Winner of the 2004 National Mujer Award, poet Marjorie Agosin has written a multi-layered tribute to her grandmother, Hanna Josefina Agosin. Although Josefina is exiled from her native Chile, she represents the celebratory “L’Chaim” of the small Chilean Jewish community. As the author indicates in the preface, Josefina “wants people to write to her, because writing alleviates one’s sorrows, forestalls death, and creates permanence.” But one must “live,” truly live life with vivacious perception before one writes. This is the true, beautiful legacy which the poet has inherited and shares in these poems. In “Josefina’s Garden,” we absorb the essence of this unusual woman, “…You rushed headlong toward the truth/And like a wooded garden/You were ever profound/Ever untamed.” Exile and death are perceived as parallel realities in “Landscapes,” “Strangers to what your life was/They rearrange your belongings/Take down beloved objects/The fan from Seville/The fragile cracked cup/Which held the tea you drank alone/…Unappreciated by the world/But loved by you…/After death one owns nothing.” Preconceived ideas about the elderly are shattered in “Your Goodness,”: They confused/Your goodness/With senile innocence/Your truth/With elderly eccentricities…” And though Josefina is not particularly observant in religious form, she passes on the memories of what it was like to be Jewish in “Floors of Sand,” where the author discovers that Caribbean Jewish temples had sand floors that “let them move about in silence/Let them sink into softness/So that no one might see them/So that no one might hear them pray…”— delineating the protective measures taken where prejudice and persecution focused on removing a people of deep, powerful, but wise faith. More images of the sea, butterflies, and gardens convey the gentle touch of the grandmother on the author’s face, irrevocably etched in the soul and spirit of Marjorie Agosin and you — the reader — memorializing all that is sacred and beautiful.
Deborah Schoeneman, is a former English teacher/Writing Across the Curriculum Center Coordinator at North Shore Hebrew Academy High School and coeditor of Modern American Literature: A Library of Literary Criticism, Vol. VI, published in 1997.