4.69. Sarah Lindsay, poem ‘Zucchini Shofar’ (2008)

The beauty of nature, providing inspiration to man, is a motif in two works in A Tool of Remembrance: Yitskhok Leybush Perets’ short story The Shofar (1902) *Chapter 4.4 and Tsippi Fleischer’s Symphony No. 5 (2003). *Chapter 4.63. In Perets’ short story, old Reb Shimen compares the modern city in which he lives to the environment in which he grew up: a village surrounded by unspoilt nature, which is sometimes personified. “When there was a wind, and the forest rustled and the stream rushed past, I used to think—foolish lad that I was!—that they were singing praises to God, and that heaven was going to blow the shofar!” *Perets, The Shofar 138. Tsippi Fleischer goes further than mere nostalgia; her symphony is an answer to the question of how the opposing groups in Israeli society could be united:

Trying to answer the existential question of how one can live here [in Israel] in peace with himself and with the others, I reached a state of despair . . . Jews and Arabs, Ashkenazi and Mizrachi, secular and religious—is there anything we all love? . . . I’ve come to the conclusion that the only thing we all love is nature. *Reider, Interview with Tsippi Fleischer in “Orchestrating an Identity.”

The composition ends with an imaginary dance of all people at the seashore, concluded by a tekiʿah gedolah on the shofar.

The poem Zucchini Shofar *Reproduced by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., Rights Agency for Copper Canyon Press from the collection Twigs & Knucklebones by the American poet Sarah Lindsay (born 1958) also expresses longing for unspoilt nature and love of nature as a connecting social factor; however, instead of a nostalgic or political character, the poem has an ecological tendency: man may use natural resources, but not exploit or destroy them. Zucchini Shofar begins with a prolepsis, meant to stress the animal-friendly production of the shofar blown in the event described in the poem: a wedding party in a beautiful garden.

[1] No animals were harmed in the making of this joyful noise:
A thick, twisted stem from the garden
is the wedding couple’s ceremonial ram’s horn.

The zucchini, which has more or less the same form and dimensions as a ram’s horn but can be hollowed out and worked more easily, is presented here as an alternative shofar, produced without mutilation of an animal’s body. Sarah Lindsay’s poem seems a peaceful, contemplative counterpart to Yehuda Amichai’s poem The Real Hero, *Chapter 4.45 which speaks in defense of the ram, who had been killed and forced to donate his horns:

I want to sing a memorial song about him—
[5] about his curly wool and his human eyes,
about the horns that were so silent on his living head,
and how they made those horns into shofars when he was slaughtered
to sound their battle cries
or to blare out their obscene joy.

If Zucchini Shofar does not exaggerate in vv. 9-11, all blasts can be blown on the green shofar, *The members of the Vienna-based Vegetable Orchestra with their “zucchini vibrator,” “cucumberphone,” and many other instruments show that it is perfectly possible to make musical instruments from vegetables. http://www.vegetableorchestra.org and the “fuzzy” sound in v. 9 and the “splutter” in v. 28 may be attributed to air escaping from the irregularly shaped mouthpiece, a lack of experience of the blowers, or the informal circumstances of the wedding party.

Its substance will not survive one thousand years,
[5] nor will the garden, which is today their temple,
nor will their names, nor their union now announced
with ritual blasts upon the zucchini shofar.
Shall we measure blessings by their duration?
Through the narrow organic channel fuzzily come
[10] the prescribed sustained notes, short notes, rests.
All that rhythm requires.

The poem, which begins as an ecological plea, takes another turn in v. 4; the garden from which the improvised shofar originated serves as a symbolical synagogue to a newly-wed couple. The chronotope of the garden as the fertile soil for plants and animals and the breeding ground for the unity of man and nature, within the framework of ceremony and ritual, is not completely new, as it is already found in the work of the American poet Marge Piercy (born 1936). In The Garden as Synagogue, *In the collection Available Light (1988) Piercy speaks of “the sacred / that connects us to the green flesh / of the grass” and in her long poem The Ram’s Horn Sounding *The Art of Blessing the Day: Poems with a Jewish Theme 174-5 she compares herself as a poet to an instrument, a shofar, used to address plants and animals:

Coming to the new year, I am picked
up like the ancient ram’s horn to sound
over the congregation of people and beetles,
of pines, whales, marshhawks and asters.

