Page 44 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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36
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
try where a leap of faith accompanies the leap across the Atlantic
to a time of Russian pogroms. While the headstone is hardly
a
mezuzah,
the emphasis on transformations as well as the con­
version of literal stone into the metaphoric realm of time and
syntax renders it into another marker of faith. Like the
mezuzah
bracketed at the door, the stone parentheses at the grave mark
a hidden history.
Philip Levine, whose Jewishness is as hidden as his
mezuzah,
asks in “Now It Can Be Told’: “What would it mean to lose
this life / and go wandering the hallways / of that house in
search of another self?” This wandering American Jew in search
o f home and self dons a form of
mezuzah:
Not knowing, I wore a little amulet
to keep the evil from my heart, and yet
when the Day of Atonement came I did not
bow my head or bind myself at wrist and brow
because I knew I would atone.
What the poet doesn’t know is that one does not wear
tefillin
on Yom Kippur; nevertheless, he does bind himself to another
self and tradition of the displaced
mezuzah.
STANLEY KUNITZ
Although critics have noted Stanley Kunitz’s obsession with
thresholds and interpreted them as sexual entrances, no one
has linked them to his Jewish heritage. In
Passport to the War
(1944) Kunitz reflects both on his personal past (his father com­
mitted suicide, before he was born) and on contemporary history
(Hitler’s destruction of the Jews). His passport suggests not only
his rite of passage from innocence to experience, but also his
entry to Europe or the older diaspora on the verge of disap­
pearing. “Open the Gates” is a crucial poem for following
Kunitz’s development:
Within the city of the burning cloud,
Dragging my life behind me in a sack,
Naked I prowl, scourged by the black
Temptation of the blood grown proud.
Here at the monumental door,
Carved with the curious legend of my youth,
I brandish the great bone of my death,
Beat once therewith and beat no more.