Fruit of the Earth

  • Review
By – December 17, 2018

In Fruit of the Earth, Jamie Wendt puts place and iden­ti­ty on oppo­site sides of a coin and then flips that coin over and over, try­ing to see both at the same time.

The book is split into five sec­tions, with each section’s title ref­er­enc­ing either an aspect of iden­ti­ty or a place. One of the first poems, Tel Aviv Cen­tral Bus Sta­tion,” estab­lish­es many of the themes that appear through­out the book. In it, the speak­er arrives at the bus sta­tion ear­ly enough for the tea whis­tles, for flakey sesame crois­sants, / sweet bourekas, knafeh, nut­ty rugelach.” The peo­ple around her — both young female sol­diers and scruffy Amer­i­can men — are evoca­tive of the locale as well. While not geo­graph­i­cal­ly her home, the bus sta­tion is dis­tinct­ly Jew­ish, like the speak­er her­self. And yet, once on the bus, she hopes the man beside her will begin talk­ing to her; she longs for some­one to ask about her own home­place, so she can vocal­ize her iden­ti­ty in rela­tion to it. At this point the poem turns, and the speak­er begins to imag­ine a wan­der­ing life with this bus stranger, one where their shared iden­ti­ty and place is the oth­er per­son — is Walls, rocks, and worse, / the thou­sand rea­sons to leave.”

Towards the end of the book, the poems con­tin­ue to explore that same idea of find­ing place and iden­ti­ty with a part­ner, though now from the per­spec­tive of a per­son ful­ly estab­lished in a mar­riage. In New Year 5774,” the speak­er writes about spend­ing the hol­i­day with her hus­band in a new city where they do not yet have oth­er guests to cel­e­brate with. After she cooks the din­ner and waits for her hus­band to arrive, the cou­ple sits at the table to chant Hebrew and hold up their glass­es. Wendt writes, We are each other’s guests, / two seats tak­en while the suns sets / in our long high-rise win­dows fac­ing west.” For this new wife cel­e­brat­ing an old hol­i­day in a new city, there is still a long­ing for a place that feels emblem­at­ic of her iden­ti­ty. We’re in Chica­go, not Jerusalem,” she admits. Nev­er­the­less, Wendt ends on an image that some­one peek­ing through the win­dow would have seen: a smil­ing cou­ple with full glasses.

In Fruit of the Earth, Wendt con­stant­ly looks around to ask, Where am I? Who am I? How can I make these two things, togeth­er, mat­ter? Through answer­ing these ques­tions, she cre­ates a lush, rich world where one’s place and iden­ti­ty are allowed to shift and realign them­selves while still remain­ing true and real.

Avail­able for pur­chase here

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