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Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life

The Lower Case Jew
by Roger Kamenetz ||
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The Lower Case Jew
--T.S. Eliot appears before the rabbinical court in Jewish heaven.

The Prosecutor:

T.S., I got to tell you the emes
--Bleistein here, pardon the cigar--
remember me, palms turned out                              
Chicago Semite Viennese
Like I'm some kind of ape?
You didn't like my baggy pants-
now I'm here to take your measure-

To prosecute is drek, but I got assigned.
You think God don't have a sense of humor?
It's punishment for you, but also me.
I have to read these stinking lines
you wrote about the Jews. Exhibit A:

The jew squats on the windowsill, the owner
Spawned in some estaminet in Antwerp-

, what's the matter?
Did you owe your landlord rent?
And spawned-- like shrimp in a tank-
or in some dank cabaret after hours
two Jew toads humping on a table?
And what about that lower case j ?
You must have hated us
to break the rules of grammar,
most bank clerkly of Englishmen.

Still I got to admire your style,
the classy way you built those lines.
The sounds kick back and forth:
"jew" and "spawned," "owner" and "Antwerp," "squats"!
You've got a delicate ear.
The w sounds kiss word to word
before they stick in the craw.
But the lower case "jew"
that spawned them all,
that I don't forgive.
You were a poet, T.S.
you shoulda known better,
a guardian of the tongue.
That lower case j was
a country club sign:
No dogs or Jews allowed--
to keep us out of the poem
or make us stoop to enter:                                        

Now here comes Exhibit B:
Rachel née Rabinovitch
Tears at the grapes with murderous paws
Me I'm an ape, okay.
Look what you did to poor Rachel.
A raccoon you made her-
that gorgeous girl with the dark eyes--
she's dead now fifty years...

I remember you liked to watch
her and the one in the Spanish cape.
You peeked in through the barroom door
in your bank clerk suit buttoned up tight
clutching your umbrella handle.

Premature dirty old man,
did you dream Rabinovitch,
a rabbi's daughter,
would softly claw your grapes?

If only you weren't so scared.
If only you had known her.
What a world of wonder she hid.
You were drawn by what was under,
and you were afraid too--
undersea, under skirts,
the secret under-name,
for the secret underneath
where you thought you might drown:

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

Pardon the dime store Freud
from a Chicago Viennese,
but about yourself you didn't feel so good
so you took it out on me
and Rachel and Sir Ferdinand Klein.
Was he the only phoney--
you fake English from Saint Louie, Missouri?

Because you were ashamed
that you liked to sniff around
dirty bars, back alleys, looking
for rolled up condoms on the ground
testimony of summer nights.

Hey, everyone's got a hobby.
Sweet and dirty, high and low,
Shakespeare and Dante in your ear
slime in your eye, a stink in your nose.
You liked to mix it up.

London and Jerusalem,
you called them unreal cities.
Maybe what made those cities unreal
was you never saw the people in them,
just toads, raccoons, apes- and rats.

For rats you had a special feel.

A rat crept softly through the vegetation
Dragging its slimy belly on the bank

rats feet over broken glass

And here's Exhibit C:

On the Rialto once,
The rats are underneath the piles.
The jew is underneath the lot.

And that time in Venice
a Jew got between you and a painting
what did you see when you looked in his face?

A lustreless protrusive eye
Stares from the protozoic slime
At a perspective of Canaletto,

Protrusive eye? Protozoic slime? Canaletto?
You should plant your head like a potato
and grow your eyes under ground!

Instead of rats,
you could have had rachmonis,
the love a mother feels in her belly,
rachmonis, rachmonis
you could have felt for people
like what you felt for rats.

I rest my case.


Sir Ferdinand, here for the defense.
What Bleistein's done is most unfair.
Excerpts, scraps, bits and pieces,
not the whole art, not the song...

Let's admit there's much that's ugly
in the fragments he's presented.
The world is also quite imperfect.
Do we then condemn creators?

Besides, what harm's done in the end?
They're only words in a poem,
and poetry makes nothing happen:
a few bad moments for a Jew
in English class; black people too
and women have to take far worse.
If we must comb each crumb of hate
from every line of verse
there would be little left to read.

Without aversion there is no passion.
Without abomination there is no law.
Surely that's clear to a Jew.

Judge, addressing Eliot:

I wonder, do you think that so?
Does language do no harm?
Does music have no power?
When Hitler wrote his crude poems
on the walls of the heart,
like you he made a metaphor.
Jews were pests-
and Zyklon B a pesticide.
To bad men, bad poetry
gives marching orders.


But what, as Bleistein said, rach... rach...
Mercy, he meant.
Surely you can't blame me
for what the Nazis did?
I wrote those lines before the war.
It was a different time.
My copyright expires soon,
punishment enough.
I'll be in public domain.

Judge: to Eliot

All the worse. You never once apologized,
retracted, or removed those lines.
You published them up to the end.


But I won a Nobel Prize. Surely--


-there are plenty of them in hell.

Come, stand before the golden scale
holding your book-Gerontion
Sweeney Among the Nightingales
and Bleistein with Cigar.

Here in the light, one particle of hate
weighs more than a lifetime of poems.

Your defense is your indictment.
Your judgment, your readership.
You will be loved most passionately
by those who cannot see themselves:
phonies, snobs, deluded social climbers,
pseudo-English fake professors
in bow ties and tweed, anachronisms,
wine snobs, false Christians who preach
but cannot feel the pain of others:
hypocrite readers, your sisters, your brothers.

Now in the name...

Bleistein: (interrupting)

Excuse me your honor- we Jews have a sign
when we want to speak- we interrupt.


What is your objection?


Condemned to his readers? That's too soft by half.
What punishment is that? They'll love him to death.
They'll excuse him in public and in private they'll laugh.


What more do you suggest?


If it please the court- purgatory.


That's fine, but it's Catholic for Catholics
and Jewish for Jews... he's neither.


I propose you send him
to Hyam Plutzick's grandson's bar mitzvah.
For the Jews it will seem an afternoon.
For him, a hundred years:

He'll hora with Rachel née Rabinovitch
and kazatzki with Allen Ginsberg
who will give him wet sloppy kisses
(it's okay, he's a little meshuganeh..)
while his landlord, from that Antwerp night club
leads the klezmer orchestra.

Put him at table 16 with that comedian Myron Cohen.
He'll torture him with jokes.
A million setups in English,
a million punch lines in Yiddish.
Then when he's hungry--- for that delicate English palate,
matzo ball soup with shmalz on top, gallon after gallon
and a thousand miles of dishes shaking glaucous jelly
each with a shtikel gefilte fish stamped with a capital J.

Eliot (groaning):

O, I am bound to a bagel of fire...


Silence. As the accused seems unrepentant,
we'll take Bleistein's suggestion to heart.

(Turning to Eliot:)

And now in the name of the letter J
which every eye can see-
J that stands for Jehovah
Jesus but also for Jew

that little j you left behind                                             
now stands for justice- too.

Bleistein: (aside)
Poets-- you should be careful the words you choose.
Remember, there are no lower case Jews.

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