Online Texts for Craig White's Literature Courses

  • Not a critical or scholarly text but a reading text for a seminar

Two Poems on Jewish-American Girlhood

by

Lyn Lifshin

(b. 1942)

menorah, 9-branched candelabrum
lighted during Hanukkah

 Being Jewish in a Small Town

Someone writes kike on                   [racial slur against Jews]

the blackboard and the

ďkísĒ pull thru the

chalk   stick in my

 

plump pale thighs

even after the high

school burns down the

word is written in

 

the ashes    my under

pants elastic snaps

on Main St because

I canít go to

 

Pilgrim Fellowship                    [Congregational church descended from Puritans]

Iím the one Jewish girl

in town but the 4

Cohen brothers

 

want blond hair

blowing from their

car   they donít know

my black braids

 

smell of almond

I wear my clothes

loose so no one

dreams who I am

 

will never know

Hebrew  keep a

Christmas tree in

my drawer   in

 

the dark  my fingers

could be the menorah           [menorah = 8-branched candelabrum commemorating Hanukkah;  ]

that pulls you toward

honey in the snow                 

 

[cf. Psalm 81.16: "with honey from the rock I would have satisfied you"; or Deuteronomy 32.13: "He made him draw honey from the rock, and oil from the flinty rock."]

 

After the Anti-Semitic Calls on the Local Talk Show

 

I want to check

the mirror, see

if I have a Jewish

nose, always glad

for being supposed

 

Norwegian or French.

Greek once maybe.

Knowing no Hebrew,

growing up in a

town where kids

 

supposed if you

didnít go to the

Catholic school you

must be Protestant.

White wasnít even

 

a point, feeling

strange in a Jewish

sorority later, not

knowing any Yiddish

past, the rituals

the past, thinking

 

I was fat and wore

glasses because I

wasnít Episcopalian

or Methodist or could

confess, thinking my

 

sister with her Holocaust

books was a little paranoid,

skinny in contact lenses

Iím shaking in front

of all mirrors, glass

 

as if midnight in

Dresden was now and the

moon caught in a thousand

panes of crystal

was starting

to crack

 

[reference to Kristallnacht, "Crystal Night" or "Night of Broken Glass," 10 November 1938, in Germany and Austria, an anti-Jewish pogrom that began the Jewish Holocaust-Genocide by Nazis]