Poems for Josefina

Mar­jorie Agosin, Bet­ty Jean Craig, trans.
  • Review
By – July 30, 2012
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.

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