Sarah Lindsay chooses a no less important theme, but introduces it in a lighter way, by means of rhetorical questions. They concern the limitations of man, who produces perishable goods and makes promises, the significance of which he cannot comprehend—which is the tenor of the Kol Nidrei prayer in the Yom Kippur service, meant to free the faithful from such promises. The following excerpt stresses the difference between a sentence—a linguistic unity which can be repeated without loss of significance—and a Bakhtinian utterance, which is part of a unique and unrepeatable dialogue. *Chapter 1.1.

What is this future approval we think we need;
[20] who made passing time our judge?
Do we want butter that endures for ages,
or butter that melts into homemade cornbread now?
—the note that rings in my deaf ear without ceasing,
or two voices abashed by the vows they undertake?
[25] This moment’s chord of earthly commotion
will never be struck exactly so again—
though love does love to repeat its favorite lines.

The “sentence” in the above-quoted fragment is v. 27: “though love does love to repeat its favorite lines,” which even repeats the word “love,” whereas the Bakhtinian “utterance” is found in vv. 25-26: “This moment’s chord of earthly commotion / will never be struck exactly so again[.]”

Not only is the party in the not-quoted vv. 11-18 with its pleasures, presents, refreshments and stories perishable, but also the garden itself, as it is subject to nature’s cycle of growth, flowering and decay. V. 28 returns to the perishable zucchini shofar, which harmonizes with a carpe diem way of life in the here and now:

So let the shofar splutter its slow notes and quick notes,
let the nieces and nephews practice their flutes and trombones,
[30] let living room pianos invite unwashed hands,
let glasses of different fullness be tapped for their different notes,
let everyone learn how to whistle,
let the girl dawdling home from her trumpet lesson
pause at the half-built house on the corner,
[35] where the newly installed maze of plumbing comes down
to one little pipe whose open end she can reach,
so she takes a deep breath
and makes the whole house sound.

In these concluding verses of the poem, besides the vegetable shofar there appear three other temporary, improvised and playful musical instruments: the “piano” consisting of tuned glasses filled with water; the “whistle” formed by the lips; and the “trumpet” consisting of the plumbing in the half-built house. Thus the poem begins and ends with the surrogate synagogues of the garden and the half-built house, which exist for one day and one breath respectively.

In the Rosh Ha-Shanah prayer book, shofar blowing is governed by perfection: formal perfection in the system of 100 blasts, on all levels based on the sacred numbers 3 and 10; physical perfection in the halakhah concerning the shofar; and moral perfection in the choice of the shofar blower, who should be a person of irreproachable conduct. In his prayer, the tokeʿah reminds God of the merits of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses and Aaron, David and Solomon and all righteous men. Emphasizing his own imperfection, he begs God to rise from His throne of judgment and to sit on His throne of compassion: “I know of myself that I am not worthy to ask anything of You . . . that I do not have the understanding or wisdom to hold the correct intentions . . . while blowing the shofar.” *The Koren Rosh HaShana Maḥzor 492. In the person of the makrei, the tokeʿah has a prompter to avoid imperfections in the fulfilling of the miẓvah of shofar blowing. Furthermore, he expresses the wish “that the sound . . . that we sound today be stitches across the curtain before You” *Ibid. 498 and that he will pay with his work for all sins. The pursuit of perfection is emphasized by the numerous repetitions of prayer formulas and shofar blasts. In contrast, Sarah Lindsay’s poem connects shofar blowing with imperfection, incompleteness and temporality, moreover with human limitations, which are cheerfully accepted. The authoritative discourse of the shofar prayers and blasts from the Rosh Ha-Shanah prayer book becomes the internally persuasive discourse of shofar blowing in the non-conformist, ecological chronotope of the garden. The attendees at the wedding party are not interested in the letter of halakhah, but only in the spirit of religion, in the Golden Rule of respect for others and nature.

 

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