Geomantic Riposte: Prairie Kaddish
Isa Milman is a poet and visual artist who lives in Victoria, BC. Born a displaced person in Germany in 1949, she grew up in the United States and came to Canada in 1975. She is the author of Between the Doorposts, Prairie Kaddish, and Something Small to Carry Home, and each of her books has won the Canadian Jewish Book Award for poetry.
In an interview, Tracy Hamon summarized Milman’s book Prairie Kaddish:
Isa Milman’s Prairie Kaddish is a creative documentation and voyage into the historical lives of Jewish settlers. What began at a graveyard near Lipton, Saskatchewan, unfolds as a narrative exploration of identity and the human condition. The confluence of immigrants alongside residing First Nations Peoples resonates through the lens of the contemporary visitor. The montage of various traditions overlaps into a book that works as a house to contain the memories, and as prayer to honour those that built and rebuilt their lives while struggling to survive before and after the prairies.
Milman explores the concepts of language and “native” pronunciation in her poem “Driving Through Bienfait Saskatchewan.”
Prairie Kaddish by Isa Milman (Coteau Books, 2008, Page 88)
Why not consider the fate of beans? Does the prairie care
what names are pinned to its mounds and curves and waters?
Imports all, the beans and their planters, supplanters of the
mixed up and metissaged.
French nouns and Cree verbs bounced in this wind,
in Michif, a hybrid language – like Yiddish, I’m told.
The sounds of Michif blown away, as the Métis were blown,
by the whistle of locomotives and babble of their cargoes –
Ukrainians, Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, Germans, Romanians,
Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks, Croatians, Finns, Swedes, Dutch,
French and English. Yiddish, too, stepped off the trains, to claim
a mound, a curve, a little water. A comfort, these familiar sounds,
in such strange surroundings?
Geomantic Riposte: Scherzo
When the French horn of warning blew, rows of Conexus/Mosaic
employees had already cleared out of Maestro Sawa’s retirement
treat of Mahler’s Fifth, not unlike the Viennese at hearing a Waltz
giving way to rustic Ländler A citizen of the symphony that is the
world, I have very little to claim, only a dying language and a few
intimate mutterings in Yiddish and for generations we have been
roving from place to place only to set down rails and quickly off-
load a train of thought before moving on but everyone complains
about Native pronunciation of my own subject for kaddish that
lacks brand recognition I would trade you these enchanted
beans for your house and say we’re square but I’m kinda hooked
on this bright prairie sunshine and I’m anxious to put down root
vegetables of my own it must have been much earlier when
they fled the pogroms and her name was changed to a verb in the
OED but I don’t have much to go on erotic WWII propaganda
cartoons and antisemitic reviews of work considered too classical
and not classical enough writing erratic heartbeat into Ninth