David Herrle SubtleTea Interview with Louis Daniel Brodsky
Brodsky is the author of seventy volumes of poetry and twenty-four volumes of prose, including nine books of scholarship on William Faulkner and nine books of short fictions. In 2004, Brodsky’s You Can't Go Back Exactly won the award for best book of poetry, presented by the Center for Great Lakes Culture, at Michigan State University.
Visit his site.
D: I think my appreciation for your poetry springs primarily from your absolute fearlessness in being ecstatic. Too many “hip” poets suppress ecstasy, or don’t know it, or are too PC (poetically correct). I love poets (and novelists, song-writers, whoever) who freebase the spirit without slipping down the slope of bathos. In The World Waiting to Be you write “I’ve championed abandon/Decried contrivance.” Tell us about how you consciously present your poems, if you work yourself into a genuine ecstasy or if it’s pretended – or a little of both.
LDB: For starters, what you're calling "ecstasy," I refer to as passion. To me, ecstasy is a state you arrive at, achieve, if you succeed at giving your energy its absolute freedom to explore all its capacities for imagination and wonderment, with a degree of the child's fervent, unwavering belief in make-believe. After all, art is an exercise in the utmost suspension of disbelief, isn't it? It requires us to bring a child-born(e) innocence and gullibility along, to ensure that something we create from airy nothingness has a chance of becoming a poem, a concerto, a ballet, an oil on canvas. Writing has always presented an opportunity for me to unabashedly express my immense passion. It's always been so much easier for me to shout out my sense of euphoria, ecstasy, rapture, through books of free verse, where I know that if someone chooses not to listen or to decide that I'm just out of my mind, they can shut me off by shutting the book, not have to suffer my running on and on, with my exuberance.
I think of myself as always being energized to the max and that writing is a sacrificial rite requiring colossal fuel, just to keep everything floating in the air. After all, creating poems is a great signs-and-wonders juggling act that always has something falling out of the sky, things I have to pick up and get flying again. I have never faked my orgasmic excitement. Writing necessarily asks us not only to begin with mental foreplay but to move toward emotional climax. Therein lies the excitement and the reward for those who live a life of the artistic mind, revel in the challenge of procreating brainchildren from seeds of pure imagination.
Ecstasy is my DNA, my blood, my breathing, my being; it always has been. I've never had a rheostat that would allow me to modulate, moderate, balance it. My current has either been all the way on or shut off. Like the sun itself, I'm all energy. The arts, all of them, are dependent upon energy to power the skills that one works a lifetime to perfect, and passion is the catalyst lacking which, in whatever you create, your envisioned masterpiece is destined to be flat, unimaginative, uninspiring, not worth the time set aside to progress it. One must understand that a lackluster, ho-hum attitude toward creativity is a nonstarter. If one isn't passionate to the point of bursting, be it about writing a poem, driving an Indy 500 car, taking your dog out for a walk, reading the newspaper, eating a taco, listening to a loon resonate an entire Wisconsin lake, with its haunting yodels and tremolos, making love, then don't commence it, attempt to see it through, because that which is perfunctory, mundane, pedestrian, quarter-hearted is tantamount to numbness, death of the spirit. You might as well be something other than a human being. To be the opposite of passionate, ecstatic, is to be a vegetable or a rock.
I know there are those who would condemn me, out of hand, for my apparently harsh, judgmental position on this. I can only say that when I take this stand, I do so, as you can surely see, with colossal conviction, passion. Can someone do something half-well, half-meaningfully, half-perfect? Well, maybe he or she can, but that's never been my approach. Whenever I sit down to write a poem, I automatically know that it's going to bust my ass, press my soul to seek the outer reaches of ecstasy, from the first word to the last, whether the poem implodes or not. And the same obtains when I sit back down, to edit the poem. It's going to get an edit from hell, from me, guaranteed. I'm my own worst/best editor/critic, and what I always look for is just how what I've written will have the most powerful, lasting effect on my reader. My goal, always, is to move the reader, be it to tears or laughter. The only chance a writer has to accomplish this is by pushing his reader to achieve that same level of passion that he's infused into that group of words, those lines, sentences, paragraphs, stanzas, pages . . . that dream of immortality.
