My grandmother, my Oma, my father's mother, Greta Platschek Meitner (zikhronah livrakha)--died Monday morning at 12:45am. She was 92 years old, and she was my last surviving grandparent.
I've written many poems about my maternal grandmother--my Baba--who survived Auschwitz, and was warm, funny, and unbelievably strong-willed. At 94, after having her leg amputated, she was still in physical therapy every day trying to re-learn to walk. Baba's first language was Yiddish, and she was an old-school baleboosteh--a chicken-soup-making machine, who lived in Florida in the winters, a bungalow colony in the Catskills in the summers, and was great at dispensing gifts, guilt, advice, and snacks in equal measures.
My Oma was a different species of Jewish grandmother--the increasingly rare Jewish Yekke--and she fit the stereotype almost exactly. Oma was so punctual that we used to have to tell her we were picking her up five minutes later than we actually were, or she'd be waiting in the lobby of her apartment building for us looking testily at her watch. She was also quite formal, a little humorless, occasionally arrogant, and generally aloof. She spoke German rather than Yiddish, was as Jewishly unobservant as possible, and, when we visited her, often made us elaborate German dishes that involved some form of pork, like Rouladen (pickle, onion, egg, and bacon wrapped in beef). I'll get back to the bacon in a minute.
Thanksgiving has come to its inevitable end, and my family has finally departed, ferried to their several Brooklyn-bound flights and safely landed.
This means I can now do three things:
3) plan a blog post recapping the insanity that was this week.
Rest assured, I'm doing all of them. Until then:
I got back yesterday from a week in New York with my immediate and extended family for Thanksgiving, and I've almost recovered. All conversation is always being conducted at a yell in my family--think George Costanza's parents:
The main casualty of this was my voice (and a little bit of my sanity). I'm mainly thankful that I'm not still stuck on the Cross Bronx Expressway or the GW Bridge writing this blog post.
It's a 10 full hours of driving from Exit 33 on the Long Island Expressway, where I grew up and my parents still live, to Exit 118 on I-81 South in Virginia, where I moved in 2007 so that I could take a job teaching poetry in the MFA program at Virginia Tech. The car, this trip, was loaded down with flagels (I import them over state lines--the flagel is the flat one on the bottom in the picture), approximately two tons of thanksgiving leftovers, and Hankukkah presents for my three year-old son from every relative we have.
Hanukkah starts super-early this year (thanks lunar Jewish calendar!)--on Wednesday--which means I'm less-than-prepared for eight nights of gifting, and a grueling three-hour knuckle-grating latke-making marathon. I figured I'd take this opportunity to spend some time this week ruminating on poetry and religion (in addition to any tangents on the major beige Jewish food groups).
Things I'm hoping to tackle this week that will somehow tie into this theme include:
Hosted by Laura Cronk, Megin Jimenez and Michael Quattrone
Reading starts at 7:30pm
Admission is FREE
KGB Bar * 85 East 4th Street * New York, NY 10003 * Phone: 212-505-3360 * www.KgbBar.com <http://www.kgbbar.com/>
Ben Mirov is the editor of paxjournal.com and the author of the book of poems Ghost Machine. He is a graduate of the New School Writing Program lives in New York.
Reb Livingston is the author of God Damsel (No Tell Books, 2010), Your Favorite Ten Words (Coconut Books, 2007) and co-editor of The Bedside Guide to No Tell Motel anthology series. She’s also the editor of No Tell Motel and publisher of No Tell Books. She blogs at reblivingston.blogspot.com
Upcoming Fall 2010...
December 6 Season Finale! With James Tate, Alex Phillips & Star Black
Will of God
A balloon reaching for the altitude at which explosions occur. An aerial photographof a field taken by brush fire. The pollen, a spore from Texas, which genetically alters corn in Mexico. Potatoes planted in steps on the sunny side of a cold mountain. A person inside a drum, in a room beneath the bass report of footsteps, the talking of God. The thunder, the lightning, the face lit for a second and gone. The face followed by another face, the faces in acrowd, they bleed, they weep. The history of faces, their relationship to boots, to razor wire. The thud thud of boots, of faces being delivered to fire. The razor a man drags across his face successfully avoiding his eyes. The drapes behind which Mother died. The eyes of poor Oedipus, first one then the other. Tremendous accomplishments, Father hanging himself from a beam in the barn. Mother’s clotheslines cut in two, the question of what to do with the other half. Overcooked meat, uncooked meat, the living cow, whether to eat the cloned cattle. Each chicken protected from each chicken, the millions of chickens without beaks. A heat-seeking missile. A one-hundred-percent artificial heart.
