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 DoorpostsPrairie 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