Robert Creely introduces Linda Zisquit
The complex need to "get said what must be said," as W.C. Williams put
it, is a persistent demand upon each one of us. If we think to have lives at all,
we cannot stay silent, faced as we must be with their adamant hungers and confusions.
There is no common place wherein we can settle to a simplifying familiarity. It
is as if the apparent world we each may be thought to constitute were an inexorable
terra incognita we had forever to locate and define. So as always it is,
in Wittgenstein's phrase, "the I [that is] deeply mysterious." In Linda
Zisquit's poems the presence and definition of that common term is managed with
Even in prospect that possibility would seem overwhelmingly difficult in that
her world has been translated and transposed through all the shifting factors
of our present time, be they those of feminism or a contemporary Israel for the
orthodox Jewish woman, who has come with her husband and five children to live
and teach in Jerusalem. Born in Buffalo with long residence during college years
in Boston, her work as a poet begins as it did for many women of her circumstance
in the determined place of her own mind and emotions. There seem few responses
at first, albeit she receives an award from the Poetry Society of America while
still in university and otherwise publishes occasionally in journals. But it is
in Israel that she finds a company and authority for her profound commitment as
a poet in her friendships with Dennis Silk, Harold Schimmel, and Gabriel Levin
among others. Here also she finds active use as a translator of contemporary Hebrew
poetry, ranging from Yehuda Amichai to Agi Mishol and Devorah Amir, whose work
she effectively presents in Modern Hebrew Literature (No. 6, Spring/Summer
1991). Finally her first book, Ritual Bath, is soon to be published by
Broken Moon Press with another, Unopened Letters, now completed, and yet
another well begun.
However, it is the insistently forthright clarity of her poems I'd like here to
emphasize, the way in which feelings are so substantially realized. We talk much
of understanding, of the evident distance between women and men, of what failures
of recognition we all thus suffer. But poetry of this order can so open
the place of our common living, where it must all, finally, both begin and end
in each one of us. She writes, "My first collection, Ritual Bath,
is a series of lyrical and narrative poems, a meditation on `sin' and `guilt,'
a woman's struggle with order and desire. But does this describe them? Just as
my daily life is engaged in a conflictual mode with Jewish readings of the world,
many of the poems found their first impulse in a kind of conversation with ancient
texts and presences of Bible and Midrash. This, despite my instinctive roots in
the Puritan ethos, where I am at home in that mysterious `moral wilderness' on
Hawthorne's scaffold, isolated and strangely freed..." We, in turn, are equally
freed, to recognize and to respond.
SUMMER AT WAR
When war broke out I was unloosed.
Whatever I believed, forgotten.
The ark that held us shattered,
leaving no links intact.
You turned to wave.
I waited for any man to knock at the door.
When I spoke of war they balked
knowing fields were fragrant
with guile. I only waited aside.
I let him touch my shoulder.
And I let the strap
fall. I know the winds
were spiriting through the trees
as cicadas measured the dark
but I heard and saw nothing.
I let him touch me like nothing
as though I lay on a bed of pine
as though I were sprung
free of covenant, a human wish for form.
Like an ostrich that labors
flapping her wings
while leaving her eggs in the dirt
to be crushed underfoot.
The land is spread out
like a threshing floor,
the good wheat taken
for burning. A ladder
hangs out of night
but we don't understand
and turn away to be ambushed
in an orchard dream.
The walls breathe. He took
my shudders in his blunt hand,
pasted my paper soul to his
belly. We were in the soft
cup of Spring, waxed as cherries
and robust for war, now gone.
His breathing begs me to lie.
Summer reaches its peak.
We mourn waste,
our fever mounts like little moths.
Summer is passing over us,
everyone nods in the slight breeze.
We are buried in foreign soil,
listed as missing.
Sea-mist, salt, she washes clean.
She speaks unmarked,
pulling back out of risk or failure.
She is who I wanted to be.
I cannot hide.
Once I remember facing
blood in the forehead,
on tiptoe in the brain.
I forget who I was
as if it happened yesterday,
losing myself in a pool,
a man-made pool.
A MODERN MIDRASH
Have we grown old
before our time
folding our hands
without a smile
or a piece of bread
like monkeys, our faces
We jump and clap
to be cursed and mocked.
And when we speak
no one pays attention.
And when we sleep
even a bird can wake us.
Each morning this June
I wake in the pit of my belly.
Goldenrod, fuchsia, peonies
tightly fragrant on the inside
of my flesh. How to open
the fist of petal, speak with a man
I never lay with, never tasting
his long lengthwise odor,
undoing his skin like the ant
for the brightness beneath.
Out of these June bugs and
I wake early before the children,
I hear the grass grow straight,
earth breaking into
curled, hard to bear,
reticent crimson flowers.
A SIMPLE MAN
When a man disappears
leaving only his hat
I think I can talk to him -
Ghost come, sit by me.
I adjust my hands
as if he could see,
perfect my face
to let him have it.
I don't want to lose
the last thread
or be sad a long time
so I say -
You vanished without a word,
then anyone can!
It's not for nothing you
called yourself a simple man.
God said, "Because she kept herself
aloof from sin,
we will place her among the seven
stars, that men
may never forget her," and she was
put in the
constellation of the Pleiades.
Legends of the Bible
I seem to enter the world again
from a fixed point.
Memory dust, thirty years,
learning to speak.
Flying ineffable vowels
stretch across me.
If I learn them as words
I will return
to domesticity, to bliss,
to pitchers on the morning
table, children's voices
at the brim of sound.
I watch the curtain rise
outside my window.
Breath must be of angels
straining the air.
What new thing will I touch
and call my own?
How will I know to leave them
when it's time?
APPREHENSION OF BEAUTY
I was taken by your beauty,
asking no questions.
Only, when would you come next
and how will it end?
It was my beauty in your arms
that kept me under
in wonder and desire to know
where else, where else
could we go?
ETHICS OF THE FATHERS
Eat a third, drink a third,
and leave a third for anger.
And after waking rise slowly.
And after lovemaking
rise slowly. And after too much
wine rise slowly. And after
bloodletting rise slowly.
We rise slowly after silence,
taking a breath at a time.
After days bent over the garden,
slight comment about our clothes,
the dust, the daylight.
Shaking off sand and dread,
our bodies rise and learn to speak again.
"Summer at War" first appeared in 5 A.M., "The Ant"
first appeared in Dark Horse, and "Ethics of the Fathers" first
appeared in Ploughshares.
Originally published in the January-February
1993 issue of Boston Review