Feet in L.A., But My Womb Lives In Jerusalem, My Breath In Vermont
by Lori Levy
25 poems, 33 pages
Price: $14.95
ISBN: 13 978-1-953829-58-0
Publisher: Ben Yehuda Press
To order: http://www.BenYehudaPress.com

Reviewed by Neil Leadbeater

Lori Levy’s poems have appeared in numerous print and online literary journals and anthologies in the U.S., U.K., and Israel. Her poems have also been published in medical humanities journals, including a hybrid piece (poetry and prose) she co-authored with her father, a physician. Her bilingual chapbook, In the Mood for Orange, was published in Israel in 2007 and her second collection What Do You Mean When You Say Green? was published by Kelsay in 2023. Lori lives with her extended family in Los Angeles, but ‘home’ has always been Vermont and Israel and, for several months, Panama while visiting her son and granddaughters.

This latest collection of Levy’s poems comes with a memorable title and an eye-catching cover: an illustration of an acrylic painting on canvas of Nahal Yavnael in northern Israel by artist Katie Brayer. The title tells us a lot about what is to come for these are poems full of movement, fruitfulness and the breath of life experienced in three very different contexts. They hold within them the promise of variety, abundance and spontaneity which in turn sums up neatly the essence of her poetry.

Variety and abundance are to be seen in the mesmerising number of exotic foods of Israeli, Central and Eastern European origin that Levy serves up in her poems: challah bread, mandelbread, Jewish rye-bread, kubeh soup, schawarma, falafal and hummus, meals spiced with saffron, turmeric, paprika and cilantro, followed by ‘fresh-baked cakes with names like Mozart and Black Forest’ and, finally, Turkish coffee. The mouth waters at her vivid descriptions of culinary activities. The occasions are Sabbath meals, impromptu family gatherings, (this is where the spontaneity comes in), a breakfast on a balcony, and a mother’s 84th birthday celebrated in the Forest of Angels, Ya’ar HaMalakhim’ located in the Southern District of Israel. Any occasion is an opportunity for celebration.

Her subjects are mainly family orientated but within that parameter, there are poems here about a range of different topics including descriptions of October in Vermont, crepe myrtles in L.A., Israeli street scenes, the art of doing nothing, a brother-in-law milking his cows, a night swim in a kibbutz pool and the experience of tasting kumquats.

Despite the overall sense of a zest for life and for living, the shadow of war is never far from some of these poems. ‘In A Ziploc’ describes the moment a poet from Haifa bursts in on the scene with ‘a Ziploc full of scraps / she’s collected from the street: pieces of the rocket / that just missed her house.’

I gather my poems, suddenly small,
while hers fills the room, insistent as the sirens
that wail in the North.
Loud as exploding Katyushas.
All there,
exposed on her palm:
raw, unpolished.

‘The set of gas masks / for a family of five’ in ‘Survival’ reminds us of the need for vigilance. ‘Five Minutes’ is an account of the speaker’s own narrow escape from being bombed simply by stopping to admire some silver rings in a jewelry shop in Jerusalem. In ‘Sparks’ the shore at Tel Aviv is not just about bikinis on the beach, it is also helicopters that intrude on the day ‘rushing soldiers to the front / to fight for the lovely tanning bodies; / for the men on the rocks with their fishing poles / and the children making cakes and castles; / for the sand dripping through their fingers.’ This last image being a reminder that childhood does not last forever and that they, too, will soon be soldiers rushing to the defence of their country. In ‘Upon Returning From A Trip To Israel’, Levy struggles to respond to the question ‘How was your trip?’ How can she talk about lounging in a beach chair when staring at a picture in a newspaper of a bombed-out restaurant killing five members of a family who simply drove there for a pizza and a coke and a break from war; how, every day, life goes on ‘amidst mortars and missiles.’

Roving between countries and cultures, these poems remind us of the fragility of life, of the impermanence of peace and of the need to celebrate moments of joy whenever we can.

 


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