Page 34 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 49

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Light has indeed become the symbol o f the divine. The poem
concludes with a prophesy that envisions “the generations o f the
unborn chanting/in the language o f fire. This will be tomorrow.”
Enlightenment is more than a state o f mind; it has become
a major issue. Yet, if we concede, in terms o f relativity, that
there are no problems in this world, that there are only illusions
that we create as ou r reality, how can we expect a Jew to deal
with the notion o f self-inflicted Crusades, pogroms, Holocausts?
“Making Light o f I t” is an evocation to the eternal Something
that guarantees the perpetuation o f light, o r “life,” as breath:
I can follow the day
to the black rags and corners it will
scatter to because someone always goes ahead
burning the little candle
of his breath, making light of it all.
Elegiac, yet without succumbing to melancholia, this is fine-
tuned lyricism, one o f the signatures o f Levine’s work. Even
as in the longest title poem in this collection, when he is de ­
livering a harsh look at the endu rance that often compromises
for American living, his visuals are fringed with the hum o r and
humanness o f pathos. “I t ’s Biblical,” repeats Tom Jefferson , at­
tempting to justify the tragedy o f life. In “These Streets,” Levine
juxtaposes tenem en t living with all its squallor, against the na t­
ural state, the time before it had become urbanized.
The light
of the world filters down from shelves
of Brillo, bright packages of detergent,
paper diapers, roach motels, white
stale saltless crackers.
Nowhere is the place o f arrival; a locus as inconsequential as
the fact that we’re here. Why, indeed, did we start out, he asks
earlier. The implication that we face the end o f an era, that
urbania has bu rn t itself out, leads to Levine’s prophe tic vision
in “Ano ther Song,” one o f the strongest poems o f the collection:
I f life comes back,
as we are told it does, each time one