When my mother first received the breaking news of Amos Oz’s passing, gasping as the Haaretz news headline slid across her iPhone screen, I could sense her shock from opposite Starbucks. Glancing back from the barista counter, in line for our drinks and watching her expression absorb grief from the report, I read her lips as she mouthed the headline: “Amos Oz, Author and Peace Advocate, to Be Laid to Rest.”
Most of us have experienced that nauseating awkwardness - the physically agonizing discomfort - of sitting through a comedy show that’s just not going right. That shifting in the seat when a joke falls flat. That cacophonous cough when a pun doesn’t receive the laughing track that was anticipated. Nobody characterizes that experience better than David Grossman in his most recent novel, A Horse Walks Into A Bar. Translated from Hebrew, this novel recounts the sometimes-magical-sometimes-excruciatingly-unsuccessful final standup of Dov Greenstein, an Israeli comic at a dive bar in Netanya, north of Tel Aviv. Over the course of his two-hour act, sprinkled with Holocaust jokes and ‘humorous’ stabs at the audience, Dov relates the battered tale of his life — what’s led him to his disturbed state, as a comedian today.
I remember, vividly, my first performance at the Ridgewood Coffee Company Open Mic. A summer evening, about six or seven years ago. I remember pacing outside, along the faded, orange brick of the cafe’s exterior; fingers tingling with the nerves of a performer on deck; replaying the track of Billy Gillman’s “Oklahoma” I was prepping myself to cover. The music from my IPhone mingled in the air with the humming and guitar-strumming from musicians around me, sounds native to a coffee shop like this: pulsating with artistic energy.
I’ve been wearing the same necklace for five years — a dove, wings stretched, perched inside a silver triangle; its wings, beak, and the points of the triangle outlining a Magen David, a Jewish star. Five years ago, I bought this necklace from an artist on Nachalat Binyamin, a bustling artisan market at the heart of Tel Aviv, Israel. Adjacent to the famed and always-hectic fish market, Shuk haCarmel; a ten minute walk from one of Israel’s hippest beaches; and polka-dotted with restaurants selling a wide range of authentic cuisines, Nachalat Binyamin is an Eden for artists, as well as for the admirers who patron their work.
A pregnant woman, naked, leans back in a chair. Her arm is lifted behind her head, her face buried in her elbow, as she concentrates on her breathing. Her husband crouches beside her, his fingers cradling her ballooned lower belly, dipping just above her exposed vagina. She heaves, he heaves, a seemingly simultaneous labour, as the next chapter of their life crowns its head from the space between her legs.
Poetry, to me, is emotion or experience manifested in its most candid form. It is artistic expression so honest that only one sequence of words, thoughtfully and meticulously arranged, can express it. And though the content of its expression might be weakness, or embarrassment or fear or imperfection, the expression is perfect in itself. In this way, in this honest, perfect imperfection, my mother exemplifies poetry.