Sunday, July 18, 2010

Loula-Mae and Me

When I stand barefoot in the kitchen
I am Loula-Mae, the floorboards cool
Beneath my soles. My hands upon my hips I gaze
Through smudgy glass to see the lithesome girls
Swing down the street in little skirts and sandals
Shrugging and laughing at
The neighbor’s boys who
Stalk them twenty yards until
They run off down the hill.
Their treble voices laugh and shout and birds
Fly past, a lizard on the wall
Ignores them all, and I am
Loula-Mae who shucks the corn
And from the white jug drinks a draught
Of watermelon juice. Yes, I am me,
And praise the Lord, I can
Transform to other lives.

When I lie with my feet up on my bed
I’m Lydia, the lady on the hill
Who dozes in the summer afternoon
Reading the letters from her sailor spouse
Sighing and longing for her days to change
Into a voyage unbeset by storms,
A lifetime cruise where she can lie and dream
And slender men in captain’s caps bring juleps on a tray.
And then
She dances, slowly, all the night
Bathed by the ocean moon.

When I am waking in the early light
That’s when I cry my prayers,
For I am facing facts and bills and absence,
Abstinence and buffets of
The freakish wind and shoeless fears
The future day may bring;
And so I wake as Leah, and I pray:
“No, do not fear, because the smiting of the fates,
The sudden fall
Into the abyss, and the curse
That falls upon you will become
As nothing; you’ll survive, for God
Invisible has borne you on
His shoulders until now
And will until your hair is moonlit white,
My Lehlele,” He says. And so I rise
And bless the day but long for night
When I can be the lady on her bed
Or Loula-Mae the barefoot without cares,
Her breezes balmy and the air
Clamoring with children’s calls and birds
Mocking me laughing as I drink
A long draught of the dreaming juice
And float another life.

Linda Hepner
7.17.10 10pm

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Chasing the Fiddler

When I was young I chased the boys
Or they chased me, it matters little,
One played guitar, one the haut-boys
But him I fell for played the fiddle.

He played oblivious to the rum-
or that his bow made girlfriends run
Away, for in a far off room
I heard the sound, and my heart done

And listens, darn it! to the notes
And then the plucking on the strings
And direct to my mind there floats
Ambivalence about such things

As values, valences, and valor
Roads to be trod and time well spent,
For beneath his olive pallor
Burned a passion that soon rent

My heart strings which he’d pluck with ease
Quite into shreds, and all I knew
Was this strange fiddler with a breeze
Had hung my heart in morning dew

Where vital manna lay there waiting
To be gathered, tasted, eaten,
So embarked we on long dating
Till the opposition, beaten,

With a sigh told me I’d won
And so we wed for many a year;
A daughter fair, and then a son
And then two more and in the clear

For future DNA, we held
Each other’s hand to get us through
The hardest years when were withheld
Our nights together. But time flew

And many notes and words were writ
And many strings were pulled and, tight,
They sent vibrations till they split
The atom between wrong and right.

He was my mentor, is my strength,
Once saved my life - then breath, now mind,
And I would go to any length
To rescue him from evilkind;

Upon his birthday, born today,
I kiss his merry mouth and eyes
So that he sparkles and will play
My heartstrings – he’s my greatest prize.

Happy Birthday
May 3, 2010



I see it now, the high warm walls
beside the cobbled alley,
Provence in Spring! The blackbird calls
me from my class to dally
and so I miss the meeting times
and find myself assigned
to class with you, while lilac climbs
the wall to still remind
my senses of that perfumed day,
the purple laden wall,
the Mistral statue and the play
we played until the Fall.


Monday, May 24, 2010

My Father's Paradise, by Ariel Sabar, my talk 5.24.10

By Ariel Sabar
My talk to the community at the Korobkin home in the presence of Yona and Stephanie Sabar

This may be the first time I’ve talked about a book or story that really didn’t need an introduction, and with our honored guests, the protagonists of this story, Yona and his lovely wife Stephanie, sitting here I’m quite embarrassed to be attempting one!
I don’t know anyone who hasn’t loved this story, and in fact in my own family and among my friends the book or its reputation has passed from person to person as if each reader identified personally. This although the majority of readers have come from the relatively familiar backgrounds of normative American Jewry, with roots in Eastern and Central Europe.
This book however takes us on a voyage of discovery, into territory not just unfamiliar to Ashkenazi Jews but to the majority of Sephardim too, even those from mainstream Iraq!
It’s a journey into an area, a time, a culture abandoned not long ago, actually during most of our early lives, yet already faraway and exotic.
It is also a look into the mind of one member of that community, Yona Sabar, who by sheer will and good fortune dug himself out of the dying embers of the culture and through his love of his language, Aramaic, teaching and reminiscing, and through the God-given blessing of having a loving son whose English writing skills are supreme --and who has enough connections to get himself printed, along with a desire to be the voice of his father’s life -- has educated and enthralled us.

