Being Jewish in small-town Appalachia around Hanukkah time is an exercise in resourcefulness. We have no synagogue here--only a lay-led Jewish Community Center. The president of the center is very fastidious about keeping the mass emailings to official events and business, but about two nights ago, she sent out a note that it was ok to use the list to discuss where to find Hanukkah candles locally.
The emails started, hot and heavy: the Target had blue and white candles, the Target was out of them, someone spotted them in the Kroger bargain bin by the registers marked down to 50 cents along with leftover matzah, someone else found two kinds (!) at the Walmart at the end-cap of Aisle 13 near women's shirts. Then more emails followed, about where to find chocolate Hanukkah gelt (see picture). All the Big Box stores are one town over in (ironically) Christiansburg.
My husband pointed out tonight that we actually have seven boxes of Hanukkah candles in our house. I've apparently become an incidental hoarder of consumable Judaica products. What if the Saxes need a box though? Last year, they were forced to use Advent candles from the Party Central store (a shanda!). And there was the one unfortunate year where the only place I found candles was at the Walmart Christmas Shop, in the back of the store where the garden center normally is. I was so excited to find the candles, tucked between boxes of those light-up outlines of deer people put on their lawns that pretend to eat grass, that I bought a few boxes, along with Hanukkah "garland," and I didn't even care that the cashier wished me a Merry Christmas when he rang me up.
Now, if you know your Lenny Bruce, you know that garland, like Drakes Cakes or Instant Potatoes, is a distinctly Goyishe item. I don't even care, though--I live in Appalachia. I will buy anything with a Jewish symbol emblazoned on it that I find at the Walmart. My mother-in-law is really into decorative holiday items: Santa dishes, festive serving platters, hand towels with snowflakes on them. One year, for Christmas, she got me a giant Hanukkah platter with doves and stars on it, and now, in Appalachia, I am glad for my giant seasonal decorative Goyishe-Jewish platter, which will be pressed into service during tomorrow's latke-making marathon, when even the cats will start to smell like deep fried hash browns.
So this is a post about resourcefulness and community, syncretism and adaptation. I was thinking about this in the context of poetry today--especially the syncretism. Are there ways that other practices or cultures wend their way into contemporary American poetry, and are adopted, torqued a little, and ultimately embraced into the fold? I think of Terrance Hayes' pecha kucha poems from Lighthead, where he takes a Japanese business presentation format and turns it into a poetic form. I think of Maureen Thorson's practice (and what is a writing practice, if not a ritual?) of napowrimo--national poetry writing month, where poets come together virtually to create new work each day, and the communities that have grown up around this new practice. And I'm totally thinking of asking my mother-in-law for this Hanukkah felt wall-hanging for next year (which is really, I suspect, made by a Jew with serious Advent-Calendar envy).
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Recommended Hanukkah poem: "A Christmas Story" by Alan Shapiro, from his book Happy Hour.
Poem of the night, in honor of the Festival of Lights, starting tomorrow at sundown, and in honor of the simultaneous loss and pleasure inherent in syncretism, or any time two things are joined together:
A Light Says Why by Karen Volkman
A light says why. From all the poor prying. Again we attain a more
regal posture--small bird accompanying slips between our whim.
Where will we flicker, loose as two feathers from a wren's back? Gone,
do not brood for all the hands that miss you. They hardly hold. Don't
wait, one who thought a dark eye could save you, like night with its black
paws curled and gone to sleep. There are only two names to remember,
Loss and Pleasure, crossed in this field like no man's borrowed light. Call
the far-sighted foxes to the launching. Call the small deer scattered in
the back brush, swift as flit. Contingency has arms and hands and wasted
faces. And a body, shrunk and scurvy, built to burn.