Taub, Yermiyahu Ahron. “The Insatiable Psalm”. Wind River Press, 2005.
Mother and Son
I was quite literally bowled over by Yermiyahu Ahron Taub’s “Uncle Feygele” so I made it a point to go back and have a look at his other writing. Poetry has the ability to pierce the emotions and with a poet like Taub not only does he enter our minds but our bodies feel what he writes. It is a feeling that I cannot really explain and it is something that each person must feel for himself.
“The Insatiable Psalm” is a collection that brings two worlds together as we read about how an ultra-Orthodox woman deals with her son who is not totally observant and is gay. Coming into this are the themes of Jewish culture and history. Mother and son are not named and I take them to be universal characters. They differ in many ways and cannot speak to each other directly. The voices we get are the mother, the son and the poet and we hear from them in alternating voices. We follow the mother in “Our Days Were Painted”, the first section of the book. It is a narration of her life from birth to death and through childhood, marriage and becoming a mother. We also get a look at the son and see that he realizes that he is gay.
The second section, “Archaeology of Sugar: Methods” deals with the writing that the poet has done.The son relishes his new liberation and his “enthusiasm for feminist theory” but realizes that his mother could care less so he must find a way to reconcile the two. Mother and son love each other but face conflict and this is what drives the poetry. They want to connect and realize it will take work to do so.
What is so amazingly beautiful about these poems is that every word seems to be perfectly chosen in order to express Taub’s feelings and I felt that these poems must be somewhat autobiographical (and I base that only on what I have read about the poet). There is a connection to sound and feeling when the poems are read aloud, they seem to sing with a gorgeous resonance. In reading “Culinary Miracle”, I felt as if I walked into a room and was hit of the beautiful smells of the food while in “Tsholnt” my mouth watered as I read of the ingredients of one of my favorite foods. It is the cadence of the lines and the power of the imagination that brings Taub’s poems to life. Tsholnt or Cholent has been a staple for many Jews to enjoy on Shabbat afternoon and as I remembered the taste, I was taken back to my childhood when we sat together and ate potatoes, barley, onions, kishke, flanken and beans steamed together. We ate and sang for many hours and as our bellies filled, we also felt great love for the Sabbath and the two became linked. (I have tried to replicate the recipe here in Arkansas but something is missing, quite possibly the feeling of the glory of the Sabbath that is not experienced here like it was with family). Taub reminds me all too well of what I miss and what I want. I, on the other hand, remind myself of the reality of where I live.
I think why these poems are so important to me is because Taub hits the vulnerable spots that a Jewish gay man who grows up in a traditional Jewish home feels. While the circumstances may differ, the emotions are if not the same, similar. I so appreciate his work and there were times that not only did I feel like I was reading something very special but that I was also looking in the mirror. While the poet writes about his Orthodox home and about his mother, he also writes about all of us who have shared his experience to some degree. Just as Taub left Orthodoxy when he came out, it is likewise for many others who cannot reconcile their religion with their sexuality. Our memories are colored by confusion both religious and sexual. I just had an experience that brought it home to me. Just yesterday I was at an Orthodox synagogue for the holiday of Shavout and I was called to the Torah. Suddenly all of the emotions I had felt when I was younger and was called to the Torah came flooding back and I approached the bimah with visible tears in my eyes. It was a very special experience. I wonder if everyone there knew I was gay or maybe it just didn’t matter. It was a celebration for me and I remember coming home that day and openly weeping at what I have missed because I was afraid to admit to others who I am.
There was something akin to communion with a higher being as I read Taub. It was confessional and yet there was no direction to what I felt. Mixing sensuality and devotion is not an easy task but here the two walk hand in hand. One reviewer says that the poems answer questions and perhaps they do but they also asked me a lot of questions that I must think about. To capture a mother’s devotion to her son is not so difficult when they are alike but when the son has strayed into what his religion refers to as an abomination, the story becomes quite complex. There is a sense of tension in the poems as the mother is captured in verse. But above all else, there is honesty here and the poems speak of life and Judaism and love and identity. Here is Judaism reflected in the lives of mother and son and that reflection lit up my world.