Poem of the Week / A Parent Is Nostalgia-free but Shocked

What happens when a mother is prevented from fully rejecting her past?

Nir Kafri

Hit

Tal Nitzan

In Buenos Aires I didn’t go
looking for my childhood home.
Why roam in streets whose names had changed,
disturb an old couple or a boy in bed
just to peer listlessly at the dark rooms
that even then seemed like gloomy holes
and in any case I can't recall –
No, I renounce
nostalgia's phony charms
to which so many succumb, mostly, it seems,
radio producers and mostly on holiday eves,
pulling out a forgotten hit
by a singer who had already quit
for Canada or went into Real Estate
and I discover with distaste
I haven’t forgotten a single line to a song
that once I sang with girlish zeal, unaware
of the lust that lurked behind each word
and I shiver to hear the clear voice singing along
that isn’t my childhood voice's specter
for it is the voice of my daughter.

From “An Ordinary Evening” (2006). Translated from Hebrew by Tal Nitzan and Vivian Eden.

***
Tal Nitzan was born in Jaffa, spent part of her childhood in South America and now lives in Tel Aviv. She has published five poetry books and has won a number of literary prizes for them and for her translations, mostly from Spanish into Hebrew. She edited the anthology “With an Iron Pen: Hebrew Protest Poetry 1984-2004” (2005), a collection of 20 years of Hebrew poems on the Israeli occupation (the English version with Rachel Tzvia Back, SUNY Press, 2009). Her debut novel will be released this June, and two bilingual anthologies of her work are also forthcoming this year, in the United States and in Germany.

In Jewish communities worldwide, advertisers are ratcheting up pitches for Passover shopping, but not much is being said yet about how one of the main points of the holiday is to transmit its lessons to children. Some parents and grandparents might be thinking about that already – why, for example, doesn’t the Haggadah tell the story of baby Moses for the benefit of very small children? Yet all too often, rather than values we deem important – by some sort of osmosis or Jungian collective unconscious – patterns from our childhood that we’d rather disown get transmitted to our sons and daughters.

“Hit” begins with a renunciation and denunciation of nostalgia’s “phony charms”; this is sensible yet specifically evocative of Buenos Aires revisited. It is also a critique of a genre that seems to dominate every corner of the culture, not only radio, but also exhibitions and even the cuisine. This is understandable in a society of immigrants from many parts of the world alongside an indigenous population that has been massively and sometimes brutally affected by outside influences. It used to be a truism of the local ethos that “here is good, there is bad,” and the speaker wants to live in the truth of the here and now. But the truth boomerangs: Her child is repeating something she has just rejected about her past. In the reality, this happens both at the personal and the societal levels.

Musings:

*Why do kids like the music they like?

Gadi Dagon