Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Terezin B.Z. Niditch
58-09 205th Street
Bayside, New York
Review by Dennis Daly
These deadening lines of sometimes discerning, sometimes defiling dissonance bestir us, hector us like some Old Testament prophet enumerating past horrors, here and there naming names and, above all, accusing the future, which harbors all of us, of ignorance or worse—complicity.
In the title poem Terezin the Eastern European world of 1942 passes by the cattle cars carrying the stunned Jewish families to the holding town or ghetto of Terezin, where many of them would be sent on to their appointed concentration camps and, of course, their deaths. The poet laments,
I carried my days
until we remain only a body
a historian’s vague nightmare
to a destination marked Terezin
with our aims throwing off
thin suitcases, blankets, towels
up to our waist in human dirt.
And this is just the beginning. The intensity and stridency of horror continues,
my father simply puffed out
by terror and night after nightmare
jumped off the train
from the bare-iced sheets
by howling hysteria
of mother pregnant with another life.
I know of no appropriate frame of mind or mood that can be easily summoned to handle this type of unrelenting assault well. But the insistent poem presses on. The prophet /poet wisely modulates the tone in two places by describing a child with a serious injured eye. Pathos is momentarily accommodated but barely acknowledged. Here is the earlier of these two affecting sections,
a warm boy holds out his hand
with tightly sweated fingers
his injured eye resembling
a yellow flamed torch lamp
no one wishes to acknowledge.
My Century, the very next poem in this disquieting collection, continues the righteous hectoring and the dissonance. It ends this way,
Those who forgive evil are the unforgiven.
Those who are good are known to the unknown.
Statistics cry in the night.
Statisticians of death have clean bureaucratic faces.
Historians move over the bodies.
Theologians move no one, not even
Another poem that reflects on the tyranny of the Nazi years is 1944: Mid Europa. It works as a litany. Here is the Vichy France section,
death angels are desolate
hungary for children’s O negative
Quisling eats a four-course meal
Maurice Chevalier bows
Celine asks for human freight
Genet asks for primal sympathy…
Sartre is recreative
Edith Piaf loses herself.
Niditch’s cumulative jeremiad reaches a crescendo with the poem, Berlin. Here the poet harangues,
Alleys close to joyless beggars.
A mighty fortress topples from metaphysics.
Wittgenstein has a solipsis of schoolboys.
Elan has its own gauntness for Heinrich Heine.
One’s cheekbones show our injustice.
Fashion coexists with fascism.
Believe it or not, the poet does back off for breath on occasion. The result is positively efficacious. The poem Exile of Boston contributes this persona-revealing piece of self-knowledge embedded in a striking image of an immigrant,
or riddled disasters
can I offer Boston
an exile in tentative sadness
when bitchery enthusiasms
are put on this shoeless
pawned overcoat of a man
holding up a foreign body…
Also imagistic and a bit romantic is a piece called Boston Waterfront. The poet limns the scene this way,
A stranger’s tongue
the freshness of water
and the fish bleed
in the delirium
of an exiled morning.
In the latitude
of transparent wind the blue-green ocean
outspoken in mortality
in the sanguine port calls
I am not ashamed
to weep along the sea wall
counting voices on the wharf.
In the poem Another Tryst Niditch reveals a well-wrought set of Kafka-like images. Nightmares and long corridors certainly seem to go together. The poet describes,
is frozen in a well-lit
your spiky heels
will offer daily nightmares
and your understanding
of the cold long corridors.
The poet waxes subtlety and even bit of elegance in the poem entitled In Memory of C. Day Lewis. Notice that the subject has not changed, nor has the horror receded. The poet has simply put aside his prophetic gown for the moment. He says,
He was there in the sun
when nothing but a lilac
cold shouldered in the blitz
as the face of the dusk
fought the crime of night
The final poem in this chapbook returns to the poet’s prophetic tone and uses a staccato delivery. Niditch compels us to listen,
A chemical zyclon b2
To hell with D’Annunzio
Red flags us down
Eterna, play the chamber music
Leonardo is not only your cat
Michaelangeli plays Scarlatti
The red bearded snow dances
Where the streets are palmed
boys play boccie thinking of sex
Each generation offered
out from Moloch’s olfactory steel
This is the second book of Niditch’s that I have reviewed. The first one—Lorca at Sevilla, filled with imagistic logic, I enjoyed more. In this one, enjoyment is beside the point. The poet here conveys his words with a prophet’s shrillness that overwhelms with its import and uneasy necessity. This chapbook needs to be read.