"Will of God" appeared in Sentence 1, when Semana was known as Edward Bartok Barrata. His book Hands of Antiquity on a Modern Face is forthcoming from Firewheel Editions in early 2011.
This week we welcome Erika Meitner as our guest blogger. Erika is the author of Inventory at the All-night Drugstore and Ideal Cities, which was selected by Paul Guest as a 2009 National Poetry Series winner, and published in August by HarperCollins. Her poems have appeared most recently in Tin House, The New Republic, VQR, APR, and on Slate.com. She is an assistant professor of English at Virginia Tech, where she teaches in the MFA program, and is completing her doctorate in religious studies at the University of Virginia. Her next book of poems, Makeshift Instructions for Vigilant Girls, is due out in 2011 from Anhinga Press. Find out more about Erika Meitner here.
Marion K. Stocking, long-time editor of Beloit Poetry Journal and one of the undersung heroines of contemporary poetry, reviewed every volume in the Best American Poetry series. She wrote her reviews with great thought and care, with sympathy for the poets, and with critical intelligence expressed with tact and without gratuitous animus. Her commitment to poetry was authentic, heartfrlt and based on love. Was? Yes, the past tense is necessary. Marion died on May 12, 2009, two days after Mother's Day. We miss her.
But her little magazine continues to flourish under the editorship of John Roisenwald and Lee Sharkey. And they have maintained Marion's habit of reviewing each new edition of BAP, as you'll see if you click on this link to the Winter 2010/2011 issue. From the Fall 2010, take a look at Mary Jo Thompson's ambitious poem, "Thirteen Months." You won't be disappointed.
photo (c) Brian Adams, 2010
Before Honus Wagner ever sported a Pirates uniform and became known as
“The Flying Dutchman,” there was Enoch, son of Cain.
Prior to Satchel Paige's first ever curveball,
Cain, while in the fields, murdered his first brother Abel.
Before the inception of microwave ovens,
Eve gave birth to Cain and Abel.
Prior to turtles,
Adam and Eve took and ate fruit from the tree of knowledge.
Before the 1964 NY World's fair,
Adam and Eve were not ashamed.
Prior to the deaths of Joey, Dee Dee, and Johnny Ramone,
Eve was born of Adam's rib, and he said, “Flesh of my flesh, bone of my bones.”
Before Roberto Clemente became the beloved son of la isla de Puerto Rico,
God formed man of dust.
Prior to the births of Sigmund Freud and Harold Lloyd,
the water of Eden became four: Pison, Gihon, Hiddekel, and Euphrates.
Before the tawdriness of disco,
God planted the garden Eden.
Prior to the first episode of Leave it to Beaver,
God created man.
Before Mary Ewing Outerbridge brought tennis to the U.S. via boat from
Bermuda in 1874,
God created cattle and fowl.
Prior to Leslie Gore's hit “You Don't Own Me,”
God set lights to the skies.
Before the first gulp of coffee was had in Sheboygan, Wisconsin,
God created the skies and the waters.
Prior to Craig Biggio's 3,000th hit in Houston, Texas,
God created land and its grass.
Before the first orchid was picked somewhere outside of Eugene, Oregon,
God said, “Let there be light.”
Prior to the invention of the Bic pen,
the earth was without form.
God created the heaven and the earth,
before Novalis, Hegel, and Groucho Marx.
-- Ray DeJesus
This poem was first published in the New York Times, having been commissioned by them, on the theme.
Thanksgiving was my birthday this year
and I find two holidays in one is not
efficient. In fact, barely anything gets
done; neither the bird nor the passage
of the year is digested. Luckily, Black
Friday offers new pleasures while remaining
a stolen day; a day after. There is shopping,
the streets, or the hilarious malls, but I will
stay home with the leftovers and use
the time to rethink, turkey leg in hand like
a king. Pumpkin pie, solid soup of
pummeled end-of-summer. Chestnuts and
sausage chunks from stuffing plucked
regally, like an ape leisurely denuding
a blueberry bush of its fruit. Maybe I mean
Cleopatra’s teeth accepting red grapes from
a solicitous lunk of nubility. Same image.
The hand feeds, the mouth gets fed. You
too? Mother ate turkey in the maternity?
Imagine, you not-born in late Novembers,
if every few years a bird adjoined your
candles. Think, too, who comes to eat
that bird. Those whose faces look like
yours; those nearly-yous and knew you
whens; those have your same ill eases.
How’s the sciatica? Fine, how’s yours?
The world is old. Cleopatra might
have liked Black Friday. It’s as engaging
as a barge with a fast gold sofa. She also
might have liked aging. At least preferred
it to the asp. Yellow leaf patterned
sunlight dazzles the wall with its dapple.
