The Arty Semite

A Tel Aviv State of Mind

By Jake Marmer

  • Print
  • Share Share

Each Thursday, The Arty Semite will be featuring excerpts and reviews of the best contemporary Jewish poetry. This week, Jake Marmer writes about Maya Pindyck, whose collection “Friend Among Stones” was published last year by New Rivers Press.

To some, Tel Aviv is a party town with sandy beaches. To others, it is a vortex of Jewish and Israeli culture and secular life. To others yet it is where Zionist and progressive left-wing politics come into their most intense and delicious tensions. Here, however, is what Tel Aviv means to Maya Pindyck:

Tel Aviv

Mother’s paintings
of pear-shaped women outlined in coal,
tacked low. The marriage
of dust and pound cake.
Outside, the Ferris wheel
blared American songs
amidst shrieks of terror
rising from the roller coaster.
Inside we took turns tossing
Sarah out the window,
Maybe a leg would catch
on the laundry line.
The sparkling trees winked:
maybe death. Every time.

That’s Pindyck’s Tel Aviv. Its Jewishness has little to do with, say, Jerusalem — the overtly visible expressions of affiliation. It is more implicit — vaguely but unmistakably present, and all the more piquant for its complexity.

A palpable presence of death dominates the poem, enveloping everything into its possibility. The particularly poignant line break after “shrieks of terror,” which resolves into “rising from the roller coaster,” is like the very roller coaster ride itself, dashing from a dark and uncertain image to a comic conclusion. Throughout, the poem reiterates the rhetorical thrill before easing into dark humor, “every time.”

Equally enticing is the “marriage of dust and pound cake,” which is not only a description of charcoal paintings of “pear-shaped women” but also, it seems, a comment on humanity’s condition in general. Rich with shtetl-chic overtones, it is earthy and sarcastic at the same time. So it is with Pindyck’s poetry, a great deal of which references her heritage in ways that are not easy to pin down:

The Moth

Staining the blank wall, the moth promises
a terrible disruption. What if it flies straight into
my mouth? Such a forbidding brown
against my white utopia.

The body sleeps too fully – flesh
meditates under a rough pouch. Grotesque
wingspan. If it
brushes across my cheek?

(I wanted my father to kill it.)

Worst was its stillness: an alien trust
that I would reject repeatedly in the name of
my culture. Someone’s skin
slit for nothing.

Although a certain allegorical interpretation of this poem (daughter-father-intruder) might carry universal weight, without the context of the author’s biography and the rest of the collection it is difficult to get a handle on all of the intermingling metaphors. For anyone attuned to Israeli life, however, it’s clear who the projected “alien” is — whose presence may disturb the child-like “white utopia.”

But then, politics aside, perhaps another layer of the poem evokes the images of Shabbat: a white utopia of meditative inaction that would forbid its practitioners to kill a moth. Perhaps there’s also a Freudian reference – a Jewish father’s inability to stand up to what threatened his child. The last stanza is most haunting, and also most unclear: What rejection does the poet refer to – rejection of the “alien” moth – or rejection of the action? Or both? And whose skin is slit in the poem’s final line?

To be fair, while the Jewish/Israeli angle is intensely present in Pindyck’s poetry, “Friend Among Stones” is a terrifically diverse collection, filled with works of perfectly universal appeal — love poems, city sketches, clowning philosophies. Particularly memorable are works about family, loaded with tension, while at same time being entertaining and fun:

Youth

I was the Doctor. My sister,
the Patient. I placed Bic pen
to anus, measuring
her temperature. Watched it poke
up like a flagpole amidst two

lonesome hills. Later, I,
the Chef, chopped parsley, smeared Fluff
between wheat loaves, cracked
eggs – the Servant
set the forks beside the knives and summoned our parents.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Tel Aviv, Poetry, Maya Pindyck, Friend Among Stones

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.