, collapses in the second stanza, where the “o the rs”
threaten and invade, not in conventional terms of barefaced so­
cial power, but in the guise of the beautiful and the innocent. The
bold exclamation gives way to a rhetorical question:
But what good is the whip when people
With hair blond as cornhusks and sky-blue eyes
Come nimbly as birds fly
And rock you in lovely dreams
And steal into your heart
And, singing, kick off their small shoes
And like children in a summer stream
Bathe their little feet in your heart’s blood?
The bravado of self-mastery, suggested by the whip and the