When I start a poem, I never come to it preprogrammed, never know where I'll begin or how I'll move along whatever does materialize at the end of my pen point. I like it this way best, because it mandates my unfettered freedom of choice, refuses to help me by allowing me to rely on the erudition of others I've read, keeps me from thinking too consciously about that which I'm hoping my sheer passion, alone, will evolve into a palpably coherent and persuasively moving work of art. I've always understood that passion is the great motivator, that too much consciousness, too much education, can absolutely flatten out, dilute, discourage passion, ecstasy, to the point where, in the initial stages of creation, the conception itself arrives stillborn, and that when these primal emotions are minimal or nonexistent, the artwork, the poem, has no heartbeat at its core, just a pile of useless words to sweep up and dump into forgetting's dust bin.
For me, "Sweet Weeping" captures the essence of passion, ecstasy, rapture — the flesh, emotions, spirit, soul bursting, exploding with the realization that love lies at the base of every endeavor we engage in, when we make ourselves receptive to the sentience and sensuousness each of us is capable of engendering, experiencing, giving, and receiving. And that "love" is the love of life itself, of the gift of living that each of us is God-given, bequeathed, at birth, and can, if, when, we so choose, use to recreate God's image, in each of our good works, in every human dimension we pursue, even beyond death, if we dream the artistic dream that we dream with extreme enough passion, sublime enough ecstasy, rapture descended from the celestial cosmos.
Through the myriad years,
I've cried out of fear and anxiety,
Wept, despairingly, over terrible failures and losses,
But never have I rained such tears
As I'm doing, this last a.m. in Manhattan,
Lying, in bed, on top of your naked body,
Realizing that my flooding drops come from reservoirs
Deeper than gladness,
Deeper than joy,
Deeper than pleasure,
Deeper than passion,
Deeper than affection,
Deeper than intimacy,
Deeper than adoration that transcends elation,
Deeper than the spirit that knows no depths
Save those that reside inside the visionary eye,
Depths two lovers old to their newness discover
When they gaze into each other's pupils
And see that glow with which God illumined the void . . .
Tears you and I, sweet weeper, are crying,
Despite parting's swiftly arriving sorrow-hour . . .
Tears shaping, from admiration, respect, and trust,
Devotion, for each other, that captures rapture
Flowing through our arteries, our bones,
Coalescing as lachrymose happiness
We can only believe we've never before seen glisten
Nor ever will again,
Other than in the eyes we see seeing us, right now —
Our eyes, focusing, flesh to lips to heart,
On our soul's compelling welling up from love.
D: I think your crowning achievement will be the affectionate Lake Nebagamon works. As you write, “the lake and [you] have been lovers for ages.” Panoramic shots are shown across the front and back covers of the first and second Nebagamon volumes, At Water’s Edge and At Dock’s End. When I first saw Queen Nab’s vastness, I mentally gasped because I’d read preview copies of the lake poems and envisioned a smaller, more intimate lake in my reading, probably because you write of it as if it’s your own private genie bottle. This visual view added to the spiritual view makes me feel as one who’s heard Garbo speak in a talkie for the first time. Also, the lake poems reveal you more than Lady Lake herself. Please. Tell us of the emotional matrimony of Lake Nebagamon and yourself.
LDB: First, let me say that Lake Nebagamon is, to my lights, quite small, with its mere ten miles of shoreline, its 950-odd acres, especially when I compare it with Lake Superior, which is only eight miles away — the world's largest freshwater lake.
I love the image you call up, of Lake Nebagamon being my "own private genie bottle." I've been in love, literally, with this lake since I was ten years old, believed it could fulfill all my wishes. So many of the poems in the Lake Nebagamon trilogy depict this relationship, because I really believe that this lake has been both my imagination's mother and lover. I have virtually grown up, from childhood, through manhood, into my seventieth year, beside this lake.
But something changed four years ago, when I began returning to the lake, renting a cabin at the edge of the water. I was in dire need of finding the soul of my soul, which I had lost many years before, without realizing it — that part of my being that craves communion with nature, the one place I began discovering I could hear myself seeing and feeling, see myself listening and longing and smelling and tasting, feel myself growing close to the trees and clouds and water, becoming one with sunrises and sunsets, learning to communicate with the waves, dialogue with loons, fly with mergansers and Canada geese. I was in need of a spiritual awakening, a sense of serenity that would allow me to see, in all things, the image, vision, revelation of a being or essence responsible for the existence of everything animate and inanimate in my universe. I needed a quiet place in which to breathe quietly, a space that would let me get in touch with my own thoughts, unmolested, unintruded upon by outside voices, mechanical distractions, electronic devices. When in the small village of which my cabin is a part, I could go for days, weeks, without speaking to anyone other than the creatures and the wind.
