February 07

On Jewish Writing

Hugh Behm-Steinberg

1. She was eating a sandwich. What is Jewish writing? If I am Jewish, is that poem I showed you Jewish? If you are Jewish, does your reading make it so? Is it like this sandwich? Is it Jewish, or does it convert on the way down? Are words Jewish in and of themselves, or must they come from Jewish lips? Observe how words are ubiquitous, everything has a name, therefore each thing is a word as well as an object, God is everywhere and of course is Jewish, therefore she says all words are Jewish, even what is unspeakable is Jewish. Jewish writing is helpless, so we help it out. And it’s like my heart, it cannot be stopped, or it can be easily stopped, but it doesn’t go anywhere without you.

2. He tries to reconstruct an old conversation. What were they saying? Something about Jews. Writing by, about Jews. How it resembled eating. No, it was digesting. Something once swallowed becomes Jewish when the mouth belongs to someone Jewish. He pauses. That wasn’t it. He wonders if God has the same problem, with saying and remembering what was said. It would explain a number of things. The Bible would turn into another poem, crossed with an almanac or a telephone directory, useful for boosting children at the table. Give them a chance to participate in the conversation. And the table of course is Jewish, the conversation is especially Jewish because everything is Jewish, he thought we agreed upon that point already. As it was new, as it grew old and Jewish with our help. So though we eventually stopped, it didn’t stop, so we didn’t stop either, which was finally, finally, finally, very Jewish.


Image: Detail from The Best Medicine by Cedar Marie.


Hugh Behm-Steinberg's poems have appeared in or are forthcoming from such places as Crowd, VeRT, Volt, Spork, Slope, Aught, Swerve, Fence and Cue. He teaches in the writing program at California College of the Arts, and is the editor of Freehand, a new journal devoted to handwritten work. His first book, Shy Green Fields, is forthcoming from No Tell Books in Fall, 2007.