It’s all happening now, as I write. This is
journalism. No part of the memoir
is untrue. Though I probably will
go to the mall, if everyone else goes.
I've posted this poem a few years running now, roundabout this time of year, with various additional information (poem's origin story) (last year, with a dose of thanksgiving courage). Eat good. Don't worry.
Posted by Jennifer Michael Hecht on November 25, 2010 at 10:07 AM in Jennifer Michael Hecht, The Lion and the Honeycomb | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
I spent a lot of time today thinking about my intentions for tomorrow's feast. The way I want the table to look, who should sit where, how I should time every dish, course, segment of our evening. In the end, some of those intentions will be realized and some will certainly not. Every Thanksgiving has been made both better and worse by things going off-plan. (I think here, first, of the oft dragged-up story of the year we ate at midnight because I didn't know how to cook a turkey, and also of the time a squirrel ate the pie crust I had cooling on the porch, but also of that one Thanksgiving when we played impromtu charades and laughed hysterically for an hour.)
More appropriately, though, I it also made me think about poetry, and how I often sit down with a prompt, or a plan, but only sometimes go that path. Writing formal poetry is one way of working according to plan. Thematic poems, too. But even starting with a last line, or an organizing image...that's organization of a sort. I rarely if ever write completely free, and I'm entirely curious about people who do. How does anything *go* anywhere? I couldn't do it. Some friends I know couldn't start with a plan or everything they write feels contrived.
But--okay, and here's my own plan veering off course--you know what, kids? I think I might beg my wonderful hosts at BAP to give me more than a week of blogging. Because I swear I have lots of deeply-considered and potentially interesting things to say to all of you, but right now I'm about to fall face first into the huge stock pot of autumn soup. (A recipe, by the way, I stole from my wonderful friend, the amazing poet Rebecca Lindenberg.)
Yeah. See, my family arrived today. En masse. From Brooklyn. They haven't been cooking, no, but they have been talking. Loudly. And borrowing my car and stealing my bed. And arranging my furniture. (It's already arranged the way I want it, of course.)
God, I love them. God, they are A LOT of a lot of a lot. And Jillybean and I will be waking up at 5:30 to prep and cook the turkey. Woo, Lord. Woo, we're thankful and tired.
So, here. I'll leave you with some fun, maybe. And an explanation of the title.
Jilly's idea of blue (butternut) humor:
My father had died suddenly in February. The approaching holidays aroused more than the usual anxiety as we considered how we would celebrate without him. I was living in Albany, NY, working as a waitress at the Barnsider steak house. The Refer Switchboard, a community social services agency, put up a sign in the Honest Weight Food Co-op calling for volunteers to help with the preparations for the annual free Thanksgiving dinner, then in its eighth year. Word had spread that the dinner would be bigger than ever with roughly 2500 guests -- stranded students, the homeless, the lonely -- expected for turkey and all of the traditional fixings. The next day, I took a trip to the wholesale vegetable market in Menands, bought a bushel of butternut squash to roast and puree in my apartment kitchen. I dropped off my donation at cooking central, the kitchen in the First Presbyterian Church at the corner of State and Willet, and once there, decided to stay on to help out with the remaining preparations. Over the next several days leading up to Thanksgiving, I pitched in whenever I could and wherever extra hands were needed. I must have peeled and chopped a thousand onions, so many that I grew immune to my tears. The church kitchen was always warm and fragrant with the aroma of caramelizing onions, carrots, and celery, the holy trinity base of so many dishes. The volunteers during the daytime shifts were mostly older women involved with the church who were matter of fact and took no special notice of me. At night, the younger volunteers took over. I looked forward to walking in, tying my apron, and getting to it, all business.
The doors to the church opened at 11:00 on Thanksgiving day. Inside, the tables were set with linen and adorned with flowers. The meal was served on China and eaten with stainless steel cutlery; no plastic or paper. The dining room, a gigantic auditorium, was decorated at one end with an overflowing horn of plenty. We served the main courses cafeteria style but from beautiful chafing dishes. Volunteers circulated like waiters in restaurants to refill coffee cups. At one point, the room fell silent then erupted in applause when several dozen cheesecakes arrived, a last-minute donation from Juniors, in Brooklyn.
My sister Amy, my brother Hunter, and my mom made the two hour trip from Monsey, NY to volunteer with me on Thanksgiving day. My roommates were away with their own families so everyone would have a place to sleep.
Our plan was to volunteer for a few hours and have our own dinner later back at my apartment. But there was so much to do and so many to feed. Plus, we were having fun. So we stayed on well into the evening, sharing dinner with the other volunteers and helping with the clean-up. Turkey never tasted so good. The secret, revealed to me by the head cook, was to turn the bird part way through roasting to let the fat trickle down into the breast meat.
