Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

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Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

Reading the Sunday papers

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Some days the news gives you news in unintended ways. In today’s New York Times I read the obituary of a poet named Abraham Sutzkever, whose beautiful, haunting, and heart-breaking work I discovered only recently. He wrote in Yiddish about the Holocaust and the lost world of Eastern European Jewry.

Here is one of his poems, translated by Jacqueline Osherow:

Written on a slat of a railway car:

If some time someone should find pearls
threaded on a blood-red string of silk
which, near the throat, runs all the thinner
like life's own path until it's gone
somewhere in a fog and can't be seen —

If someone should find these pearls
let him know how — cool, aloof — they lit up
the eighteen-year-old, impatient heart
of the Paris dancing girl, Marie.

Now, dragged through unknown Poland —
I'm throwing my pearls through the grate.

If they're found by a young man —
let these pearls adorn his girlfriend.
If they're found by a girl —
let her wear them; they belong to her.
And if they're found by an old man —
let him, for these pearls, recite a prayer.

From Epitaphs 1943-44

When I turned from the Times’ news section to “News of the Week in Review,” I saw its lead story about political anger. It was illustrated with some of the most disturbing photographs I’ve seen in a long time. The front page photo is from a Tea Party rally. Pictured front and center are three women not far off my age cohort. One holds a sign that reads, “Gun Control is being able to hit your target.” The jump has a photo, too, this one from the 1964 presidential campaign. A woman identified as a Barry Goldwater supporter holds a “USA Love It or Leave It” poster. Her face is so contorted with anger that she looks more animal than human. (For some reason, the editors have selected women’s faces here. Food for thought. No comment.)

Left me thinking about hate in its various historical moments and incarnations and what it does to us.

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