Friday, January 06, 2006

Sharon and Layton (and 2 Layton poems), Jan 5 06
by Whisky Prajer, Toronto, Ontario
January 5, 2006
Irving Layton, 1912-2006

Two of his poems:

Keine Lazarovitch 1870-1959

When I saw my mother's head on the cold pillow,
Her white waterfalling hair in the cheeks' hollows,
I thought, quietly circling my grief, of how
She had loved God but cursed extravagantly his creatures.

For her final mouth was not water but a curse,
A small black hole, a black rent in the universe,
Which damned the green earth, stars and trees in its stillness
And the inescapable lousiness of growing old.

And I record she was comfortless, vituperative,
Ignorant, glad, and much else besides; I believe
She endlessly praised her black eyebrows, their thick weave,
Till plagiarizing Death leaned down and took them for his mould.

And spoiled a dignity I shall not again find,
And the fury of her stubborn limited mind;
Now none will shake her amber beads and call God blind,
Or wear them upon a breast so radiantly.

O fierce she was, mean and unaccommodating;
But I think now of the toss of her gold earrings,
Their proud carnal assertion, and her youngest sings
While all the rivers of her red veins move into the sea.

And finally, that Ariel Sharon is in critical condition within 24 hours of Irving Layton's death seems to me a coincidence fraught with symobolic significance. To wit:


It is themselves they trust and no one else;
Their fighter planes that screech across the sky,
Real, visible as the glorious sun;
Riflesmoke, gunshine, and rumble of tanks.

Man is a fanged wolf, without compassion
Or ruth: Assyrians, Medes, Greeks, Romans,
And devout pagans in Spain and Russia
--Allah's children, most merciful of all.

Where is the Almighty if murder thrives?
He's dead as mutton and they buried him
Decades ago, covered him with their own
Limp bodies in Belsen and Babi Yar.

Let the strong compose hymns and canticles,
Live with the Lord's radiance in their hard skulls
Or make known his great benevolences;
Stare at the heavens and feel glorified

Or humbled and awestruck buckle their knees:
They are done with him now and forever.
Without a whimper from him they returned,
A sign like an open hand in the sky.

The pillar of fire: Their flesh made it;
It burned briefly and died--you all know where.
Now in their own blood they temper the steel,
God being dead and their enemies not.

Irving Layton, 1912-2006

# posted by Whisky Prajer : 9:01 AM


I plead ignorance of Mr. Layton's poetry. Thanks for the intro.

"She had loved God but cursed extravagantly his creatures", Glorious how the cursing is further developed while the love is left bare of further description.

And then there's
"And the inescapable lousiness of growing old.
Gorgeous combination of inescapable and lousiness. So much for free will when you're going downhill to reside among the louses.

And, finally, there's
"And the fury of her stubborn limited mind", which brings to mind many of my squat dynamoes of aunts. All short in formal schooling but fully sold on beliefs, simple and superstitous, that have carried them through to their 80's. And it is a fury; verbal tanglings with them tended to leave you with cvrge (lumps on the head).
# posted by DarkoV : 11:22 AM

DV - you probably rubbed shoulders with him at Schwatz's Deli (or elsewhere) when you did your stint in Montreal. You'd find quite a few similar treasures in his selected poetry, A Wild Peculiar Joy.
# posted by Whisky Prajer : 7:25 AM

You're right about possibly rubbing shoulders with him at Schwartz's. One of the most memorable exchanges of my lifetime occurred there one late Friday evening. Mr. Richler himself, seated diagonally across from me, told me to "hurry up with that f'ing mustard beofre my smoked (meat) gets cold." I was ready to mouth off in equally elaborate guttertongue when I noticed it was Mr. St Urbain hisself. Who was I to keep the crown prince of Can-Lit from going hungry? I lightly chucked the mustard over.
# posted by DarkoV : 9:05 AM

..sorry about the miserable spelling in that last comment. Ever wake up in the morning with five fingers on one hand and six on the other?
# posted by DarkoV : 9:07 AM

Well, you got me chuckling more than once apiece for both your comments. Re: Chapters - I only linked to them because they didn't charge the additional $1.99 that Amazon did ("finder's fee" I assume). I typically give Ms. Reissman and her cronies a pass on these things.

As for Richler @ Schwartz's, I'm wondering if Layton wasn't sitting across from him, seething at not being recognized and given the mustard first.
# posted by Whisky Prajer : 10:06 PM


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