Tuesday, January 17, 2012

There’s Jews in Texas? Poems by Debra L. Winegarten

There’s Jews in Texas?
Poems by Debra L. Winegarten
Poetica Publishing Co.
Copyright © 2011 by Debra L. Winegarten
ISBN: 978-0-9836410-6-3
Softbound, 22 pages, $10

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Debra Winegarten’s small, but packed book of poems was winner of the Poetica Magazine, Contemporary Jewish Writing 2011 Chapbook Contest, and with good reason. First, as the title would indicate, there is some humor in Ms. Winegarten’s poetry. And coming out of Texas one would expect to find some anti-Semitism as well and the author does not let the reader down, often combining humor and anti-Semitism appropriately in a manner that Jews and non-Jews can both appreciate.

For example, in “Second Grade, Part Two she tells it as it is – or was – or maybe still is:

A grown man stops me on the sidewalk
Eyeing my Star of David necklace and asking if I’m Jewish.

When I nod yes, (I’m not supposed to talk to strangers),
He tells me that’s really too bad for me,
Because didn’t I know that
Jews burn in Hell when they die?

Tears falling so hard I could barely see,
I dropped my weekly treasure and ran home
To Mom so fast I thought
I might keel over before I got to her
And be snatched right down to Hell.

When I told Mom what happened,
She put both hands on my shoulders,
Knelt to my height where she could look square in my eyes,
And in that Dallas drawl of hers, said,

“That’s okay, honey, don’t worry.
We’re Jewish.
We don’t believe in hell.”

It is my personal belief that this has happened to too many Jewish children. It happened to me when I was six or eight years old, but even more recently, in the 1990s I had some
evangelical something or other sitting next to me on flight to Dallas and when he saw I was reading a translation of Chaim Nachman Bialick he asked if I was Jewish. I ignored
him, but when he started preaching to me, I gave him one of looks and told him what I really thought and flew in blessed silence the last two and one-half hours.

Many of Ms. Winegarten’s poems stir perhaps forgotten memories of anti-Semitism, but
others reflect the fine sense of humor she has as in “Passing:”

Like the time at Emma Long Park
When a teenager was dragging
his distressed puppy into the water.

I marched right over and said,
“I’m a vet. Stop that right now.
You are doing serious damage to your dog.”

Wearing a bathing suit,
I couldn’t be expected to have my license
With me, so I passed.

Near the end of this poem the author is with a friend and two teenage boys are tormenting a kitten and the girl friend orders the them put the cat down.

“Who are you?” one acne-faced boy sneered.
Pulling out her gun, she pointed and said,
“I’m the fucking Cat Police. Put the cat down.”

They dropped the kitten and ran.

This book, short as it might be, is filled with sad and funny vignettes. But it also gives
insight into her upbringing, her childhood and, of course, views of Texan anti-Semitism which is not unique to Texas but which one could (and can) find in here in Boston and other cities in the U.S.

One may smile at some of the poems but they cut deep into the psyche. Ms. Winegarten
is a third generation Texas Jew whose growing up Jewish in Texas has brought forth some poetry worth the reading.

1 comment:

  1. Zvi and Doug -- thanks so much for the book review and the shout-out, I'm glad to know my poetry touched a chord or two outside of Texas. For folks interested, they can read a free poem on my website, www.sociosights.com.

    Debra Winegarten