No 26 - 2005
Why, this forlorn first night of the week,
Do I ruminate over nineteenth-century writers
Who illuminated America’s literary landscape -
Emily, Walt, Ralph Waldo, Henry David, Herman,
Nathaniel, Edgar Allen, Samuel/Mark?
I have far too few ideas and fewer insights
As to what relevance any of those artists
Might have for me, a twentieth-century Jew poet
Trying to eke out a scapegoat living
In a still predominantly Protestant-ethic society.
What could they possibly have imagined
That might hold a metaphorical candle
To the extermination of six million European Jews
At the behest of one Austrian author,
Who would compose a hateful gospel, Mein Kampf?
I ask myself what white whale,
Amherst recluse, Walden Pond, Huck and Jim,
What scarlet "A,” gold bug and raven,
What body electric, what Oversoul
Could symbolise such evil and human depravity
As that which I’ve been bequeathed
By virtue of being born into a century
Damaged by Nazi racism, bigotry, hatred,
Which began half a millennium earlier, in Madrid,
With superstition, anti-Semitism, autos-da-fe?
But something draws me back to America,
Not the Ukraine, Poland, Germany, Spain.
Could it be the essence of evil itself,
Its terrifying manifestation in human-rights abuses,
The molestation of conscience?
I can’t say. Choking on Zyklon B vapors,
I see Moby Dick ramming the Pequod full speed,
The Fitchburg Railroad running out of track,
Mark Twain drowning in the Mississippi,
Walt Whitman being killed in action at Manassas.
Tonight, I recite the Lord’s Prayer, the Shema,
As if ecumenical faith might save me
Regardless of my heritage, my religious training.
But the verses I compose don’t heed my intentions.
They look and sound menacingly Teutonic.
Why my poetry goose-steps across the page,
Like death fugues, Juden dirges, I can’t say.
All I know is that it’s been 130 years
Since my grandfather sailed from St. Petersburg
To America’s open-armed shores,
Almost five centuries since my forebears
Left Spain during Ferdinand and Isabella’s reign,
More than three millenniums
From the time YHWH put out his call to Avram
To leave Sumeria, for the Promised Land.
Tonight, as a poet in the American grain,
I try to explain to myself
Why my academic training left me high and dry.
The truth is, it did little
To lift the Jew in me out of the mire,
Less to alleviate the shame, the guilt,
Of centuries-deep second-class citizenship.
Whatever the case, I gravitate to the literature
Of Walt Whitman, not Adolf Hitler,
And pray that my song of myself isn’t an Endlösung.
- 10th Muse
- Angel Exhaust
- Blithe Spirit
- Brando's hat
- Brittle Star
- Cannon's Mouth, The
- Coffee House, The
- Dream Catcher
- Floating Bear, The
- French Literary Review, The
- Frogmore Papers, The
- Global Tapestry
- Grosseteste Review
- Homeless Diamonds
- Interpreter's House, The
- Journal, The
- Lamport Court
- London Magazine, The
- Modern Poetry in Translation
- Monkey Kettle
- Neon Highway
- New Welsh Review
- North, The
- Obsessed with pipework
- Oxford Poetry
- Painted, spoken
- Paper, The
- Pen Pusher Magazine
- Poetry Cornwall
- Poetry London
- Poetry London (1951)
- Poetry Nation
- Poetry Review, The
- Poetry Salzburg Review
- Poetry Scotland
- Poetry Wales
- Private Tutor
- Purple Patch
- Rain Dog
- Reach Poetry
- Review, The
- Rialto, The
- Second Aeon
- Seventh Quarry, The
- Smiths Knoll
- Strange Faeces
- Tabla Book of New Verse, The
- Tolling Elves
- Ugly Tree, The
- Wolf, The
- Yellow Crane, The