The poems I began writing there were unlike any I'd ever written, in that being in the village of Lake Nebagamon, where I'd started out as a ten-year-old camper in the boys' camp contiguous with the town, I was able to look back, over sixty years, and forward, over the same sixty years, and see the little boy who'd grown into the writer I've become and, at times, become that little boy again. It was easy for me to trace this trajectory, with my pen, over the lines of my notebook; my lines and its lifelines became synchronous, synonymous. During the time I'd write the poems, I'd become not only the poems but the land itself, the lake, the pines, the camp. The sense of oneness was nothing if not miraculous, revelational, epiphanic. Between 2006 and 2010, I made fifteen trips to that village, that lake, that cabin, and when, in the autumn of 2010, I finally decided not to return for an indeterminate time, it was with bittersweet resoluteness. What I realized was that I had tasted of paradise and that now, despite my reluctance, I needed to go back out, exile myself into the other world, to see if I could put to good use the peace of mind, the tranquillity, the calmness, the equanimity I'd suckled from this land, to find out whether I could better handle the urban world in which I made my home. It was time for change, for I had been changed by my cabin/lake experience, primed to seek change, in order that my earthly self might grow toward a spiritual realm in which all evolution is measured in timelessness.
It's been just a little over half a year since my last visit to the lake. My heart palpitates when my dreams and daydreams cast back to that mystical place. And I do believe that everybody should have a mystical place, retreat, holy land to which he or she can repair, pilgrimage, even if it's only in dreams, daydreams. One of the poems I wrote there, which forms the epilogue of volume two (At Dock's End), is titled "A Lake." Perhaps this poem, as well as any, epitomizes my feelings about this entire experience.
Everyone should have a lake in the valley of his soul,
A body of water and a shore to contain it,
Give it a shape that imagination can embrace,
A refuge to which world-weary journeyers can retreat,
To restore the forgotten pleasures of the heart:
Tranquillity, solitude, solemnity, serenity, calm,
The sense of peace that draws its seekers inward,
Beckoning them to peer into the lake's depths,
Connect with its intellect, the essence of its prescience,
The life-force that gives its molecules mellifluous integrity,
Heals those who repair to its shores, to bathe,
Redeems them of their ennui, makes them whole, sacred.
D: I’m a spiritual Dreyfusard 117 years later, and I volunteer some of the Shoah’s still-fresh grief for myself. Something ruptured space-time back then. It broke the boundaries of religion and race, time and place: just as the once-black blues are for now anyone who’s blue and the rain falls on both the just and unjust. The Shoah is a font from which all of us can solemnly drink. Our nuclei contain latent atrocities, Rwandas haunt our Disneylands. We’re blood-spattered by such unfathomable events.
In your impressive exchange with Charles Fishman you seem to imply a timelessness and borderlessness in the act of “writing the Holocaust” (to take from the interview’s title): “[Holocaust works are] close together, kin, brethren, tribe, in spirit, because they're part of the family of six million that, in perishing, will always live close, inextricably close.” I think the most striking line in your poem “Grandfather” sums it up: “His loss is mine.” (Their loss is ours.) Am I onto something, or does the Shoah “belong” solely to Jewish descendents – or only to the ones who didn’t make it out alive?
LDB: A few weeks ago, I received an inquiry from a graduate student in Spain, pursuing her Ph.D. in Native American literature and, simultaneously, a master's in American studies, a part of which she is intending to devote to my Holocaust poetry. I responded to her somewhat disturbing question to me, as to whether I feel that my Holocaust poetry is somehow contributing to the "Americanization of the Holocaust." She implies that Americans have arrogated, to themselves, the legacy of the Holocaust. I'm using my response to her as an answer to your question, in hope that it will illuminate, for your readers, my attitude toward this very short-sighted view of what, to me, she seems to see as having occurred in the arts, with regard to the Holocaust, in America, since, I presume, the 1960s.
"Let me see if I can directly address some of the most salient issues concerning you, regarding the Americanization of the Holocaust and my possible contribution to it.
