Page 42 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
was once associated with him, and in his series of experimental
poems “A” 1-12 he turns to his tradition through numerous
brief allusions. After referring to Passover and Deuteronomy
(site of the
mezuzah
commandment), he writes: “We prayed,
Open, God, Gate of Psalmody,” and goes on to examine Temple
walls and his own windows. Collocating histories, differences,
and walls, Zukofsky overlaps his family’s history and Jewish his­
tory in general. Neighbors stopped at his grandfather’s windows
and leaned on the sills:
A voice out of the tabernacle
For the ark
Shittin wood
the acacia.
He asks whether New York’s skyline is a mist of Egypt, and
harks back to crossing the sea. In “A” 1-13 the poet extends
an invitation: “Come in, there are Gods here too / Don’t be
a stranger at the threshold.” To overcome estrangement, the
poet clings to a
mezuzah
of affiliation within a long tradition.
I f indeed formal religion plays a marginal role in the lives of
these poets, and if they in turn are peripheral to traditional
Judaism, then the threshold is an appropriate locus for dram ­
a tiz ing the tensions and tran s ition s o f a lapsed in te r ­
relationship.
JOHN HOLLANDER
John Hollander situates dramatic moments at various thresh­
olds. “At the New Year” includes a “screeching ram’s ho rn”
before turning to a spatial equivalent of the changing year: “As
of every door in the world shutting at once / few dead leaves
shiver on our doorsteps.” Liminal shutting and shivering high­
light mysteries of being for Hollander. “The Bird” from the
Yiddish of Moyshe Leyb Halpern reveals dialogue at a door,
while “The Fable of Bears in Winter” begins with an epigraph
from Buber’s
Ten Rungs
about the thief who breaks open the
lock of mystery. The poem ends with:
The sleeping bear is sweet to see.
But look you now how easily
The daw, the jaybird, or the egret
Picks the lock and breaks the Secret.