- News from Chelm
This small candle in a glass begins my worrythat the prayer will not even tap the ceilingnor seep through the draft window.I blow it outto appease my mother who is afraidthe house will burn down.
Even at Chanukah, the watched menorahcandles swiftly burn to ashso we can get to bed early.So how do we mourn?
Ozick says, Though English is my everything, now and thenI feel cramped by it.
Trained under the ear of a speech therapist mother,I wonder how to put that inflection [End Page 88] back into my English,put the tsuris back into the single language.
I was taught—We're in America now.Why do you want to do that?
English is my everything, says Ozick, And my mind is filled with phrases I am homesick for,gestures amiss without their vocal choreography.
I turn to folktales of Chelm.In Chelm, Yiddish is spoken. In Yiddish,you can say sentences,saying one wordand gesturing another. In Yiddish there is always a story.
To live in Chelm is to be in love with commas,to punctuate your speech with "and," "so?"Share your angst with "Ach" over tea.
I read the tales to my mother.Hah! She retorts. That story doesn't make sense.Her forehead crinkles. She countspurl, knit, purl. Knit. It reminds me of your Aunt Anna.She was supposed to visit her sister Asyafor a week, but never left.
I can't quite unravel the leap, butMy mother's thought loops aroundthe lost circuits of Chelm,between German, Yiddish,Russian, English,angst, and who knows what other secrets she keeps hidden in her unfinished afghans. [End Page 89] Oh, that chameleon, language, that colors and blemishes our remembering.
It doesn't seem valid to compose a sonnetto explain these linguistic flights,feathers flying off when least expected.
They land on the silland in my palm, others tickle.We are our own Chelm stories,our truth embedded in a transmutationof ourselves, as we light the Yarzheit. [End Page 90]
Claudia M. Reder's book of poems is My Father and Miro and Other Poems (Bright Hill Press, 2001). A poem, "How to Braid Challah," won first prize in the Charlotte Newberger Poetry Prize from Lilith Magazine. She teaches at California State University at Channel Islands, and loves helping people tell their stories, ages five to ninety-five. Reder sees poetry as an intersection of language, her Jewish heritage, and spirituality. You can reach Claudia at firstname.lastname@example.org