"Unequivocally, I am an American and, as such, anything I write on any subject is going to take on the special national tones and hues with which I've grown up — the essences of what I've assimilated as an American, from American culture.
"The fact that I, long ago, found myself wandering into the desolate abyss which the Holocaust created may or may not have been accidental or motivated by something ancestral in my blood. (I can assure you that I've never written a single Holocaust poem due to the fact that I'm Jewish; indeed, I do not regard my Holocaust poems as 'Jewish' poems; and I can make this distinction with certainty, because I've written two distinct books of 'Jewish' poems — Toward the Torah, Soaring: Poems of the Renascence of Faith and Still Wandering in the Wilderness: Poems of the Jewish Diaspora .) Regardless, I would have wandered into the Holocaust as a sensitive human being, not as an American or Spaniard or Italian or Russian or German or Japanese or Chinese, but as a man too moved by the moral depravities and physical depredations perpetrated by others not to respond. In fact, my poetic sensibility gravitated naturally, not flinchingly, to this subject, as long ago as 1967.
"My poems are only American in the sense they are my brain children. Personally, the whole concept of the 'Americanization of the Holocaust' turns me off. I really believe that anyone who makes the Holocaust accessible, in any way, is doing humanity a worthy service. This may be sacred territory, as many Holocaust scholars admonish, but if so, then it necessarily excludes all of us with a creative, imaginative heart and spirit and soul from participating. After all, art is not a Nazi sporting a warped, sociopathic, Aryan bias; it's an open-minded, sympathetic, compassionate advocate of the dignity of each and every person, regardless of his/her labels, a proselytizer of equal rights for all who believe in the inherent inspirational and uplifting properties of art which can heal the festering evils of mankind.
"As to why so much concentration has been placed on the Holocaust, in America, this may have to do with the fact that America has 6.5 million Jews in its population, almost a million more than are in Israel. That Jews have been instrumental in American culture, almost from the time they first arrived here, necessarily mandates that some of them will be moved, by the atrocities of WWII, to speak out. In fact, many who do speak out may be doing so for having been reminded how mindfully, willfully, purposefully negligent our president during the war years, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was, in terms of doing something, anything, to address the plight of Jews in Europe. America did nothing to stop the Third Reich's transports from running, did almost nothing to encourage Jewish immigration to this country (in fact, we discouraged it, did little to challenge the Henry Fords, the Charles Lindberghs, the Father Coughlins, the IBM's and their Thomas J. Watsons).
"I would hope that my Holocaust poems are read as artifacts intended to move the reader to sympathy, revulsion, intense melancholy, sadness, sorrow, and shame and that my poems would encourage each reader to do whatever little he or she can, to show kindness to every single person who enters his or her tiny, yet sovereign, dominion. I feel certain that holocausts come from numbness of feeling caused by indifference, selfishness, ignorance, self-absorption, and colossal low self-esteem disguised as self-aggrandizing delusions of superiority. God knows we've had holocausts other than the one that occurred under Hitler's maniacal despotism. We've seen genocides in relatively recent times, as well — Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Sudan. Save for the numbers, these mass murders are all the same; they emanate from the objectification of human beings.
"If you're asking me if it might be easier to deal with the topic of the Holocaust here in the U.S. as opposed to other countries, I can't really say. Again, I think it has more to do with the large population of Jews in this country. Germany only has 118,000 Jews, Russia only 230,000 (along with a lingering, malingering anti-Semitism). France (which also suffers an abiding Jew-baiting hatred) has only 600,000 Jews.
"America, admittedly, has its own share of long-standing anti-Semitism (I dealt with this in some of the Charles Fishman interview), yet I believe it prides itself on its inherent sense of rightness, not self-righteousness, on its willingness to champion the underdog, consider all people equal (read our Constitution) and deserving of the same treatment — this, despite its own blatant omissions and commissions of hypocrisy and disenfranchisement (i.e., the U.S.'s enslavement of Africans, its internment of Japanese Americans).
"I believe the Holocaust belongs not to America or Americans but to humanity and, as such, it must always serve as an archetypal reminder of just how inhumane and demonic the human spirit can become when left to its own unchecked wiles. None of us can afford to forget that when mankind reduces itself to mere fungible numbers, it reaps the degraded and degrading consequences of its horrific, unforgivable irresponsibilities.
