From the Notebooks of Korah’s Daughter, Linda Stern Zisquit
New Walk Editions, 2019 £5.00
Imagery that haunts the soul
Many of the images in this pamphlet are harrowing. They have good reason to be: the poems were written during a child’s cancer treatment and amidst war in Israel and Palestinian territories.
They also have their roots embedded in a biblical tale of punishment — these poems are described as ‘associative responses to the psalms’; each begins with a line from a Hebrew psalm.
The pictures Linda Stern Zisquit creates are dark and disturbing. In ‘I lie down and sleep and wake [Ps. 3]’, for instance, she writes:
the fruit falls. Too soon it ripens
and I must gather the rotten,
the pungent, the worm-infested.
The image seems full of fear, torment and deep sorrow; it evokes horror and empathy in me, as I read.
Another powerful image is shared in ‘How can you say to my soul, flee as a bird to your mountain [Ps. 11]’:
Trembling in our cage of fear, our limbs too weak
to grip the bars […]
A girl cries from an underground tunnel
The poet succeeds in creating unease and a great sense of dread — such potent imagery conveys emotion and builds atmosphere.
The same technique is employed in ‘On Ayelet Hashahar. Gazelle of the Dawn [Ps. 22]’, where the very animals are described as behaving in ways that are sinister and threatening:
Dogs snarl. Two roosters in a tree
at Bir’am tell of my wrongdoing. They
peck and stare as I count all my bones.
This is not every-day imagery. It’s foreboding. The effect is cumulative and powerful — and ensures this pamphlet lingers in the mind long after you’ve finished reading.