There is another aspect to this book that is also the cause for our enthusiasm and emotion.
I’d like to discuss this first, which is a bit odd but needs to be said immediately.
This is: that a book of reported memoirs is also one of a particular genre… that of a son who after childhood, maybe much later, and hopefully not too late, rediscovers his roots, in particular his father, and comes to appreciate and love him more intensely, overcoming his own upbringing and prejudices and reactions to the older generation and everything they seemed to stand for.
There really ought to be a name for this genre. The stories, usually fiction, about a young person becoming an adult, like Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks, or All Quiet on the Western Front (that I only vaguely remember), or Voltaire’s Candide, are called roman a clef, or I’d say, turning point - the key to the future - in a young life.
It is the subject of many movies, usually narrated by the older person in a voice-over, with initial scenes of Sicilian mafiosi in a dirty street or boys fishing by a southern river or school kids sitting in a diner! But stories about a young person, particularly for some reason, a son, rediscovering his father are just as powerful and yet don’t, I think, have a genre name. We all know the graphic novel Maus, where the young Art Spiegelman, a brilliant graphic artist, delves into his father’s Holocaust history and comes out, if still infuriated, very understanding and close to his father at last. As in Ariel Sabar’s book, the son Art Spiegelman has a delightful gentile wife and the father seems to be irrelevant, out of touch, irritating. Of course Spiegelman’s father is depicted as continually grumpy whereas Yona, for Ariel, seems genuinely good natured, but the sons and fathers and therefore the rest of the family all win in the attempt to see, imagine, empathize and tell the world about the story and the journey to discover it. In life I’ve known a few young men, even in my English family, like this, some who never resolve their differences, some who have. Not necessarily by writing themselves, but by the imagination and inspiration of someone who tried to open their young eyes to their parents, and succeeded beyond the family’s wildest dreams. I think many of us here know such cases.

Let us revisit the ‘faraway and exotic’ place I mentioned earlier.
Paradise for Jews is not really the spiritual place with winged angels and harps we go to live with in heaven. That’s more of a Christian idea I believe, though there are glimpses in Midrash where we hear about Pardes, the orchard. Paradise for us is another word for Gan Eden, the Garden of Eden, a place of natural fruitfulness, where Man’s roman a clef life for all civilized peoples began! However, he encounters headlong harsh reality, through unwitting actions of his own, or those of society, sometimes devastating, and is expelled, literally, from childhood for ever. He has to struggle, survive and make hard decisions, which take him to an actual or metaphorical faraway place, since, like the American novel, ‘You Can’t go Home Again’ (Thomas Wolfe, 1940), even if you return physically, the life of the place is gone. So Man during his long struggles looks back on his childhood as a place of peace and security, love and beauty. That’s good – we wouldn’t want it the other way round. The wonderful thing about Sabar’s book however is that Paradise is literally an island, between two arms of the River Habur, literally isolated, literally gone for ever and literally fairly near - in everyone’s mind - to the Biblical Gan Eden between the two rivers of Babylon! Can you imagine anything more poetically perfect? It sends shivers up my spine!

