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Say It Like You Eat ItLe Manger et Le Dire

Three Poems

  • Sharon R. Roseman

Corps de l’article

Simmering Tongue

My brain fires
directly
into my belly.
The memory
pressing me.
Into
my mother’s [1]
affectionate
delight
in having been able
to make
us
perfect
kneydlekh[2]

Matzo meal on the doorstep.
A sister’s [3]
care.
From Ottawa to St. John’s.

The cookbook’s photographer [4]
has made the lowly matzo ball
into
an object of beauty
suspended
on
a spoon.
Startling me.

My bobe’s [5]
travelling hamantaschen[6]
Arriving
in Edmonton.
Cardboard boxes
patiently
filled.
in NDG. [7]

Shabes [8]
when we shared a city.
The jars of chicken soup
and sauerkraut,
Bobe’s [9] kreplekh[10]
Tightly wrapped
on my lap
in the subway
downtown
to U of T. [11]

The kreplach
and the Yiddish [12]
that my Mama
didn’t leave behind.
Words
simmering
still.

Pungent Shadows

Scraggly broccoli florets
hanging.
Stumps upward.
Picked over twice
by the two of them.
Pesto spaghettini long gone.

He pulled other spines from the fridge.
Carving gently
shaving the brown pebbly veneer
hiding cauliflower flesh.

Plant carcasses laid gently to heat.
Pungent onion sinews
squashed garlic hoofs
bubbling froth.
Tang veiling the panes.
Shadows hosting
the radio news. Cast.
Steadying autumn.

Memory Cloaks

Song barrage
 stoking
caffeine high.
Floppy pages   pushing
thoughts  around.
Like
salty-sweet
 crumbs.

Humid haunts
hillside.
Tangle   weeds
with
memory-cloaks
 laid
cautiously
 on muddy
pathways.

Puddles trickle down.
Hiding
 the safest
stones
of
all.
Footing
for
 imaginary
 journeys.

Prose Statement

This set of three autoethnographic [i] poems traces interpenetrations of food and language that mediate experiences of loss and continuity. “Simmering Tongue” mourns and honours my late mother and late grandmother as it reflects on how cooking and ingredients carry personal memories and broader cultural and linguistic heritages through histories of migration. [ii] The second poem in the series evokes the kitchen spaces where familial vegetarianism emerged. One of the aspects of Yiddish, and more broadly Jewish, cuisine that became a mainstream metaphor in North American popular culture in the second half of the 20th century were the emotional as well as nutritional benefits of chicken soup. In “Pungent Shadows,” I evoke the lesser-known practices associated with the vegetarian versions of Jewish traditions of broths and stews – including the frugal “picking over” of nutritional remnants. [iii] “Memory Cloaks” refers to café and walking spaces frequented by intellectuals and artists in cities where I have lived or sojourned in North America and Europe. [iv] In this third poem, I specifically evoke St. John’s – with its many warm cafés and hilly, often damp, walking paths – as a backdrop for the imaginary.

Newly-available materials relevant to Yiddish food studies have helped me think about my Ashkenazic food heritage differently. An example that unexpectedly ties together these three poems is Fania Lewando’s 1938 vegetarian cookbook, recently translated from Yiddish into English by Eve Jochnowitz. [v] As her great-nephew Efraim Sicher explains, this new version of the book “is a matzeva (memorial) to Fania Lewando, hy’d, a woman who devoted her life to promoting Jewish vegetarian cuisine” during the period of anti-Semitism leading up to the Holocaust. [vi] She ran a restaurant and cooking school in Vilna, a major Jewish cultural centre before the Nazi invasion. We know that her restaurant was “a salon for Vilna’s artists and writers” with comments in its guest book by “many luminaries, including the artist Marc Chagall and the Yiddish poet and playwright Itzik Manger.” [vii] This beautiful cookbook invites us to reproduce what she served her customers. Like other surviving works of Yiddish literature from this period, it helps us to appreciate the vibrancy of Jewish cosmopolitan modernist culture and its secular sanctuaries in early 20th century Europe. [viii]

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