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Jehanne Dubrow

Jehanne Dubrow is the author of the poetry collection, The Hardship Post (Three Candles 2009). Her second and a third poetry collections are forthcoming, respectively, from the Washington Writers' Publishing House and Northwestern University Press.
 

 

 

FRAGMENT FROM A NONEXISTENT YIDDISH POET
Ida Lewin (1906-1938)
Always Winter, Poland
 


3.

We've heard the ash-bird
soaring through the square-
animal that doesn't fly
with June, but caws the wind,
its prophecy the daggered beak,
its gullet overflowing worms.
It shrieks
   the reeds beside the river.
It is the gypsy charm
that can't fix crystal shards,
our father always dead
of heart attack
the velvet purse of zlotys lost,
the barroom talk turned nasty
and bleeding to the streets.
  after the shriek, the shrill,
we've crawled beneath a tree,
wingspan made of shadows
and choked on feathered leaves.


7.

Before the wedding, a bride unveils
     to prove that she's the wife
her husband bargained for.
   the trick a father played
-Leah swapped for Rachel-
as though all girls might be exchanged,
one dented piece of fruit traded
for one bruised black

Truth is: the face remains obscured,
no matter how transparent is the gauze,
silk thin a whisper
in the wedding bed, white lace
composed of thread and emptiness.
   always we are veiled, even
in the sheets, our skins only the first
of a thousand tissued layers
underneath


8.

Not every woman needs
a matchmaker to know
the rough dimensions
of her heart cramped
the space beneath a bed,
so tight only secrets small
as thimbles fit.
I store mine there-
the metal taste
of my own blood,
how easily my hand discovers
the groove of skin,
the hinge, the sliding latch
-I fold these
in the pages of a book, flat
as flowers. As for scent,
it is a dream of violets
in an open field, running
far away and fast.


18.

          remember my fingertips?
They learned to reach for words
right ear fell to the ground and heard
the Vistula Left ear
fell near my mother's shtetl, now erased
in pogroms from the east
         Ten toes were scattered
in a minor key,
         the sharp paprika steps of romany.
My nose dropped to the steppe, smelling
potato vowels and cabbage consonants.
What else? My eyelashes, they fluttered past
   tall ships
to groves where they caressed
        the velvet skins of fruit,
black lashes fluttering
Don't ask about my heart-
dispersed it beats, not with itself
but with the places tasting most of rest.


28.

This country is a dollhouse,
a shadow box of birch trees
carved with hearts, displays
of small-scale chestnuts
rotting to be picked.
       childhood is a church
where no one comes to light
a votive for the glass-eyed dead,
the collection plate
an empty hand. The ground
is papered with a thousand flakes
of cut-out snow.
Hopscotch land, I can't escape.
I can't wake up from ash
which mountains in my memory
to fill the porcelain spaces
of my mouth.
                     [version one]


In the dollhouse world
even the trees can fit
inside a box,
a whole life small enough
         to hold. Childhood
is a church in miniature,
a forgotten toy.
The Hopscotchland is ash,
a thousand paper flakes,
a mountain made of jacks,
a game of catch
release and catch again

                  [version two]

43.

The laws command
a linearity of gaze
    although our eyes
so want to slide like water
down a cambered surface
(a belly newly bathed,
a breast), our eyes
desiring rounded things,
pears and apples pregnant
with juice
we can't resist their skins.
Of course Eve ate
when she was offered
        palmed the fruit,
familiar as the weight
of her own body.
             she bit
into the last good flesh
of Eden, her teeth
incising there a line
shaped like a smile,
and in her mouth
a questioning, a tongue
made heretic.


46.

Consider the present
for my mother, a carp
wrapped in white paper
    tied with twine-
                   it held
a poem too,
          she never read
my fish scale sentences,
my dorsal nouns verbs
that push through water
like a fin, my phrases
boney-sharp as spines,
          soaked with sea.
They must have stunk
the kitchen,
until she tossed them out
to be a feast for alley cats,
                  starved
enough to eat the flesh
and rotten savories
of words.
                 [version one]

That carp
I gave my mother,
choking in paper,
      bound with rope-
                   it held
a poem in its mouth.
If only she had read
the sentences like scales,
the nouns the verbs
that fin through water,
the boney spines.
If only she had kept
the words,

but threw them out
to feed the feral cats
who stalk the alleyway,
         so hungry
they chewed the flesh,
the verse that stank
of rot.
                  [version two]


47.

In a woman's life,
all lists become her poetry,
so that a recipe for cake
is just the verse form
of desire
        honey dripped in lines
and cups of flour, white
as fancy paper.
She makes an inventory
of her household goods,
each fork each kosher plate
a liturgy that praises
appetite restrained,
songs rendered into shards.
She is the psalmist David
in her chores (sing hallelujah
to the cotton sheets that flap
the wind like pages
of an open book)
                          (sing hallelujah
to the kitchen floor,
a miracle of words beneath
its mud) (sing hallelujah
to the windows washed-
how crystalline the glass,
the panes breakable,
transparent as the soul)



48.

How can I rest inside
the old intimacy
of this body?
My neck betrays itself
with the smell of dying
roses. I was petals once,
although I hated
my fragility, breasts
too easily fingered,
crushed beneath a hand.

                  Somewhere
there stands a vase
brimming stagnant water,
green film across
the surface of the glass.
Someone should break
the vessel-better
the ecstasy of shards,
than (slowly) (slowly)
giving way to rot.


49.

All cooking brings a death
to its ingredients
an alchemy that promises
eternal taste, although
a life must be consumed
before it spoils. Know this-
I'm steeped in prophesy,
my visions silver fish
herrings sunk in brine.
Now the peppercorn
becomes a tarnished berry,
now the onion is encased
in a pearled sheen
to make all women weep,
now lemons are luminous
as paste, bright yellow jewels
that imitate citrines.
 

FRAGMENT FROM A NONEXISTENT YIDDISH POET
Ida Lewin (1906-1938)
Always Winter, Poland
 


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