The Paradise for Yona Sabar – was the Kurdish island of Zakho, so isolated that even during the Arab riots of the 1940’s the Jewish inhabitants were still living cooperatively with their Muslim and Christian neighbors, the roots so deep, in fact back to the 734 BCE Assyrian exile, that when they left and even when the father and son returned on their visit, the older Muslims mourned their loss as of good friends and an essential part of their society. In fact in the 1940’s and ‘50’s they gave the departing Jews a huge send-off, and Yona and Ariel received warm welcomes when they returned. One wonders if the Jews leaving Babylon got such farewells! (This incidentally goes a long way to explain Yona’s sympathy with underdogs and unnoticed peoples anywhere, even unto today’s Arabs, and refusal to see them in black and white as we are inclined to do in America, even vis a vis Israel. It also brings me to a touchy subject for our group gathered here: his family’s loving acceptance, so it seems in the book at least, of his son’s intermarriage as being a natural outcome in the re-finding of a Gan Eden. But in my opinion, where there’s life, and especially love, there’s Jewish hope for us all and unfortunately I speak from experience).
I don’t need to summarize the book as you’ve all read it. I’ll leap over decades and go back and forth.
Briefly, Yona was named after the Jewish and Muslim miracle-making prophet Yonah, or Yunis, to whom his mother prayed for a son and child to replace her tragically kidnapped daughter Rivqa. His actual family name was Yona beh Sabagha. His mother, Miryam, whose own mother Rifqa died in childbirth, at age 12, I think, left an unhappy home that sounds like some Grimm’s fairy tale, and married a cousin, Rahamim, short and clever, the son of Ephraim the dyer, whose piety and holiness was respected and remembered by Jew and Muslim alike and who had a deep influence on his grandson Yona. Yona himself was encouraged to study and became the first of his several siblings to succeed – to this day Yona, for one, is a professor at UCLA and his brother Shalom in Hebrew University. The astounding thing and what had caused much curiosity over the centuries however: Zakho itself, where the inhabitants were so immersed in their ancient ways and still spoke Aramaic. Aramaic had been the lingua franca of the Middle East but was submerged by Arabic after the Arab invasions of the 7th Century CE. Aramaic was almost incomprehensible to travelers or scholars and became the subject of scorn or at best dry erudition, in Cambridge, Yale, Germany, even Hebrew University, until Yona was discovered during his days at university, someone highly educated and able finally to decipher the nearly dead language, both in its rare appearances in script and in the spoken tongue of his compatriots and especially his mother. Although Yona never quite intended his career to develop as it did, his move from Hebrew U whilst doing odd jobs on the side – and one thing we see is how incredibly hard he worked, both physically and mentally – you get nowhere by doing nothing – led inexorably to Yale and then to UCLA where he is a distinguished professor of Aramaic today, much beloved by his students and colleagues.

This brings me to another aspect of all our histories that is worth mentioning. It is the unforgivable prejudice Jews feel for each other, let alone non-Jews. Yona beh Sabagha and his family left Zakho in fear, turfed out after 2700 years. The Kurds were fairly despised by mainstream Iraqis – especially in the 20th Century when Baghdadis were adopting Western ways – but Kurds did have a sense of self; they knew who they were, both Kurds and Jews, and proud of it. They honestly believed Israel would welcome them, that they would find Jerusalem paved with gold, so to speak, that there would be warmth and synagogues everywhere full of pious people. At least, that is what Ephraim, Yona’s grandfather believed. The reality was utterly harsh. There was no room, there was no welcome, there was no attempt to make them comfortable. They were treated like alien immigrants everywhere, even here in the USA, --- look what happens even in Arizona to attitudes of normally decent citizens towards Latinos escaping poverty down south . In Israel the influx of refugees was overwhelming. Previously successful businessmen, like Yona’s father, became a nobody, an exploited employee, living in poverty and extremely crowded conditions of noise and filth, and his misery was turned on his patient wife Miryam, for the rest of his life. It wasn’t just the physical conditions, but the slings and arrows of society both in deed and word that were so humiliating. Beh Sabagha became Sabagh and inexorably, Sabar (a lucky similarity to Sabra) in order to blend in with ‘normative’ Israeli society. The Kurdish Jews – Jews, mind you – were treated ‘like Arabs’ or possibly worse, easily at the bottom of the scorn heap, as no outside international eyes were on Kurds as they were on Arabs or even Yemenites. They were the butt of crude jokes, excluded from friendships and cliques. All this sad but familiar behavior is normal in most societies, unfortunately, but for a proud people it was devastating and much, much kudos, kol ha kevod, to those who patiently worked and studied for the sake of their families and own self-respect. Added to this was the rough and ready nature of Israel in the 1940’ and ‘50’s, a brash society dealing with a lost past, one showing little respect for elders or for two thousand years of tradition, other than saving Jews physically, possibly, if Ariel is correct, partly for political reasons, as Ben Gurion admitted.

