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Monday, November 12, 2018


As I read this book of poems, I am moved by a delicate surrealism that records fleeting moments of birdsong and  lost souls that flounder in the wakes of inflatable boats. These transitory phenomena are associated with the presence of the dybbuk, a dislocated soul that possesses its host body with malicious effect. In the body’s transit between worlds, the dybbuk clings to its host, conflating the life after death and the earthly life of anticipation and hope. A figure from Jewish folklore, it haunts immigrants and exiles, whose experiences are the subject of Ewa Chrusciel’ s Of Annunciations (Omnidawn 2017). Glimmers of transcendence, experiences of annunciation, are found in natural substances, the grain of wood, incisions and ghost rays, so the poem “Of Annunciations” would have it. In healing the blind, the newly sighted see men walking like trees (Mark 8:24). To my mind armies mass on the hills of Dunsinane. Shakespeare’s figure is an omen, a confusion of armies on a frontier For Chrusciel, the most compelling manifestations of the dybbuk are water-born apparitions, “The sea keeps its apparitions, spits out / migrants, walking trees. Branches / conceal seeds without shore or limit.” (25)  

Chrusciel is sensitive to the presences of angel-born but fleeting, , annunciations, moments discovered in highly original perceptions of the meanings behind words, whether those in manuals or those from holy tracts. Currents transect, “Inside the sea the river.” The river carries the detritus of the of the lost souls of contemporary immigrants, “valises, simcards, photos, coats.” (27). Her images possess her and have the power to  possess the engaged reader,
                        In need to be inside you
                        in order to live.
                        In me, you hear whimpering
of drowned children,
they walk in circles. (74)
The archetype of dawning perception within the womb is Mary. The poet is unable to offer us the hope that the Archangel offered her. “What could we offer in exchange for one child?” (74). One note of salvation survives, “”There is an immigrant in our soul.” We discover, facing atrocity, “In each of us the feet of an archangel.”(93). Chrusciel is sensitive to the presence of angel-born annunciation, moments discovered in the meanings behind words. It is a book that tests faith in human goodness, engaging its subject with profound seriousness. Her art examines interconnected threads; she has created a book of apocryphal intent. Ewa Chrusciel lives between two worlds, one Polish, Catholic, and traditional, the other the domain of endless exile and the tragic fates that populate daily news.

In this context, I am lead to remember poetry associated with the haggadah and exile. In his Passing Over (Marsh Hawk 2007),  Norman Finkelstein addresses Jewish mysticism and its polysemic production of rabbinic commentary. It seem that “the shape of an absence” haunts Finkelstein’s commentary (“Mara” 49). Who is Mara, I believe she is a holocaust survivor that Finkelstein met one day in Ohio. Tellingly, in his Inside the Ghost Factory (Marsh Hawk 2010), I find these lines “This is neither from // the ghosts nor about them. Covering /  cherubs, archons. Filthy birds, hovering / above us. Where are the air traffic  // controllers?” (61) Finkelstein’s irony and crafty drollness are very different Chrusciel’ s engaged emotions, but she too is often droll, indeed wry as if squinting, “I watch wild turkeys / feeding on tiny seeds / of my nouns.” Her words are those of the witness. Finkelstein’s are those of a raconteur who understands how devices call attention to themselves..

One more question for both poets: are each of us, in some sense, displaced “jews” as Jean François Lyotard argued in Heidegger and the jews”? I am thinking now about Paul Celan’s “No one / testifies for the / witness.” A survivor must invent language in order to engage prepossessing truths. Of Chrusciel’s Contraband of Hoopoe (Omnidawn 2014) I wrote of  “a hoopoe nestled in the chest that is the poet’s immigrant heart,” and I cited this line, ‘The hoopoe is the dybbuk messenger chattering under my bra’” (13). Her humor and her seriousness remain constant.

What if dybbuks were subject to production (an idea that I take from Finkelstein’s recent From the Files of the Immanence Foundation (Dos Madres 2018) . Would they have proliferated more easily in an earlier age than this. And yes the drowning of immigrants in transit might well cause a renewal of their unsettled wanderings as Chrusciel intimates.


Immanence is often my true theme. Both poets touch on that realm. “The Abyss awakes and smiles. / Endless depth. Endless extension. / … Ghosts jam the frequencies. “ (“License,” From the Files of the Immanence Foundation 66). This may cast some doubt on Kant’s “immanent sublime,” as it should, but for Finkelstein as for Chrusciel thare are uncalled of presences whose substance is felt..

Donald Wellman
Nov. 12, 2018

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