The picture above was taken by Skip Dickstein, the photographer for the Albany Times Union assigned to cover the event. That's me in the middle, flanked by Amy and my mother. Skip had stopped by the church earlier in the week and taken my picture while I was at work chopping onions. I flirted with him shamelessly, thinking that by doing so I could get a print of the photos.
It's the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, kids. And you know what that means? Onions. A FUCKTON of onions. Below you'll find one of my favorite recipes (and the impetus for said onion-chopping), an amazing poem by the lovely Suji Kwock Kim called "Monologue for an Onion," and a question that is all together too personal. I hope you'll answer it.
And I very much hope you're having fun out there, celebrators.
Check out Nerve.com where David Lehman, Jill Alexander-Essbaum, and Mark Bibbins answer such questions as
This guy I’ve been dating is a writer and things have really been going well between us. The problem is that he showed me some of his work last week and I didn’t know how to react — it was terrible! I know it’s a huge part of his life, so I lied and said I liked it. Is this a dealbreaker? I can’t lie forever.
You will also find, among many other juicy epistles, the perennial query from the "self-described feminist" who wants the guy to pay when they go out and also wants absolution for her heresy.
Hi again, interweb friends. It’s been a while! Last time we met I was driving cross-country with Joshua Rivkin, my extraordinary poet friend, and Special the Dog, my extraordinary canine friend. Remember? It was glorious: pedal to the floor, highway cops and border patrols, fast food joints and junk museums and the wide open maw of the road springboarding us collectively into a week of adventure, literary rumination and general high-jinx.
But this week? This Thanksgiving week, during which both my family and a bevy of friends will take to road and sky (and full-body scanners) to convene—drunkenly, and with many opinions--in your harried heroine’s humble West LA abode, anticipating a sit down feast of approximately 25 guests?
Yeah, that’s a whole different kind of party. And let me add: it’s exactly MY kind of party, indeed.
Here's Hoagy in a scene from The Best Years of Our Lives. He wrote a number of wonderful songs with Johnny Mercer as lyricist. Everyone knows and loves "Skylark." Not so many know "How Little We Know," which Hoagy plays on the piano while Lauren Bacall (assisted by the young Andy Williams in the dubbing room) sings in To Have and Have Not, the movie in which the foxy young brunette (nee Betty Perske) teaches Humphrey Bogart how to whistle. Happy birthday, Mr Carmichael of Bloomington, Indiana. Your music will live as long as ears can hear.-- DL
This week we welcome back Jessica Piazza as our guest blogger. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Jessica now lives in Los Angeles while pursuing a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Southern California. Her poems have been published (or are forthcoming) in Agni, Indiana Review, Mid-American Review, Rattle, No Tell Motel, 32 Poems, Forklift, Ohio, National Poetry Review, 42 Opus and other places. She is an editor for the Gold Line Press Chapbook Series, and co-directs The Loudest Voice poetry and fiction readings in LA. Lately, she's been tackling fiction and non-fiction alongside poetry, and thinks, simply: it ain't easy.
In other news . . .
Hosted by Laura Cronk, Megin Jimenez and Michael Quattrone
Reading starts at 7:30pm
Admission is FREE
KGB Bar * 85 East 4th Street * New York, NY 10003 * Phone: 212-505-3360 * www.KgbBar.com <http://www.kgbbar.com/>
Monica Youn, the author of Ignatz (Four Way Books 2010) and Barter (Graywolf, 2003), lives in New York. For her work on Ignatz, she has been nominated for the National Book Award, awarded the Witter Bynner Fellowship from the Library of Congress, and residencies from the MacDowell Colony, the Corporation of Yaddo, and the Rockefeller Foundation. She received her undergraduate degree from Princeton, a masters degree in English from Oxford, where she was a Rhodes Scholar, and her law degree from Yale. She was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University and has taught creative writing at Columbia University and Pratt Institute. She currently works as an attorney at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, focusing on election law issues.
Rosmarie Waldrop’s Driven to Abstraction is just out from New Directions. Other recent books of poetry are Curves to the Apple, Blindsight (both New Directions), Splitting Images (Zasterle), and Love, Like Pronouns (Omnidawn). Her Collected Essays, Dissonance, was published by University of Alabama Press in 2005. Her two novels, The Hanky of Pippin’s Daughter and A Form/of Taking/It All are available in one volume (Northwestern UP, 2001). She has translated Edmond Jabès, Emmanuel Hocquard, Jacques Roubaud from the French, and, from the German, Elke Erb, Oskar Pastior and Gerhard Rühm, among others. She lives in Providence, where she co-edits Burning Deck books with Keith Waldrop.
