A Dude in an East-London Pub Has Just Out-Jewed Me

23 Jun

My friend, the poet Marisa Silva-Dunbar, tagged me in a poetry chain on Facebook. You have to post a poem of your own for 5 days, and nominate someone else to do the same. 

I nominated Niall Spooner-Harvey and tried to write a new thing (or finally finish an existing thing) each day. This is from Day 3. The dude in question, who began my identity crisis, is the poet Tim Wells. Who liked it enough to put it in his magazine Rising.

A Dude in an East-London Pub Has Just Out-Jewed Me

A dude in an East London pub
Has just out-Jewed me

Judaism is an in-joke to me
A semi-secret identity
A smile when you find another
From your tribe
“Oh, you were at that gig too?”
“Oh, you’re veggie too?”

Yiddish is a breadcrumb trail I sprinkle
Into conversation
To see if anyone picks it up.

I am a half-Jewish, bisexual, dual-national.
I live on a few fault lines
But I am invisible, can blend right in
Or I can reveal my hand slightly
See if anyone picks up my clues:
Like more direct eye contact
Or gazing at another girl’s lips

Yiddish is my verbal condiment:
Adds so much flavour
Couldn’t cook a whole meal with it

I leave breadcrumb trails
But tonight – four pints in –
I have drowned my subtlety
Tonight I dropped a whole loaf of challah on the table:
“I liked your frum puns. I am Hannah Chutzpah”

He shakes my hand
Replies in three whole sentences of Yiddish.
And a dude in an East London pub
Has just out-Jewed me
Just by speaking the language
I took my name from.

Hinda Nisnievich, you would laugh
If you could see me now
Your own great granddaughter
Scrawling ‘greenhorn’ across her signature
In the Yiddish she cannot speak
Erasing your erasure

I dye my shiksa blonde hair darker
Am nostalgic for a New York I never knew
And wish for more links to the past
That you couldn’t wait to escape.

Growing up second generation
Means growing grafted
But our branch of the family tree
Doesn’t stay still for two generations

I flower in London soil
The seam is small
The transplant took long ago
But the name I am happiest in
Is one I made up
Same as my mother did
Same as you did
Our tradition is transformation
….That, and shouting

But I am a shikkered shiksa tonight
And a dude in an East London pub
Has just out-Jewed me
Just by speaking
The language
That people use

To tell their kids to behave
To buy milk
To kvetch, to quip, to shout
In syntax, structure and sentences
In a language
– A whole language –
That I do not understand

And my breadcrumbs are just breadcrumbs:
Adds so much flavour
Couldn’t cook a whole meal with it

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