Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Permeability of Memory

Helen Eisen's long-awaited chapbook, The Permeability of Memory, is coming out this week! The poems spin transformations out of love, survival, the brutality of war, the passage of memory through time and generations, the durable power of humor and art. Helen Eisen’s unique voice and unflinching eye carry her poems into a new country of lyricism and renewal.

If you have never read Helen Eisen's poems, you owe yourself the treat of exploration. The poems are relentless in pushing the envelope of honesty. They are witty and kind and gentle in a world that often is not. Here is passion, and here is compassion. Here also is a sly and hard-edged look at things exactly as they are, stripped of myth. Helen Eisen's poems will leave you in love with language, and polished by her ferocity, humor, and clear vision.

Here is the first poem in the book, the first step on this amazing journey --


(Signifies life and the number 18 in Hebrew)

Life had a life of its own
after the war, inhabited and other
than the life of this world, spun
at a different rate, and traveled within
another orbit.

When I stepped out, into the world,
the sun shone; when I stepped back
in, to the other, the dark was alive
on its own. Night and day, parted
and pulled, as one, by lives enduring

after, and lived before
a war, under another sun; before
the trees, before whole forests
were felled and split for kindling
fueling an armored hate.

In America I breathed
another air, different than there,
other than here.

The poems navigate dangerous history -- the poet's own history, and the history of our common world. Helen Eisen understands what it can cost to survive, and that endurance can be both a gift and a burden. Her gaze is unwavering, her heart generous.

we were running and lost one shoe . . .

(for my mother; for Roz and Anja)

I could not protect my mother
I could not bring back or fix the past
Those figures she drew
Were so weighted with paint
On a space the width of a thread
The canvas collapsed of itself
Broke what she saw
In my hands

I ran away instead
Speeding faster than thought
And no one knew where I was
But the crowds amassed
Behind a skein light as a spider’s web
Glinting from the same fibrous
Thread my mother had sketched
And hidden in her hands

These are stories of survival and of loss; these are poems of great hope.

The City Girl Learns About Birds and Trees

(for Steff)

A few months before your death
I became aware of the mourning dove’s call—
That silken coo of grey pearl
With tail and wings

(Little by little I learn)

Today in Tower Grove Park
I found a Gingko tree
Gingko biloba
One of three in a row—
Fan-like leaves fallen
Minute elephant ears listening—
Their heart-shaped globes
Of pale orange, pale yellow
Lying nearby

There are mallards in the pond
Tall grasses
The last of the gorgeous white lilies
A weeping willow, pine trees, dead bamboo
In the center of the lake the mist from a fountain—
A teenager takes off her shirt in the sun
Her bra is black lace
I smile and think go girl as she runs
Toward her friends

A mulberry tree stands near another tree
With heartbreaking, luminous, yellow leaves—

The sun is leaving behind
A memory of itself
Repeating thousandfold—

Helen Eisen's The Permeability of Memory (ISBN 978-0-9748468-4-2) is available locally in St. Louis at Left Bank Books, or send an email requesting an order form to

Click here to view a flyer and order form for The Permeability of Memory. Click here to view the press release.

HELEN EISEN is the daughter of Polish Jews who survived Hitler’s Europe. Born in a DP camp in 1946, she crossed the Atlantic on a freighter with her parents and arrived in New York in 1950. Her poems have appeared in The Original Coming Out Stories 2nd edition, Natural Bridge and Breathing Out: Poems by Loosely Identified.

1 comment:

John Guzlowski said...

Helen passed away October 29, 2012, in New York. She was born, 17 March 1946 in a DP camp in Stuttgart, Germany.