Between Two Walls

The Last Foreign Language: A Memoir in Verse

A poetic meditation on language intertwined with personal history, memory and tradition. The poet searches for a place to call home “in between words of many tongues.”

 

A Selection from the book:

Maybe just vowels
Why risk a glance backward?
Why tempt the fate of Lot’s wife?
Why freeze in salt when warmer waters
of forgetting beckon?

Ancient Chinese rushed to drink
old Lady Meng’s soup,
broth of stupor to smooth passage
on the Bridge of Pain,
past two demons who lie in wait:
“Life-Is-Not-Long,”
“Death-Is-Near.”

I hereby refuse old Lady Meng’s soup.
I refuse to sip the ambrosia
of oblivion from river Lethe,
the cave of Hypnos holds few thrills,
though sleep would be welcome
if only a guest each day.

Sleepless, I choose a desert landscape
where singed words seek their home.

Which words?
Which home?

“Dawn in Jerusalem”
for a start–

though this place and time
are cold comfort as I chase after
a thread of meaning in the muddle
of multiplying mother tongues.

No choice but to follow Lot’s wife:
Look back, meander through the rubble
of worlds left behind,
pick up a rock or two,
each bears the face of a dear one
lost beneath the ruins,
beneath years buried
in Romania’s mountains,
China’s cities,
Israel’s walls.

Words in many languages will come
calling, crawling out of the wreckage
to arrange themselves before you,
a table set with sweets you have
never dreamt of in dark nights
of doubt, despair.

Taste each word,
let it roll in your mouth like hard candy,
sour, invigorating, sacred.

Start a conversation with old friends,
long dead.

Let one of them be Yehuda Amichai,
who named himself “My People Lives,”
though his folk, too, knew the taste
of ashes upon the tongue.

“Follow Vera Schwarcz through the many countries and cultures which have made her such a citizen of the world, an advocate for freedom of thought and generosity of spirit. “Words in many languages will come / calling, crawling out of the wreckage / to arrange themselves before you, / a table set with sweets you have / never dreamt of in dark nights / of doubt, despair.”

–Rennie McQuilkin, Connecticut Poet Laureate (2015-2018)

“Vera Schwarcz’s new poems are a collection of precious memories, and a collection of love letters to a better future.”

Ao Wang, Poet and Professor of Chinese Literature, Wesleyan University, Connecticut

“How does the soul learn to speak her name?” This exquisitely crafted poetic memoir explores this question through an extended meditation on language intertwined with personal history, memory and tradition. The poet searches for a place to call home “in between words of many tongues.” As the spiritual and physical journey progresses, imagination is transmuted into intensely lived experience as generations are interwoven and places coalesce.

-Wendy Dickstein, Poet and Author

Literary editor, B’Or Ha’Torah

 

Purchase an ebook on Amazon.

 

 

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