Collected poems of pivotal Jewish lesbian activist
A trailblazing lesbian poet, child Holocaust survivor, and political activist whose work is deeply informed by socialist values, Irena Klepfisz is a vital and individual American voice. This book is the first complete collection of her work. For fifty years, Klepfisz has written powerful, searching poems about relatives murdered during the war, recent immigrants, a lost Yiddish writer, a Palestinian boy in Gaza, and various people in her life. In her introduction to Klepfisz's A Few Words in the Mother Tongue, Adrienne Rich wrote: "[Klepfisz's] sense of phrase, of line, of the shift of tone, is almost flawless."
CONTENTS • EARLY WORK (1971) • Searching for My Father's Body • The Widow and Daughter • FROM PERIODS OF STRESS (1975) • I • during the war • pows • herr captain • death camp • about my father • perspectives on the second world war • II • conditions • periods of stress • please don't touch me • dinosaurs and larger issues • when the heart fails • it was good • flesh is cold • they're always curious • they did not build wings for them • the fish • III • in between • the house • blending • edges • IV • aesthetic distance • self-dialogues • TWO SISTERS (1978) • Helen and Eva Hesse: An Introduction • Two Sisters: A Monologue • KEEPER OF ACCOUNTS (1982) • I From the Monkey House and Other Cages • Monkey 1 • Monkey 2 • II Different Enclosures • Contexts • Work Sonnets • Work Sonnets • Notes • A Monologue about a Dialogue • A Poem for Judy beginning a new job • III Urban Flowers • Mnemonic Devices: Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, 1981 • Royal Pearl • Lithops • Aesthetics • Winter Light • Oleander • Cactus • Abutilon in Bloom • IV Inhospitable Soil • Glimpses of the Outside • A Place • A Visit • A Place in Time • Mourning • Bashert • These words are dedicated to those who died • These words are dedicated to those who survived • Poland, 1944: My mother is walking down a road • Chicago, 1964: I am walking home alone at midnight • Brooklyn, 1971: I am almost equidistant from two continents • Cherry Plain, 1981: I have become a keeper of accounts • Solitary Acts • A FEW WORDS IN THE MOTHER TONGUE (1983-1990) • I cannot swim • Di rayze aheym/The journey home • 1. Der fentster/The window • 2. Vider a mol/Once again • 3. Zi flit/She flies • 4 A beys-oylem/A cemetery • 5. Kashes/Questions • 6. Zi shemt zihk/She is ashamed • 7. In der fremd/Among strangers • 8. Di tsung/The tongue • 9. Di rayze aheym/The journey home • Etlekhe verter oyf mame-loshn/ A few words in the mother tongue • Fradel Schtok • Der mames shabosim/My Mother's Sabbath Days • '67 Remembered • Warsaw, 1983: Umschlagplatz • East Jerusalem, 1987: Bet Shalom (House of Peace) • HER BIRTH AND LATER YEARS (1990-2021) • Footnotes • March 1939: Warsaw, Poland • Warsaw 1941: The story of her birth • Pesakh: Reynolda Gardens, Winston Salem • 1. Winter • 2. Spring • 3. The Seder Table • Mitsrayim: Goat Dream • Der soyne/The Enemy: An Interview in Gaza • In memory of Razan al-Najjar • Instructions of the dying elder • Dearest Friend: Regarding Esther Frumkin • Millet's Flight of Crows • Five ways to view a drawing • Mourning Cycle • Parsing the question • This House • Liberation of the roses • Trees • wound: a memory • Wind chime • Grief changes and doesn't • Entering the stream • between shadow and night: a treatise on loneliness • And Death Is Always with Us • For Jean Swallow: whom I barely knew • My mother at 99: Looking for home • my mother's loveseat • July 22: Geology • Jamaica Wildlife Preserve: September • The old poet cycle • The old poet reconsiders acting • The old poet tries unsuccessfully to bring/chaos back into her order • The old poet and Orion • The old poet's become tired • The old poet remembers the immigrant girl • Grief: Brunswick Public Library, Maine • Der fremder in der fremd • Glossary and References • Notes • Index of titles • Credits • Acknowledgments
"In terrible times poetry comforts, challenges, and sustains. Irena Klepfisz has been doing all these through the decades. With this book she gives us an enormous measure of grace. It is evidence of the work done to change the world—a vision of and commitment to justice in the largest sense. We are fortunate, all of us, to have it."~Dorothy Allison, author of Cavedweller
"This book is an absolute treasure for the readers of Irena Klepfisz, for readers of poetry, lesbian literature, and/or Jewish literature...The poet's voice simultaneously transcends time and is also deeply embedded within it."~Zohar Weiman-Kelman, author of Queer Expectations: A Genealogy of Jewish Women's Poetry
"A profound work of martyrs and lovers. Intimate with history and the natural world, Irena's vibrant intelligence has a vulnerable heart. At every turn, from the cataclysm to the quotidian, a deep desire to connect and reach for truth illuminates and transcends these pages."~Sarah Schulman, author of People in Trouble and Let the Record Show