Some of the scenes I’ll never forget in this book I’ll mention, then let you add to them.
There is Miryam making her first trip off Zakho island to pray at a mosque for a son. (Holiness is holiness wherever it is found). There is the nightmarish hunt for Yona’s kidnapped sister Rivqa who may be or probably isn’t alive, and if she is, was Jewish by reputation, constantly known as that Jewish girl, meaning she probably wasn’t even a fully recognized member of her foster Bedouin society. There is the anger of Rahamim, Yona’s father, with ancient societal prejudice, against his innocent wife, and there is her heartbreaking widowhood full of songs and stories rescued from oblivion by her son Yona and her grandson Ariel. There is the gradual disappearance of chets and ayins and dress and behavior among the young members of the family in Israel and the Western music and literature they gobbled whilst looking out of the window at the ‘rich kids’ of Jerusalem, absorbing more than Western young people in America do today. There is Yona’s first meeting with Stephanie in Washington Square, vivid for me because I once saw a young man proposing to a girl under the Arch. There is the comedy of Ariel and his wife Meg (who in spite of her New England upbringing lets Ariel chase alone to Zakho saying to him, “I’ll do it for the Kurds!”) checking into a motel for 2 hours to watch The X-Files because of Yona’s input; there is the seminal moment when Yona sitting quietly in class at Hebrew U is recommended to go see Chaim Rabin, someone I’ve met and really liked. The book is replete with history, incidents, voices, color, dress, rhythms, smoothly turning from public history to personal; from inner pain to hard-won inner joys.

Kol ha k’vod, Yona and Stephanie, for bringing such a gifted storyteller into this world – he is carrying on in more erudite manner the ancient storytelling of your ancestors. May you have happy grandchildren who feel and act Jewish in all the ways you wish, and always remember you have given the world a treasure.
Thank you!