"Is it that you're reading, into the Americanization of the Holocaust, an interpretation that sees American artists, producers, and social philosophers as diluting, trivializing, exploiting, marginalizing that scourge? I don't see it that way. If anything, my motivation has always been, first, to write poems out of fiery passion that cares most about telling what my spirit sees as a truth that needs to be perceived, assessed, dealt with in terms that most honestly, authentically reflect potential reconciliations that might empower, inspire, and proclaim the vibrancy of humankind, no matter how dire the circumstances. Whether it's with my Holocaust poems or those about nature, love, small-town life, childhood, the creative process, the American South, etc., I've always attempted to bring the reader into closer touch with what I see as matters needing to be addressed, taken to heart, and acted upon. For me, the 'acting upon' has always taken the form of creating poems whose intentions are to awaken readers to act upon their own urges to change those things screaming out for change that they might effect, if only they make the effort.
"All of us, in my judgment — every sensitive human being — have a mandate to speak out for love of our fellow beings and respect for their differences, to decry the poisoned spirit that professes hatred toward many, malice toward many more. All of us must do our personal, small but significant, best to put an end to ignorance, bigotry, repression, intimidation, subversion, subjugation, mendacity, hypocrisy, and murder — murder of the body and, perhaps more devastating, murder of the human spirit dreaming of being better than it can even dream.
"What more do you need to know?"
D: A passage from your Christmas Epiphany suite:
And so, when I stare into the cold, foreboding, desolate abyss,
I gasp, in sheer fear, knowing my demise is nearer than nigh…
Kandinsky rightly said of Beethoven that “his joyful vision cloaks a vast sorrow.” Emerson said that “we fly to Beauty as an asylum from the terrors of finite nature,” that “Man is…a stupendous antagonism,” that “our moods do not believe in each other.” I reject lopsided “optimists” who try to Photoshop out the blues. Pollyannas are Stepford-made. Real humans have pendulous hearts, yins and yangs. Another passage from the suite:
What's come over me, in this epiphanic moment of my aging incarnation,
I'm at a loss for syllables, symbols, syllogisms, to say.
And yet, I sense a flaming coruscation of holiness shimmering above me,
A sacred halo, mandorla, transformational force from the source of all life…
Tell us about the Ups and Downs, the lifelong swing between the fear Pascal felt before “eternal silence of these infinite spaces” and spiritual peace. “Composure is in the soul of the beholder,” you write in At Water’s Edge. The Creator (or Poet) at the end of your The World Waiting to Be dies with a mind at peace. Where does your roulette wheel stop at the end of the spin: at abysmal desolation or shimmering holiness?
LDB: Many times, I've written poems about characters who have decided not to die. Sometimes these poems are otherworldy, supernumerary, numinous, preternatural investigations of things about which I have no knowledge, a kind of metaphysical potpourri, part hyperbole, part absurdity, part clairvoyance. I have always believed that as long as one is remembered, he or she won't ever die, can't ever perish, that decease is just a deterioration, degradation, disintegration of the body, not the mind, the mind that the mind leaves behind. I feel that the guiding motivation for my becoming a writer was and remains that I saw, when I began writing, in 1963, and still see, is the decided possibility that I can live forever, through the vibrancy of my writing, my art. William Faulkner often expressed this thought, by saying words to this effect. He believed that his writing had the capacity to say no to death. Indeed, he wrote as much, in the 1954 introduction to The Faulkner Reader, alluding to the fact that if he had enough of the good strong juices that flowed through his arteries flowing into the lines of his fiction, those juices would still be felt throbbing in the bodies, eyes, minds of those who would read him a hundred, a thousand years hence. I definitely feel this same compelling drive, which is why, when I write, I do so with a throbbing passion that absolutely burns the paper below the molten-lava ink of my pen.
There is no doubt that, like other souls I've known, I've struggled mightily with considerable unhappiness. I could call some of it torment. But I've never allowed the torment to subjugate me into listlessness, inanition, or the malaise that becomes despair, which spawns ineradicable thoughts of suicide. I've never given in to the siren "easy out" that Ariel's Sylvia Plath and In Dreams Begin Responsibilities's Delmore Schwartz and To Bedlam and Part Way Back's Anne Sexton resorted to. Indeed, writing has been, since 1963, when I was twenty-two, my great mentor and defender, my guardian and savior. As of late, I've begun discovering a real sense of inner peace, and I suspect that when I do pass away, it will be something of a gentle, not agonizing, relief, a necessary rest from the rigors of all the writing I've pressed upon myself, all these years, a surcease allowing me to regain enough strength to take up writing again, compose poems, on the other side. In truth, I look forward to that epochal, colossal moment when silence will descend upon me, float me to the next shore, where I'll begin, again, my long writerly quest for peace of mind.
