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.
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:
Zeek's Jewish Poetry Manifesto that went up a few weeks ago: "No more kiddush wine poems, no more challah, no more herring! Enough with the Jewish grandmothers blessing shabbes candles, and no more poetic trips to Auschwitz, please..." And Zackary Sholem Berger's response over at The Forward,
the hard work of dying that my last living grandparent--my Oma--is currently doing in hospice care on Long Island,
my interfaith family,
big box shopping for the holidays in Appalachia
my son's new Noah's Ark menorah,
and the three Iraq war vets I saw in hunting gear at the Sunoco off of Exit 7, on I-78 in New Jersey.
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 6Season Finale! With James Tate, Alex Phillips & Star Black
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.