Linda Hepner

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Thursday April 15, 2010

4.15.10 1 Thursday
LOG Although after much fuss I have my Acer 10’’ laptop working with Internet and therefore temporary Word (free trial if online) I’m using Susan’s computer which is less skittish and roomier for fingers.
Firstly! This morning a huge volcano erupted in Iceland stopping any air travel over the Atlantic and northern Europe until further notice. The particles went up 20,000 feet and can lodge in engines, besides destroying windscreens and entering the cabins. If I’d have left yesterday instead of Tuesday I’d have been redirected or returned or much worse. Now for a cold, cloudy summer and an ice age not blameable on man.
My trip was long, a bit cramped but fairly smooth. The girl next to me was a very pretty teen called Suzanna with long curly red hair, a perfect face and smile and an Irish accent. Atypically, we didn’t talk. I read the NYRB, watched 2 films to obey Boaz: "Watch the movies, Mom!" the first due to faulty earphones a nearly inaudible Crazy Heart which showed me it was even better than I’d thought the first time, as without the music I made out good dialogue and screenplay. Then a dull Di Niro film about a widower visiting his grown children, followed by a hilarious Larry David episode – when he finds out his Af Am ‘girlfriend’ has cancer and for duty’s sake he may not dump her. Nothing sacred. I dozed.
Security at Heathrow took ages so the driver, James, a redundant accountant (thinning sandy hair) waited over an hour – I used someone’s mobile to reassure him. People are helpful. A long dozy drive to Cambridge, trying to identify blossoming cherry trees and what I found out today was forsythia (how could I forget, we had one in the front garden on Addiscombe Road).
Then Susan paying him £100 on the doorstep of Bateman Street… so welcoming… and a magnificent supper (another one tonight – she’s the tastiest cook I know, meal after meal without recipe books). Watercress soup – good! Salmon trout in foil in the oven, mashed potatoes (real ones) and delicious red cabbage (the first time I’ve ever enjoyed it). Daniel came in for soup on his way home from the station (round the corner here). He’s in Manchester today, covering the pre-election and will be the editor-in-chief for the BBC coverage at the event in two weeks. He had his photo in the Evening Standard the other night.
Susan had been to the funeral of someone in the community and was tired; she and Shaun went to bed early leaving me trying to wear myself out at what would have been 3pm in LA in front of the television. In fact, I went to bed at 11 and slept until 7helped by Susan’s heating pad and a hot water bottle. Tonight she’s put on the heating for my sake. So worried about money – won’t let me pay for anything. Generosity her second name if not her first.
This morning (Thursday) she made a lovely breakfast, coffee, brown bread with strawberry jam… I had a great hot shower (powershower UK style!)and then in came Robert Mathews (he used to teach with her, subsequently working in Qatar). In 1999 he took Susan, his now deceased friend heavy-smoking Alison and me off for a day’s respite from Mummy's bedside and Addenbrookes Hospital on a boat along the river. He once came to sit by Mummy and told me about his published archeaological theory that Troy was really Cambridge. I subsequently explored 'Troy' - the Cambridge Gog Magog Downs - covered in mysterious Roman grassed-over bumps, bulwards and ditches. He’s still gentlemanly and a little eccentric. Time flies.
Susan drove us to the University Library, a 1920’s building, where two gents from TAU joined us. One knew Ithamar, the other Esther. The young frum lady who brought them, Miriam Lorie, knew Lonny, working in Interfaith. Small world. The junior researcher, Dan Davis, who lectures in Judaism and Islamic Studies at Canterbury, had the British stutter of the Intelligentsia but was very patient and sweet. He quoted ‘Herbert Davidson’ and also a Joel Kramer who unlike Herb thinks maybe Maimonides did nominally convert for safety, but I think that ridiculous, considering M’s beliefs and respectability. It’s even more outrageous than saying Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare. I mean, he wasn’t like G and myself telling that crazy pig farmer who was driving us at 100 mph over the Appenines and spouting madness about religion that we were… English! I never felt Dan was authoritative though he was very sweet. Soon came a long-term Genizah research graduate, Esther her name, a young German woman who did sound self-assured although her pronounciation of Hebrew names (Moshsheh as in mine-son-de-docteh) was stressed in all the wrong places. Never mind. She brought out large flat boxes and showed us page after page of plastic-covered fragments, familiar from the Jewish Museum exhibit some years ago but here up close and personal, with marvellous stories. First the Ecclesisates Ben Sira fragment brought back by the old Cambridge ladies exploring Cairo, which proved to the very excited Solomon Shechter that it really had originally been in Hebrew and not Greek. Esther explained that the Cairo synagogue had not been built with a genizah, so the women’s gallery was used though I can’t understand why they needed a ladder to reach it as how would the ladies originally have climbed up? The hole behind the wall is 20-22 feet deep, so layer after layer of documents were dropped in, though some writings must have been plundered as they found their way into the market where they were picked up by the two old sisters. Before the 10th C, parchment was used and we could see the markings in Arabic on the palimpsest. Even paper was reused, being expensive, and Hebrew had been written in margins and corners of whatever had been resold. We saw brief one word responses by Moshe ben Maimon to what for each shailah inquirer must have taken an age to write. Yes, No! What was important to him was what was good for the community. One shailah was that since the man’s brother and nephew had both died, could the writer marry the niece-in-law? Quick answer: Yes! There’s a romance for you! Another fragment showed a pre-nup, medieval style – the man must have been desperate to marry the woman as he promises faithfully and probably at daggerpoint not to mix with 'buffoons' (one of many words describing men of ill-repute) or bring them to the house, or bring in a concubine, or gamble or drink… if he did: Divorce! He signed. What happened there? And next? Sounds like Chaucer.
Then there was the creed document; it was identical to one found in Qmran, though written much later. The supposition: that there was a continuous link through the Karaites. Have to check that one out though the lead may come right back to Frau Doktor Esther, and her Cambridge Boss Professor. No longer, sadly, Stefan Reif, who is now a widower in Israel.
There were humdrum lists; many burned pieces from what was rescued and then thrown back after a big building fire; letters from a woman in Yiddish (Yiddish had begun by the 1600’s) living in Jerusalem telling her son to come back as it was much better there, that people were more educated and why didn’t he ever reply? Plus ça change! But the most moving for me was one written by David ben Maimon, Maimonides' merchant brother who drowned at sea. This may be the last letter he ever wrote. He had been trying to reach India and missed the overland caravan (one didn’t travel alone). He took a boat to the Red Sea, I think, then found out that the caravan had been robbed of all its goods and everyone possibly murdered. He wrote to M saying God had protected him so far so although M disapproved of sea voyages, he was defiantly going to take the boat to India (I asked if he was going to Goa but Esther didn’t know). The boat sank. When M heard the news he went to bed for a year: severe depression. Sad story.
Finally, here, as there is a wealth of information available and soon to be published by Rabbi Mark Glickman who has just replied to my enthusiastic report, so I’ll only add one more discovery: there are letters about the Crusaders who captured not just people but books as they knew Jews paid ransome on them – the fragments even say how much was paid. Nu? Nu? Plus ça…..

There were three other visitors. Two men brought by a young pretty frum married woman who looked like one of Boaz’s friends. Her name: Miriam Lorie. She escorted two professors, Biderman and Fish….American or German we predicted, no, probably Israeli, said the wise Robert. He was right – they were from Tel Aviv. “Do you know Ithamar Gruenwald?” I asked (unwisely?) Of course! said Prof. Shlomo Biderman. We talk all the time! We are both in the Philosophy Department! How do you…? Etc.
I explained. Then I dropped the Moshe G-G magic word and “Ah!” cried Prof Menachem Fisch, “I know his wife Esther… please ask her to contact my mother Joyce, she’s frail but would love to hear from her! [OF COURSE!]
I took photos and even of… but nobody should get into trouble.