D: You’ve a profound sense of the absurd. Whether in a silly poem or one of your humorous “short fictions,” you show an extremely playful, irreverent, iconoclastic jester-likeness. This is a counterweight to — even a salvation from — sobriety and purposefulness. The sharpest weapon against a Nurse Ratched is a McMurphy. You seem to enjoy sticking your tongue out at the world in between giggles as much as you indulge in serious contemplation. Tell us about your outrageous humor, your Swiftian — even Carrollian — wit.
LDB: My sense of humor — droll, sardonic, mordant, satirical, cynical, sarcastic, at times highly misanthropic — has evolved, over many years, since my graduate work, when I immersed myself in Jonathan Swift, Franz Kafka, and William Faulkner. I suppose hyperbole and absurdity spoke to me in a way that allowed me to vent my gross disappointment with the world and my own personal insecurities, through a lens that might render art instead of bitter, ranting jeremiads and screeds that could only reflect poorly on me as an immature witness to the world, someone who could add little to the humanization of the inhumane.
In truth, I see myself as a very gentle, caring, compassionate soul, who is anything but the bigot, the cynic, the mean-spirited naysayer who's often portrayed in my humorous poems. Indeed, I do not believe that making people the butts of their own jokes or mine is an adequate solution to their problems or mine; rather, it's a way of calling my readers' attention to the vast similarity between the smallness of most people's lives and the sadness of their silent (or not so silent) desperation, the vast disparity between this and the nobility with which others attempt to better their own lives and the world.
Perhaps what I was lacking, as a young man learning my craft, in graduate school, was a compassionate overlay, which could only come from experience gathered from the world outside books, beyond academia. And this would begin in 1968 (and continue until 1987), when I moved to a small Missouri town and threw myself into the rataplan of a 350-person men's-trouser factory, hurled myself into its workaday rigors, with eager abandon, realizing that it was there that I could begin learning about humility and unpretentiousness, from those men and women working at routine piece-rate jobs that only minimally supported their needs. Until I had a better understanding of the pervasiveness of impoverishment, real want — economic, cultural, educational, if not spiritual — I couldn't adequately emulate the humor that I saw those I worked with, daily, in the factory, direct outward, toward others, and inward, toward themselves, humor formulated from their daily tribulations and discouragements, humor which, in its unglorified authenticity, its raw cut-to-the-bone honesty, its lack of nuance, subtlety, irony, metaphor, nonetheless reminded its listeners that, often, one can draw up, in a leaky bucket, an occasional gem.
I find that when I do resort to humor, be it cynical or good-natured, it's because I need to back off from the colossal seriousness of man's outrageously inept, inadequate capacity for lifting himself out of life's dung heaps. When I'm most despairing of man's merciless depravities, his genocides in the name of one particular ideology, his religious scourges perpetrated with self-righteous certainty in one faith or another, to the utter exclusion of all others . . . it's then that I seek humor. It seems to cut through the gravity of whatever awareness I'm mired in, long enough to allow me, as an artist, to at least set my demoralized spirit aside long enough to exercise a belly-laugh or two, before diving back into the morass floated with unadulterated evil and venality. Sometimes, a simple chuckle or guffaw can hold a nasty attitude at bay long enough to let a fresh breath of hope drift into the baffles of my frustrated, skeptical psyche and transfigure my melancholy to sanguinity, equanimity.
The following short fiction is a good example of the irreverence and hyperbole I use to make readers wince. Truth is, I want them to hurl brickbats at me, throw pies in my face, followed by a good drenching from Clarabelle the Clown's seltzer bottle. Perhaps this is the way I "stick out my tongue" at the world, willing to accept the consequence that someone might tar and feather me and ride me out of town, on his blog or Facebook page. After all, how else can artists get people to recognize the shameful absurdity of taking the labels they put on themselves ("Jew," "CEO," "Catholic," "Nazi," "Tea Partier," "pro-lifer," "soccer mom," etc.) and assigning exclusivity and inordinate importance to them?
