Stranger’s Note­book: Poems

Nomi Stone
  • Review
By – January 16, 2012

In her first book of poems, Nomi Stone metic­u­lous­ly records how it feels to be an out­sider liv­ing among her own peo­ple. In 2003, she decid­ed to live on an island off the coast of Tunisia amid an ancient com­mu­ni­ty of Kohan­ic Jews who have lived in Djer­ba since 586 B.C.

These poems trace her grow­ing knowl­edge of Hebrew and Ortho­dox African Jew­ish cul­ture, along with her aware­ness of their oth­er­ness amidst their neigh­bors, Mus­lim Tunisians. She explores the exact­ness of their reli­gious obser­vance while she exam­ines it in rela­tion to her­self. In a poem called Out­side of Time” she sees the essence of the Sab­bath this way: 

Dur­ing the Sab­bath you are in oth­er 
time. You car­ry noth­ing
but your con­tin­u­ing
 breath. Enter here, where
time is not
 time, inside an align­ment of
the heav­en­ly
and earth­ly worlds

Although she feels the won­der of the Sabbath’s time­less dreami­ness, she prac­tices her own rules dur­ing the week­days. Her con­flict is between her attempt to accept and live accord­ing to the rules of the Jews of Djer­ba and her need to remain true to her usu­al way of life. So dur­ing the week, she prac­tices her Hebrew gram­mar in a cafe where no respectable girl of the vil­lage would go,” and notices the Mus­lim men’s eyes flash.” And then she goes to the oth­er side of the island, where bare-shoul­dered” she writes more freely about the fes­ti­vals and Israel itself. And dur­ing her peace­ful co-exis­tence, she gains per­spec­tive and clar­i­ty, as shown in her depic­tion of Jerusalem: 

The stones are tun­nels
of light. The city touch­es
your fun­ny bone with
a mal­let of light, the
of emerg­ing from
a tun­nel into a bright room. 

She cap­tures the bal­anc­ing act of feel­ing estranged and belong­ing in these poems.

Eleanor Ehrenkranz received her Ph.D. from NYU and has taught at Stern Col­lege, NYU, Mer­cy Col­lege, and at Pace Uni­ver­si­ty. She has lec­tured wide­ly on Jew­ish lit­er­a­ture and recent­ly pub­lished anthol­o­gy of Jew­ish poet­ry, Explain­ing Life: The Wis­dom of Mod­ern Jew­ish Poet­ry, 1960 – 2010.

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