Susan, Robert and I then drove off to Granchester. First to The Orchard for some coffee indoors (it was sunny but very cold and I’m dressed like an Eskimo, even with a beret, the fluffy black one Gershy likes) (I need gloves in the house quite frankly) and I bought a postcard of Rupert Brooke, Sybil Pye and Geoffrey Keynes, Maynard’s brother I think, sitting outside under the trees where I sat years ago one summer.
Robert then led us on a romantic poetry tour, short but very sweet. He took us to where Sylvia Plath wrote about a 15 mile walk to the stile by The Orchard – it’s now a metal semicircular swing gate – and read us her account. She wrote a poem: Watercolor of Grantchester Meadows. ‘….in Byron’s pool // Cattails part where the tame cygnets steer….’
Then to the river edge, where he recited Chaucer, as the mill, long sunk under the stone bridge, had inspired The Reeve’s Tale: ‘At Trumpington, not far from Cambridge town, // There is a bridge wherethrough a brook runs down, // Upon the side of which brook stands a mill;….//’
A tiny island has the river rushing by on both sides of it, covered now with tall yellow and white daffodils. According to Oliver Huckel: when asked about The Lady of Shalott, Tennyson replied, ‘ “If it was anywhere, it was Trumpington,” meaning Grantchester Mill, near Cambridge, but also implying by those words “if it was anywhere” that it was scarcely more this than the other picturesque old mills that he had in mind’.
I then stood by the river and told them about gentle old Miss Idle and how in order to persuade me – aged 10 - to do my arithmetic she bribed me with The Lady of Shalott, so I learned it off by heart. She also explained about the lady's amazing mirror: how could the lady see so much outside? Miss Idle showed me her little convex mirror on her study wall… I’m happy to say (Boaz! Absalom!) that both Robert and Susan watched me were smiling as I told this story of long ago…

We drove Robert home and Susan then took me to the new city centre, once cobbled and winding, covered now, like an indoor mall with a long glass ceiling-roof. Busy, happy, could have been anywhere in the world. First to Barclays while Susan went to buy groceries (came back laden) and where the ‘personal banker’ persuaded me to open a better interest-bearing account (long may it last, hmmm) from dead-beat Trackers to money-making Essential Savings. The ‘personal banker’ told me his life story (Wherever I go, Karin (!) people open up, unless they don’t of course). He had been the manager but when Barclays requested volunteers to step down from managerial positions he decided to go back to his original job as he missed dealing with customers (‘I love it, so many interesting people here in the middle of Cambridge’) and even turned down other offers to manage. They kept him at his manager’s salary and he has less stress, so that he can go home and look after 19 boys and one girl in his junior football league. ’17 of my 19 are a real pleasure.’ I admired his kid’s colourful drawing of himself as a footballer – it reminded me of Julian’s painting of Granny the Footballer. Front centre, bold and tough in boots!
Then we walked to the mobile phone centre where they found that my sim card hadn’t expired at all and I had £20 left on it.
Once home Susan found an email to her from Esther still in Israel saying David was in hospital so I called Rita, who was with him, very upset quite naturally. He has been bleeding copiously from his colon in spite of Dr. Adler (immer so) having taken him off blood thinners, so he’s been in hospital now since last week - and now has an infection; he will stay there through another Shabbat at least. Rita says the doctors come so late at night that she is exhausted; she’s sending Leo to be with him tomorrow at 10pm to receive the results. I can’t see him coming to Leo’s big birthday party, and perhaps Rita won’t either. Shades of Onkel Werner in Hadassah Hospital when all the family came for a simcha. What a pity.

Susan went online to get help for my 10” Acer’s internet connection: it now works as does a Word document which if I don’t buy Microsoft Word at some expense I can use temporarily, gathered from their website. Which I did, cleverly saving two documents first – surely they can’t wipe those off the screen once saved. She then called me down to another delicious supper: vegetable quiche and baked potato with an excellent salad, followed by baked Alaska, I really can’t keep eating all her sumptious rich food.

She and Shaun then went to watch television and were laughing so loudly I joined them. It was a really unusual and hilarious sitcom, partly improvised, about genius children and bewildered parents. Called ‘Outnumbered’. Try to find it online.

