Page 36 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
opened Thou ,” a child’s coming of age, crossing over thresholds,
liminal journeying, the process of poem and people, so that
her abstraction on the door speaks to the reader of
mezuzot.
On either the way out or the way in, one must address that
sign.
DENISE LEVERTOV
In a collection of verse,
The Jacob’s Ladder,
Denise Levertov
includes such poems as “A Window,” “Threshold,” and “The
Unknown” (for Muriel Rukeyser) which ends with liminal win­
dows of communication. Levertov demonstrates her affiliation
with victims of the Holocaust in “Crystal Night” when the
me­
zuzah
certainly identified Jewish buildings:
from houses whose walls
had for a long time known
the tense stretch of skin over bone
as their brick or stone listened
While these lines recall the common “sticks and stones may
break my bones,” the brick walls with stretched
mezuzah
parch­
ment bear witness to tragic events in Germany. The poem ends
with “The scream!” and “smashing the windows of sleep and
dream / smashing the windows of history.” After the smashing
of history’s window, the
mezuzah
of memory remains.
Levertov’s “Shalom” is liminal in its communion on a staircase
where the three greetings of hello, good-bye, and peace are
exchanged in the place of “Shaddai” on a
mezuzah.
A man growing old is going
down the dark stairs.
He has been speaking of the Soul
tattooed with the Law.
Once again, since poetry relies on a metaphor such as the Soul
tattooed with the Law, a metaphoric
mezuzah
forms part of this
tenement, and that
mezuzah
also speaks of the Soul of a hab­
itation tattooed with the Law. Both man and building are sur­
vivors with their hidden messages intact. As the old man de­
scends the stairs in this Kafkaesque atmosphere, he looks up
to his friends who lean over the stairwell and ask his pardon
for the dark they cannot help.