The Arty Semite

Hearing News From the Temple Mount in Salt Lake City

By Rodger Kamenetz

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Each Thursday, The Arty Semite features excerpts and reviews of the best contemporary Jewish poetry. This week, Rodger Kamenetz introduces “Hearing News From the Temple Mount in Salt Lake City” by Jacqueline Osherow. This piece originally appeared on June 1, 2001, as part of the Forward’s Psalm 151 series. It is being published here online for the first time.

Jacqueline Osherow

Jacqueline Osherow, an English professor at the University of Utah, is part of the strange Diaspora of American Jewish poets in recent times, a by-product of the reality that many poets earn their bread through college teaching. On the other hand, the scattering produces fresh glints of light — as here the poet, perhaps hearing the news of Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount and the events that followed, reflects and refracts in Mormon country, where Jews are “Gentiles.” Ms. Osherow’s mordant humor and casual diction gives her work a relaxed feel but underlying the humor is a shrewd drash on Jacob’s character — and on our own.

Ms. Osherow is the author of four books of poetry, including “Dead Men’s Praise” (Grove, 1999). She has received numerous grants and prizes, including a Guggenheim, an NEA, an Ingram Merrill Foundation Grant and the Witter Bynner Prize from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

Hearing News From the Temple Mount in Salt Lake City

You know that conversation

in the elevator in the Catskills:

how one woman says, Oy,

the food here is so terrible 

and the other and the portions

are so small? It’s a variant

on Jacob’s line to Pharaoh 

when he gets to Egypt — few

and evil have been the days 

of my life. Naturally, he’s our

chosen namesake: this Israel 

the Torah keeps forgetting and 

calling Jacob, as if it doesn’t

trust his cleaned-up name….

Obviously he’s the perfect 

guy for us — we’re always 

willing to take something

over nothing — hence 

our lunatic attachment

to that miserable pinpoint 

in the desert, where now, 

whether it’s Ishmael

or Isaac on the altar,

there’s an earsplitting 

crowd working to drown

out every angel until

Abraham fulfills his sacrifice.

It’s none of my Diaspora- 

befuddled business, but

I’m not in the mood

to celebrate. Call me

thin-skinned, but I can’t

get used to the idea that 

all these hordes of people

wish me dead. You have

to remember: I’m Jacob’s 

offspring; I want as many

evil days as I can lay my

hands on…. Thank God 

I live in Salt Lake City. Who’s

going to come looking for me 

here? In this calm Zion, 

where a bunch of blonde

meshugeners think they’re

the chosen people of God. 

Good luck to them is all 

I have to say; let them

get the joy from it that I do.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Zion, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Rodger Kamenetz, Psalm 151, Poetry, Pharaoh, Jacob, Jacqueline Osherow, Ishmael, Isaac, Egypt, Dead Men's Praise, Abramam

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