Tomorrow Mary picks me up for lunch; I will try to write also before Shabbat when possibly Daniel and his ‘little family’ will join us.

Will all this fit on a blog? Should I try? Do I want anybody to read it? Hmm… I’ll decide tomorrow.
Meanwhile, off you go, Today’s Scribbles…. As a Word Document to my kids who won’t read any of it. Next time, a poem! Usually shorter and at least Abigail (btw, Judah’s horrific story arrived, zapping of a mother) will read it soon and Zachary in 6 months)!
Now to my hot water bottle…++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++=

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Behold! Today with the help of Marc Porter-Zasada (check him out, his articles are gems which he also reads on Public Radio), I began working my brand new 10" Acer laptop - will I be able to use it during my trip? Who knows? But it may be a link to YOU. Also he found for me that if I press Edit Html I can copy and paste. Hurray! Here's a recent poem.

I Love my Cat

I love my young, sleek cat,
Black, and slippery, white nose, white paws
White chest, the whitest whiskers
And six toes splayed out like sneakers
Swiftly skittering
Along the parquet flooring,
His leaps like morning newspapers
Hitting the sidewalk, his taps
Like paper falling from tables.

My cat’s called Figaro, a name
We innocently thought described his voice
Miowling in seven different languages,
Consisting of the vowels from a to y
And many diphthongs, all in tones
From middle C to screeching Bs
And treble Ds to basest Gs,
With modulations ranging mutely soft
To most imperious, feline fine fortissimo.

A clumsy clot’s my cat, and that’s a fact;
He leaps and misses ledges, knocks down plants,
He slithers in the bathtub, bounds up stairs
Like panthers on the loose, and then slides down;
He tackles tiny twigs and carries them
Like quarry, or he chases beads
Across the floorboards, cutting corners,
His triumph gleaming in his wet glass eyes,
His six toes splaying
While displaying, comic cat,
His polydactyl personality.

But let me here reiterate, I love my cat;
He winds himself around my neck, he purrs
Into my ear, he looks so luminously
At me with his shiny eyes like pebbles washed
By running streams, he waits for me
On window sills and rubs his silky, slinky coat
Against my skin and when he sleeps
He claims my lap or shoulders,
But if I’ve left the house, he finds
My hidden cupboards or my pillow:
Puss, my missing spouse.

LRH 3.28.10

Monday, April 12, 2010

Like a gift, I had such a wonderful dream last night - woken only by my internal clock, Boaz clattering before going to school and the cat miowing outside the door.
Boaz and I were in a city as usual, with crowds and business all around. I met some colorful people who invited me to join in their happiness, whatever it was. I had to deliver something to them so went to their temple, a large building with porticoes on the main street. The doors were all closed to outsiders but I knocked lightly, opened the door and slid in. The temple was full of people of many races and origins, all rejoicing in sensory delights (no, not that, silly!) of sounds and tastes, scents and colors, especially colors. In spite of our having intruded, they were smiling and let it be known that if you were determined to enter, it was evidence that you were meant to be there, so they made me feel welcome.
I stood or sat with Boaz near the back and witnessed pageants and plays, dances and singing, nothing offending anyone and all of it appealing to the congregation in different ways: they'd found their common denominator and were achieving happiness.
There were hints of many different experiences in my dream. A bit of Beth Jacob, where I sit by a door that is supposed to remain shut during services but allows everyone in; the Athenaeum club in London where Leo will have his party; Lonny's Elijah Institute, the Venice California Boardwalk, with its myriad costumed themes and skaters rolling up and down between the strollers; a bit of Hare Krishna parades and the abundant pink blossoms of yesterday, or, after the massive rains and windstorms last night, of yesteryear.
The Rabelaisian contentment took me through the morning, packing and sorting while the cat jumped in and out of my suitcase, but peace was blown away by the afternoon which brought a Kafkaesque phone chase over medical insurance, two runs to the PO and one to the bank, bills to pay and a sudden realization I wanted fish for supper and the best fishmongers, Gordon's, had closed at 6 - it was 6:01. G called several times, the last wistfully, saying tomorrow night he wouldn't be able call as I'd be flying away. His envelope today was filled with 10 poems, a letter and his diary about one of his mates, Gary aged 50, whose wife announced last week that she was leaving him for fun with other men, this after 10 years of waiting and only one more year to go. Today he told G "Oh well, time heals." Oh well, time heals.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Driving South home from Taft, Sunday April 11, 2010