Upcoming Fall 2010...
November 29 Ben Mirov & Reb Livingston
December 6 Season Finale! With James Tate, Alex Phillips and Star Black
These pictures of poet Steve Orlen, who died one week ago today, come to us from Jerry Williams and Max McConkey They were taken by Max. This first picture is of a memorial service. In sending it along, Max writes: There was a lovely, private, informal event for Steve in [his] backyard yesterday afternoon. Only "close friends" invited: but that turned out to be about 50 people. We ate samples of Steve's favorite foods (lots of bacon), drank wine, told Steve stories (many R or X rated), listened to Steve poems read by fellow poets, laughed, and cried. In the photo, below, which I took with my iPhone, the group was gathered to hear a reading of an Orlen poem by his close friend, Gibb Windahl.
The two pictures below were taken on November 12, under the ramada in the backyard of Steve's house. In the first, Steve is surrounded by friends, from left, Buzz Poverman, Michael Collier, Fred Kiefer [English Prof @ UA, also a local FOS], and David Rivard.
Here's a picture of Steve alone. The picture came labelled "softy.jpg." I didn't know Steve but the label seems to be packed with love and to say something about him that is most endearing. I wish we had met.
Max tells me that those who are Steve Orlen's facebook friends can find more pictures, tributes, and reminiscences on his page. You can read Jerry Williams' post about Steve here. Again, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comment field below.
In the Field
The bungalow is empty now. The clock swings in silence. (I see Grandpa taking me to the urine bucket on a mossy floor, where bamboo curtains moldered.) The bigger room of the first uncle is filled with webs; over there, the second uncle’s smells dusty; the third room (used to be a pig sty) was built for the third uncle, now a monk in the mountains.
Outside the door, dogs hear the squeak. You ride me on the bike, like those mornings when we had shadows—don’t be sad the rice paddies are full of weeds. In the field, fireflies shine with your favorite stars; they are friends saying good-bye. They call out your name: Peace Pine. Peace Pine. It isn’t far and let me walk with you—cross the bridge of orchids, So Long, my pine, So Long, my pine.
J. E. Wei's prose poem appeared in Sentence 6 and in Best American Poetry 2010. He teaches at St. John's University in Taiwan.
Vote for your favorite!
Allow me to buy you dinner! It's chicekn or fish and one of the conditions is that I get to harp on for three hours about my ex-fiance who dumped me in a week -- a fucking week! -- before our wedding. But, yes, after that I'll ket youhavs sex on me. F, 29.
If you're looking for a relationship with very little collateral damage, you should probably pass this ad by. but if you don't mind alienating most of your friends and never talking to your sister again, I promise I'll make it worth your while. "That cheap slut," 44.
I'm making a reference to classical literature in thius advert just to earn our respect. But in doing so, I'm losing respect for myself. F, 41.
Let me change the ribbon in your typewriter. Robert Mitchum seeks Lauren Bacall. American man, 46, desires thoughtful overseas correspondence fr an affair of the mind. Political oundiots and email aificonados discouraged.
In Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote “don’t be confused by surfaces; in the depths everything becomes law.”
Few poets understand this sentiment as poet and longtime lawyer Lawrence Joseph does. Joseph, who teaches at St. John's School of Law, has published five books of poems, and the Rilke quote serves as an epigraph for his book of prose, Lawyerland, which humanizes lawyers – for better or worse – by recreating their intimate conversations.
Joseph spoke at a New School forum last week about his decision to follow the path of poets who earned their living outside the literary world. And he read several poems from his books Into It and Codes, Precepts, and Taboos: Poems 1973-1993.
Imagine Perry Mason reciting verse in lieu of a closing argument and you have an idea of what it’s like to hear Joseph read. He offered an intense and authoritative reading of Some Sort of Chronicler I Am, which describes a panhandler on the 3 train with scant sympathy for the man’s spiel about contracting AIDS.
“Specified ‘underclass’ by the Department of Labor/ —he’s underclass, all right: no class/ if you’re perpetually diseased and poor. … —blessed , indeed; he’s definitely blessed. His wounds open here, on the surface:/ you might say he’s shrieking his stigmata.”
Tidy couplets counterbalance the tough tone of this poem. As in so much of his work, Joseph captures the beauty and brutality of life through an unflinching lens and applies order to it. Everything becomes law.
Chronicler also alludes to famous writers who witnessed life through other professions, including Wallace Stevens, a lawyer, and William Carlos Williams, a physician.
I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.