By day, he's a kibbutz-rube in the big city, a mild-mannered cub reporter for the Jerusalem Daily Planet (operating out of the King David's men's room), assigned to interview Palestinian suicide bombers; by night, he works the Dung Gate/Aish HaTorah beat.
He's a seasoned vet of a dozen Armageddons, including the Yom Kippur and Six-Day Wars, poised to locate, at the drop of a shekel, an empty phone booth, doff his suit, wing tips, horn-rimmed glasses, club tie, streimel, payesses, phylacteries, tallis, and beard, fly into the sky, in his blue-and-white tutu, and make a spectacle of himself, zooming through a multitude of aahs, oohs, and oy vays, tying up Yassir Arafat, Lex Luthor, and their main squeeze, Miss Abdullah Teschmacher, flaunting her Monica Lewinsky designer bra and thong. He's a secular Messiah come in the flesh to save the Promised Land of Metropolis from itself.
He cuts a zany figure for a latter-day planetary saint on the run, a loose cannon on the deck of Ben-Gurion's Pequod, that desert vessel out of the ancient seaport of Jaffa, on the bum, on the skids, down on its luck, a ghost ship without a home port, in a storm, a three-master with cruciform rigging, sporting on its sails a skull and crossbones inside a Star of David.
He's Clark Kent, Benyamin Netanyahu, and Golda Meir rolled up into one Hasbro Darth Vader toy. He's archetypal, Kafkaesque — a mensch, savior of all Holocaust victims, Ethiopians, Brooklynites making frequent-flier-mile aliyahs, and other wandering putzes.
But where is the all-knowing Adonai, Perry White, and that all-American shiksa, Lois Lane, to help Superjew keep the Sabbath holy, keep kosher, and relieve his bodacious case of lover's nuts? They're in the kitchen, frying kryptonite bacon.
In mid-April, I composed a poem that gave me great joy, because it allowed me to empty out my mind's detritus-stuffed attic. A poem like this demands, of me, total concentration, because what I need to remember is that despite its seeming irrationality, there must be an underlying sense of the rational. In other words, there needs to be a truth at the core of the dense brambles, some verity not so oblique as to make of the piece sheer nonsense. In this case, I was working not only with wordplay but, more importantly, I was dealing with the theme of mortality. I saw, in this poem, a character who's weary, lamenting his state of purposelessness, wishing to end it all. To me, the poem has a sense of progression and a closure. There seem to be not so oblique references to Jesus the Jew, as well. Why these symbols are embedded there, I can only say that they seem to heighten the monumentality of the act that this man wants to achieve, which, I assume, could be suicide — turning, upside down, the traditional dogma of sacrifice for mankind, in an act of utterly stupid futility, and, finally, proclaiming himself nothing more, perhaps far less, than a "lowly Jew-pig," which the Nazis would have deemed an Untermensch and sent, in the very next cattle car, to Auschwitz.
The humor in this piece comes from its blatant wordplay as well as the absurdity in its phraseology, all of it leading to a very complexly simple notion: this character is despondent. In this poem, I'm not singling out any particular human fault, rather depicting a sad state of an extremely tragic life.
Spring, Etc., Et Al.
These bovine days of spring run away with the dish's spoon,
And I'm left holding the bag lady's gloom,
In the croker sack I usually reserve for my ophidian blues.
What's come over me, I can almost not understand,
Even as I see that what's come under me
Is about to overtake the plan I have for the overzealous undertaker,
The one who makes all things possible profoundly impossible,
All things right improvidentially wrong,
All things two-by-two schismatic, bifurcated, infinitely half-lived.
These ovine days of spring-loaded, unsprung springtimeliness,
When I'm feeling bah-bah-humbug black sheepish
About the bleating of my heartstrings, played by the second fiddler,
And the sky seems, at all eons, to be falling out of sorts,
With Chicken Littlestein's entire megillah of ten lost minyans,
Of which I'm yet a member in irreverent bad standing, davening . . .
These ursine days of spring find my spirit bullish on its bear market,
Determined to divest my fleshly estate of its fool's-gold bullion,
Stampede every last bull from my unebullient mind's china shop,
Get my outhouse in ordure, twice and for all and forevermore,
So that before the canine days of summer bark up the wrong dogwood,
I can nail my porcine self to myself and oy-nk like a stuck pig.
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