Page 39 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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GREENSTEIN / THE HIDDEN MEZUZAH
31
HOWARD NEMEROV
Howard Nemerov also specializes in liminal experience and
hidden messages. Several sections of “Runes” combine images
of
mezuzaic
experience, beginning with section I:
This is about the stillness in moving things,
Where time to come has tensed
Itself, enciphering a script so fine
Only the hourglass can magnify it
. . .
A trader doubly burdened, commercing
Out of one stillness and into another.
The doubly-burdened trader is not necessarily the Jewish poet,
nor are the moving stillness and fine script indications of a
me­
zuzah,
but the hourglass suggests a crossing over thresholds be­
tween past and future. In fact, not until the beginning of section
V does a specifically Jewish note enter the poem with “The
fat time of the year is also time / Of the Atonement.” So if
the hourglass magnifies this particular time of the year, it also
illuminates the cipher at the end of “Jewish” section V: “whose
zero in His winter’s mercy / Still hides the undecipherable
seed.”
The poem concludes with “Knowing the secret,/ Keeping the
secret” and “it is not knowing, it is not keeping, / But being
the secret hidden from yourself.” Just as the
mezuzah
contains
its secret code, so the poet internalizes the mysteries of existence.
And this concluding “secret” has been prepared for in the pen­
ultimate section’s invocation of both Jesus and the Jewish cross­
ing of the Red Sea: “There is a threshold, that meniscus where
/ The strider walks on drowning waters.”
Just as a
mezuzah
displays that dual characteristic of motion
and stillness, so Nemerov’s domestic poems exhibit a yearning
for departures. Take, for instance, his short poem, “Threshold”:
When in still air and still in summertime
A leaf has had enough of this, it seems
To make up its mind to go; fine as a sage
Its drifting in detachment down the road.
Two meanings of leaf (paper) accompany the two senses of
“still,” while the “sage” simile connotes the wisdom of parting.