- The Uses of Language
During the past several years, my writing has been focused on compiling and editing correspondence that I translated from German and Yiddish, written during the years 1916 through 1947 by family from Vienna, England, Italy and Lemberg/Lvov to family in New York and Palestine. The documents I collected for use as annotation to the correspondence (newspaper articles, decrees, laws, and immigration policies), reveal that however this family responded to events, economic and basic survival seemed random and depended on timing, luck and the kindness of strangers, as well as on circumstances of which they were either unaware, or powerless to do anything about. Moreover, they reveal countless instances of vicious use of language for political ends, which contributed to enactment of criminal policies and laws. The intent behind such use of language may be mindless or malicious; in either case it continues to shape my mostly fearful thoughts about the chaos that can be set in motion as a result. [End Page 133]
I continue to write poetry, translate and do other projects. I am awaiting publication of a series of sagas in monologue form about Holocaust survivors I have interviewed. I am in the early stages of writing a play about a Polish Jewish actress who spent time in the German theatre of occupation in Lodz, and am writing a series of pieces for a book about my recent widowhood. I just finished a series of translations of a Jewish poet visiting Lublin on his way back to Poland from the gulag. However, both Jewish and non-Jewish subject matter continues to characterize my interest in "the geography of the imagination."
A poem I wrote titled "Yiddish," which was first published in 1985, then republished in 1993, and 2007, is both overtly nostalgic and not so covertly bitter, because I was struggling to really learn my refugee parents' native Yiddish tongue in order to be able to read its extraordinary poetry in the original—at the same time my parents were struggling to learn my native English. Their failure to fully transmit the language they so loved to their children was not out of fear nor shame nor laziness. I am forced to forgive them. Rather it was out of a desperate misperception of how best to survive as refugees—refugees deprived of a real education in any language, and yes, harboring a degree of naïve idealism about how best to provide their children with "opportunity" in the new land. I wrote in that poem:
...It was theirs,a language neither the czarsnor their children spoke.
However, when Bridges published my poem in 1997 titled "Visiting My Fifty Nine Year Old Just Divorced Former Roommate...", I wrote:
...She recalls as a childbelieving you were born speakingfluent English,but gradually, as you grewold as your parents, couldspeak some Yiddish too.
All the languages I grew up with—German, Yiddish and progressively more English—were fraught with anxiety transmitted to us in lots of "Don'ts!" My parents' experience in Vienna in 1938 and 1939 as well as my father's memories of poverty and anti-Semitism in Lvov where he grew up, prompted advice like Makh dikh nisht visndik—make like you don't know; don't get involved, you might get into trouble. Don't stick out, blend in. Difference is dangerous. This fear was based on reading such press as: [End Page 134]
Reichspost, Vienna, January 1, 1938, page 5
New law for foreigners and more stringent immigration control
The not entirely happy experience with the current laws for the handling of foreign visitors suggests that the responsible authorities create a new law for foreigners whose regulations will be sufficient in the future and prevent abuse, as well as keep undesirable migration from our land.
Excerpt from a draft of my poem: "In the Eye of This Storm"
...In the eye of this storm I revisit allFears programmed into my Jewish DNANot to have enoughDocumentsSustenanceSecurityFriends...
To be a refugee is always about language, about being torn out of one language...