G called me three times during my slow drive home to make sure I was safe through the wild winds in the valley and gusts of rain in the mountains. First came the valley east of Taft - a wry term for what is flat semi-arid land alleviated by vast acres of regimented Langer Farm apple trees - I would call it a plain - where colossal tumbleweeds as massive as haystacks whirled across the road - they were bigger than any I saw in Texas when I drove west in 1976, and I hadn't even known we had tumbleweeds in California; then came whirlwinds whipping up the sandy soil and causing me to drive blind, bringing flashbacks of driving through a sandstorm near Sharm el Sheikh in 1979 and the relief at seeing Egged Bus Stop signs sticking up through the sand at eye level. At one point I slowed to a crawl as the dust was so thick with violent spouts coming off the roadside.
On the way there in patches of pale sunlight I passed hillsides of tall, waving weeds with those little silky yellow petals and remnants of the sweeping slopes of purple-blue lupines. There were also magnificent bushes I have never seen before, lush with pink blossoms - I have no idea what they are - the earlier apple blossoms and perhaps pecan trees were easy to know (Langer Farms! crates for future fruit!) but I pass through these colorwheel sights unable to put names to most of what I see. If I were at the theatre I'd at least know the names of the characters; at the opera I know the names or first words of an aria, when I meet people at least I ask them their name, and here I pass through the wonders of creation in complete ignorance.
As I leave Taft I usually turn to the music program from Fresno and Bakersfield, KVPR FM, 89.3, a happy find the first time I made the trip, when I stumbled on a museum-quality program comparing the music of Schumann, the romantic poetry of Eichendorf and the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich. Two weeks running! In Red-Neck country! This time they were broadcasting something that may have been George Gershwin writing An American in a Bad Reception Windstorm, so I switched to a CD with the heart-stopping voice of Dylan Thomas reading his and others' powerful poetry and his wacky non-novel of Adventures in the Skin Trade which is a mixture of Samuel Beckett and Catcher in the Rye but ends ends ends because DT died died died, of drunkenness.
With his voice entering my bones, at the foot of the mountains, I stopped at Grapevine. Now I've always been puzzled by Grapevine. Was it a tangle of roads? That's what I pictured. But no. Once I drove off one exit too early and found myself in a mall of widely spaced gas stations. Surrounded by untamed country. This time I waited until the Grapevine exit and found... another group of gas stations. But smaller. Is Grapevine a village? A sentry post? A camel stop? Keep posted, readers, when I come back from England God-willing and if God is not blasting the heath with witches' winds, I'll venture further and let you know what I find. Maybe... grapevines?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Dreaming of Water

As I fall asleep I dream of water,

expansive, shallow, spreading over lawns

reflecting light and sparkling. Sometimes shorter

visions wake me, deep and hellish holes

of silent waters, still, reflecting nothing,

dug into my garden: grotesque moles

have undermined my home and let the flood

create a sinkhole, but I start awake

and drown the vision with my rushing blood.

We are mainly water, flesh not solid;

we delude ourselves: our spit, our tears

are what we really are. Beneath my eyelid

those glimpses that my dreams impose, imprint

unbidden, are my thoughts in sudden visions

deciding for me to abandon prose.


M'Sh 3.13.10

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Who Am I?

Amorphous clarity is what I see
surveying myself from here inside my skull.
My edges blend into the world about me
yet others find my outlines far from dull.

Sometimes I'm bright, sometimes dark as mud
dug from the streamside, squeezed, fingered like clay,
molded and dried, painted with grass and blood,
doused in a spotlight dazzling out dismay.

What is there left when I've been scrutinized,
dissected, put together as a shape
cruelly immortalized, allegorized
analogy of woman to an ape.

Did Beatrice know herself? Marie-Therese
once Pablo had transformed her into curves?
Did Montezuma, seen by stout Cortez,
does Goethe's Gretchen or are fruits preserves?

The women Arbus saw, did happy they
say 'that is me my dear, you got me right'
and Marilyn, art of herself, display
the contours hiding from us in plain sight?

Obituaries will not help me when
you stand and say she was a perfect wife
and mother, once a teacher, cook and then
she never said a bad word in her life.

Who am I? Tell me now before I blow
my cover, let it be outside my frame,
immortalizer, let me, not you, know
the poem you can write me for my name.


Saturday, January 2, 2010

Ice Fishing, last day of 2009

Before the fishing someone ought
to give the little fish a thought.
He is our ancestor, without
him we would all be pencilled out.
And sometimes we are fish, in fact
I've caught some judges in the act.